Things I Don’t Understand: The Graduate as Comedy

Back when Wee Cee was just a glimmer in her daddy’s eye, I had the idea to start a blog about all the things I, as an adult, did not understand or was incapable of doing. That blog never occurred and taking a page from the Irony Handbook, I started a pregnancy blog instead. Oh wait, you didn’t know that the best possible thing to do when you don’t understand how to balance a checkbook is to make people?

Luckily, C has almost made it through her first year alive so I guess I’m doing something right. And just as luckily, I recently found out that this blog exists and whatever I could have written on the topic of being an amateur adult would not have even held a candle to Greg’s blog. The universe balances itself out yet again.

But in case you need more proof of how baffled I am with the world in general, I am hoping to start a new series (which, with any luck I will update more often than my Tales of the World series, may it rest in peace) about things that totally befuddle me. Today, I am kicking it off with this question that is basic to the human experience:

Why is The Graduate considered a comedy?

Other than the fact that Dustin Hoffman's head size is huge and hilarious

Other than the fact that Dustin Hoffman’s head size is huge and hilarious and he has a rhomboidal mouth

I really like this movie. No matter how you categorize it, you can’t deny that it is well-made, creative, and that it speaks to the insecurities everyone has in their lives no matter what their age. Plus the mayor from Jaws is made a cuckold so that’s pretty gratifying. However, it is largely classified as a comedy and I can’t understand why. When I was a freshman in college, I went to a local video rental place to get it because I had seen it before and found it so intriguing that I needed to see it again. When I got to the store, I looked around everywhere for it; everywhere, that is, except the Comedy section. How is it funny to have a quarter-life crisis and then play upon the desperation of a middle-aged alcoholic by having an affair with her? And how is it funny to take her daughter to a strip show and then make her ugly cry in humiliation? This movie is funny in the same way that the end of Fast Times at Ridgemont High is funny. It’s awesome, but funny it is not.

What a catch. And yes, that was a Jaws reference.

What a catch. Yet another intended pun. See right for the other one.

So I’m at the movie place and I can’t find The Graduate. I ask the girl working there to get it for me and she then brings me over to the Comedy section, and I write this bizarre categorization off as a mistake. Clearly Moovie Timez does not adhere to the same high standards as Blockbuster Video. Fast forward* twelve years to last night when B and I came across The Graduate on Netflix filed under whatCOMEDY.

*That was a VHS reference for my many eight-year-old readers who are learning right along with me. 

I do not understand. Did this movie suddenly become funny when William Daniels started playing Mr. Feeny like twenty five years after portraying Dustin Hoffman’s dad? That’s humorous I guess. Is it funny that Mrs. Robinson is actually a lot sexier than her daughter Elaine, who really needs some Frizz-Ease? I will concede that it’s funny when Dustin Hoffman has to jump in his parents’ pool with SCUBA gear on. And that $200 was a lot of money back in 1967. I spent $200 on quinoa at Whole Foods the other day.

Poor Elaine.

Poor Elaine. She gets dealt a pretty terrible hand in all aspects of her life, starting when she was conceived in the back of a Ford and ending when she inherited her father’s oily t-zone.

“The Sound of Silence” and “Scarborough Fair” By Simon and Garfunkel are played throughout the whole movie, especially during the scenes that are most passable as funny. If you are unfamiliar with these songs, this is like playing Sufjan Stevens over Monty Python: waaaaay too serious for a lighthearted movie. Again, nothing bad in that; they’re great songs. But funny? Um, no.

So, hopefully all you film buffs out there will be able to explain to me how The Graduate can be called a “comedy.” While you’re at it, I’d also appreciate an explanation of why Hardees gets to call itself a “restaurant.”


  1. I don’t get it either. But then again, I’m still convinced The Lion King is part horror movie. I mean, Scar. Please. It’s all terrifying.

    1. For sers, The Lion King should be rated PG-13. I’m a mess every time I see it.

  2. “Rhomboidal mouth”

    1. I guess better than a trapezoid foot?

      1. Surgery clears that up

  3. At 5’5″ Dustin Hoffman’s height is hilarious.

    1. I could not agree more. What all those Robinson women see in him is absolutely a mystery to me.

      1. I hear he’s the shit in the Shire and has grown a huge following in Hobbit circles. He’s like the Brad Pitt of Hobbits.

        1. “Brad Pitt of Hobbits” is the best thing I’ve heard all day.

  4. Hardees gets to call itself a restaurant because it’s run by The Illuminati. I went to a Hardees once in my life in Virgina. They were taking to long so we left. I never get to eat so I’m still not actually positive if they are a restaurant or a holding place for terrorists.

    I watched this once with a friend a few years ago. We enjoyed it and giggled a few times. Our Jewish friend who we saw practically get to second base with his sister came over and he didn’t understand it at all but he also only listens to Blink 182. What other comedies were big around in 1967?

    I’ve never heard of most of those movies but isn’t “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” a comedy? But it also had a really heavy racial undertone and probably wasn’t as jokey as the Ashton Kutcher remake. The most important thing in comedy is timing and most comedies can become dated fast. I used to love Mel Brooks films yet whenever I’ve tried to watch one again it’s very “starter comedy” to me.

    So why is it a comedy? Because in 1967 things with the Commies were pretty heated and we’d laugh hysterically at anything.

    3 side notes:
    -I remember someone on Survivor Africa casting her final vote by making them pick a number. The number ended up being the hotel room Dustin Hoffman and Mrs. Robinson met up in
    -Ugly crying works if the right amount of mascara runs. I just want to rescue a woman so bad
    -Go back and look at the quick flash of Mrs. Robinson’s boob and tell me it doesn’t remind you of a Krispy Kreme donut. Really. That’s all I was thinking the whole time when it quickly flashed on

    1. 1967 was a really good year for movies! It brought us Baloo the dancing and talking blue bear and Barefoot in the Park, which I’ve never seen but I have an awesome poster from it hanging in C’s room.

      Hardees is pretty scary. The last time I ate there was when I was a kid but the overall impression I have of it is that it only serves bread and nasty meat that even McDonalds rejected. I don’t think any produce is allowed within 30 meters of the place.

      I’ve never seen any Mel Brooks movies. Isn’t he the guy behind Blazing Saddles? One of my really dorky history profs in college was always talking about that movie and his constant references to it pretty much ruined any chance that I would willingly see it.

      1. Yes he did Blazing Saddles which came out in the early 70s so by the time I saw it nothing made sense. Spaceballs is what I grew up on (it’s a Star Wars parody). His mistake was working with Leslie Nielsen. It was too many sight gags for one film and it ruined their careers (Dracula Dead and Loving It)

        I’m a nerd.

        1. Is Spaceballs worth seeing? I recall that it has John Candy in it and I am a HUGE fan of him.

          1. I’d say that one is worth it. I’m not sure how well it will hold up. It was always my favorite though. He’s pretty good in it.

      2. You’ve never seen a Mel Brooks flick?!?

        1. I really missed the boat on that one :/

          1. Please, please, watch Blazing Saddles. Maybe not with your kids, though.

  5. Not sure I consider it a comedy either! It’s one of those “coming of age” stories. There were funny moments but now that you mention it, it was pretty sad. At least the guy got the girl, but really, could you run away with someone who’d been with your Mom? Kind of ew, but I do love this movie, the music and the subject. Anne Bancroft was EXCELLENT in this role. Coo, coo ca choo, Mrs. Robinson. I really liked her. Look forward to these weekly “doesn’t make any sense” things and I wish I’d thought of it. ;).

    1. Anne Bancroft is INCREDIBLE in it. Her character is so complex, sad, kind of a parody of itself. One of my favorite parts is when Dustin Hoffman asks her to talk about art with him and then she says she knows absolutely nothing about it. Then, later on in the conversation when he asks her what her major was in college, she says it was art. So sad but I think that her situation was really common among women in the 60s.

      1. Yes, one of those dirty little secrets the gals didn’t talk about back then. How things have changed! Now they buy 30 shades of orgasms and talk about it alot. Geez. Anne Bancroft WAS incredible. All she wanted was Dustin for was a “few things” and that didn’t include talking about art, if you know what I’m sayin.’

  6. If its a comedy, it’s a dark comedy, for sure.

      1. I was just about to say this might be the caveat. Although I don’t know how many video stores have a dark comedy section…except in Austin. I’m pretty sure Vulcan Video and I <3 Video have them. Now if that's where they house The Graduate, I'm not sure.

  7. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that movie, but like you, I don’t remember it being a laugh fest. I suppose it’s funnier than Dustin Hoffman’s “Marathon Man.” Have you seen that one? Oh my, makes going to the dentist a whole new experience…

    1. I haven’t seen it but if it’s on Netflix I will definitely check it out. Seriously though, The Graduate is awesome. Just not funny. You should see it again.

  8. I haven’t seen The Graduate in a loooong and when I saw it, I’m sure 96% of it went over my head. Like the fact Mr. Feeny is in it. WHHAAAAAAAT?!

    1. Long time. TIME. Key work there.

      1. Would you believe I didn’t even notice it? You should watch the movie for Feeny alone. He’s super skinny and all goofy.

  9. WORD. OMG. Seriously? I’m getting off the computer now.

  10. Bwahahahaha! This blog post is way funnier than The Graduate will ever be. Good job!

    1. Thanks! Totally unrelated, but I had a dream last night that Anna was pregnant and Nick got a lie-detection kit for Christmas.

  11. unfetteredbs · · Reply

    It is like “Where the Boys Are?” ever see that one? Right up there with Fast Times at Ridgemont High.. a very serious undertone for the times. Good post.. and $200 on quinoa ?? Isn’t that like grit or something?(I am just kidding) but it is pretty GACK to me

    1. Haha I was just kidding on the quinoa thing ;D But I probably could spend that much if I actually had money to spend. I have never seen Where the Boys Are, but I think I have heard the song. Are they related?

      1. unfetteredbs · · Reply

        if it was from 1960 yes (and no I was not born yet either) It is a great movie– you should watch it if you like that era. It is a bit racy for the times.

          1. unfetteredbs · · Reply

            just remember I said for the times… not current racy. Don’t want you to be disappointed. (smile)

  12. It’s probably the end that’s the funniest. Like, “LoL can you believe we ruined your wedding?” Hilarious stuff right there.
    I love Sufjan. Whenever I play his music, people are always like “ughghg what is this crap?” No one appreciates me is what I’m trying to say.

    Excellent post, Em!

    1. Thanks, Lil. Ben really likes Sufjan but I can’t listen to him without wanting to take a nap. Maybe I should put his CD on whenever I am having a hard time putting C down for a nap. His song Chicago always makes me craaaaazy sentimental though.

      1. That whole Illinoise album is da bomb. Decatur is such a good tune. By the way, I just went to my video store and The Grad (can we call it that?) was in the Drama section where it belongs. Canadians finally did something right.

  13. I think the movie categories are just too limited for today’s more diversified audience who’ve had access to psychotherapy (for better or worse). I think this movie, and many others (Harold & Maude comes to mind) should be “TragiComedy.” Maybe the original production company defined the category for The Graduate themselves, perhaps thinking that Comedy would sell more tickets than Tragedy with Some Funny Bits. And Tiny Men. ?

    1. That makes a lot of sense, Laura. I guess what makes the movie so good is that it really straddles the line between drama and comedy and muddles them together. What you said about psychotherapy reminded me of the “research” I did on this post. Did you know that the actress who played Elaine Robinson also played the psychologist in Donnie Darko? Another awesome movie.

      1. Oh, interesting about the actress… I’ve never even heard of Donnie Darko. Must put it on Netflix list! Yeah, I think some of the most interseting art/writing/drama are things that can’t be easily categorized.

  14. How I want something gross from Hardees.

    1. That stuff will stick to your bones.

  15. I saw The Graduate at a much younger age than I should have, even for a bear, so I will have to revisit it; you’ve made me very curious about its possible miscategorization.
    I read The Exorcist too young as well, which might explain some of the stuff that’s been going on at my house.
    As for Hardees, thank goodness we don’t have those here. At least I think we don’t. But a country that worships poutine as much as this one can’t very well be self-righteous about having no Hardees.

    1. I have been hearing a lot about poutine lately, and I have to admit that it sounds pretty gross. But then of course kimchi sounds gross if you haven’t ever eaten it, so what do I know.

      I really need to read The Exorcist. I read a book once about the real events that the book is based on, but I could never get into it because apparently vomiting up pea soup was not as integral to the general plot as it is to the movie. What’s up with that?

      1. Pea soup is in the neverland between solids and liquids…avoid at all costs. It’s okay to drink shooters that look like pea soup, though.

  16. Can’t help you here, Emily. Us non-Saints are clueless when it comes to movie dissection…

    1. That would explain why the very unsaintly Kim Jong Il had such horrible taste in movies and filmmaking ;)

  17. I think you may be on to something, both with the Things that Don’t Make Sense series (looking forward to more!) as well as this first installment of why The Graduate is a comedy. I thought it was funny when Dustin Hoffman jumped into the pool in all his scuba gear and there were lines that I laughed at throughout the movie. But it was no rom-com. Maybe humour/comedy is classified differently then than it is now and it’s too hard to have a movie change categories. It may never be found again if they put it into “drama” or “reality.”

    1. That is a really good point. I guess back when it came out, movies were categorized on a different rubric than they are now. That whole scene where he is forced into the pool in his scuba stuff is funny, though. I feel kind of bad for him that it’s his 21st birthday and he has to celebrate it with all his parents’ friends and their little kids.

      1. He is one strange 21 year old. Were things that different then? Kids are kids no?

  18. A great series, and I agree, I can only imagine that the “funny” point is meant to be that she would like a short child like Dustin Hoffman. Har de har har.

    1. LOL indeed. He was such a hot item in the 60s.

  19. The beauty of your writing is that while I did not previously know what a “T-Zone” is, I got it easily from context. I’m not sure how I’ll ever put that knowledge to good use, though.

    1. It is really hard to make a good t-zone joke. I have been looking for the right opportunity for a long time now. So maybe just stick it in the back of your mind and then you’ll be able to use it someday.

      1. I hope so, because such is the treacherous nature of my brain that for every new bit of information imparted, something is sacrificed. To gain “T-Zone,” I lost the name of that little punching-bag thing in the back of everybody’s throat.

        Was it worth it? I guess I’ll have the rest of my life to think about that.

        1. If a cartoon is ever made of the inside of your mouth and the protagonist hangs onto that hangy ball, then you are for sure going to have a hard time explaining your troubles to the doctor.

  20. Great post, Emily! I’m so with you on this. If it’s comedy it’s the most uncomfortable comedy I know. Maybe when his car runs out of gas? Nah, that can’t be it. I think you may be onto something with the size of DH’s head, though… thinking…..
    I got it!! The humor lies in the fact that they cast Dustin Hoffman as a track star, a college athlete!!!! hahahahaha! That’s it, right?

    1. Lisa, how do you know my mind? I was on the edge of making that college athlete joke but then I edited it out at the last minute! I guess if he can be a star athlete then there is hope yet for my very own Olympic career.

      1. LOLOL! Me too! Let’s do it. That’s how we’ll make our fame and fortune!

  21. “Plastics”

    Cmon, that was funny! Mrs. Robinson (coo coo cachoo) was the original cougar, Dustin Hoffman the forerunner of college kids moving back in with Mom and Dad. It was not a western, a drama, a thriller or a musical, therefore the only category left in those times was comedy.

    1. I will openly admit that the plastics line is pretty hilarious. Have you ever seen Annie Hall? The Joey Nickels scene always reminds me of the guy who tells DH to go into plastics. Two very, very good movies.

  22. I never saw it as a comedy either. Who gets to decide these things? Many times I have watched a movie because I was in the mood for a comedy and Netflix said it was a comedy. Netflix lies. I cried during Sunshine Cleaning. Netflix, you don’t get to call a movie a comedy if you MAKE ME CRY. Thumbsucker. Not. A. Comedy. Both good movies, but I have no idea how they decide the genre. P.S. “oily t-zone”… HILARIOUS.

    1. Netflix has many, many issues. I could probably write an entire post on that alone. I haven’t heard of those movies you mentioned but I will be sure to check them out next time I am in the mood for a good cry.

  23. Great movie, not a comedy. Coming of age, yes, but not really funny.

    1. Coming of age movies are the best, no?

  24. At the time that “The Graduate” was released, censorship was breaking down in American cinema. The film industry no longer wanted the federal government to control it. Back then, if you made a film that the Legion of Decency gave a condemned rating to, you’d either have to re-edit, or your film couldn’t get a release. Films like “The Graduate” and “Bonnie and Clyde” didn’t play by the arcane rules, the studios released them and they were huge hits at the box office. I think that “The Graduate” was a film that was so unique in its day, it was hard to categorize. Some if it was funny, much of it was dramatic, and there was even some romance. Possibly one of the biggest jokes about “The Graduate” is that in reality Anne Bancroft was less than six years older than Dustin Hoffman. I always thought one of the wittiest moments was when confused Ben asks Mrs. Robinson, “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” Yet, I thought this moment when Anne and Dustin reunited at the Academy Awards 27 years later was even funnier:

    I like this series of yours, Emily. It’s thought-provoking. I hope that you continue to write it.

    1. That was an awesome clip! I also found out when I was consulting IMDB that the actress who played Elaine was only nine years younger than Anne Bancroft. It’s pretty interesting that the whole cast were basically in the same age bracket.

      I had to keep reminding myself when I was watching The Graduate that it was from an age when censorship was “coming of age”, ie it was becoming more like it is today than it was back in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s. The movie is still pretty shocking, even by the standards of today.

  25. If the Graduate was funny, I so did not get it.
    This post was funny!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you would categorize it that way! ;D

  26. Now I feel I must rent it again to see if I can find the comedy.

    1. You should definitely rent it. It’s a great movie, even though it’s not too funny.

  27. While you’re at it, I’d also appreciate an explanation of why Hardees gets to call itself a “restaurant.”


    Amazingly, I have never seen The Graduate, nor have I eaten at Hardee’s, so I am useless.

  28. The book is funnier but in a dry humor sort of way. It brings out the tongue in cheek the movie did not do justice, too. Hoffman was miscast.
    Restaurants stopped being restaurants when people stopped “dressing to the nines” to eat out and started wearing jeans and t-shirts to every eating establishment. Why have a “restaurant” when you are only serving sustenance and not an experience. HF

  29. First, Hardees is not a restaurant. It’s a gas station that forgot to sell gas. It’s my college life after the bars closed in a drunken haze. It’s….ugh.

    Second, YES! The Graduate is hilarious! It’s dark, it’s so very, very dark. And it’s even more dark when you watch it as a young adult and can totally relate to it in a bad way. But there are so many parts that make me laugh out loud. Like the “plastics” part. Come on! That is classic and hilarious. And there are so many little nuances that I love, like when he tells his parents he asked Elaine to marry him and they get so excited and then he slowly lets them down by saying she doesn’t even like him. And then he walks away and the toast pops up out of the toaster. I love that part. And when he goes to find Elaine and ends up at her fiance’s fraternity house and they refer to him as The Makeout King. Oh, I can go on and on and oh holy crap I think I just did.

  30. I totally agree. I think the reason its considered a comedy is that no teen in 1967 was going to be like “Poor Ben! He should rebel against society and be his own person!” Because not many people were thinking that way back then, ESPECIALLY teenagers. They were very repressed, just like Ben is. Only they saw this as funny, because what else?
    Modern young adults see it as a dramatic struggle, because they are used to being treated better than kids were back then. I see it as a beautiful film, about a teenager breaking free from his parents and society.
    Back then, nobody would take that seriously. Teenagers with freedom? What a joke. Those dang kids. Watching them struggle is funny!
    Our perception has changed so, so much.

  31. You’re missing a great effect here

  32. Reblogged this on Plastic Alto with Mark Weiss and commented:
    I was fact-checkng something about how Pi Day, which I hope to celebrate for the very first time, or berry first time, this weekend, and a half-remembered line from Buck Henry’s “The Graduate” and Mike Nichols’ and found myself in a time-warp to a brave new world of Waiting Is Not The Hardest Part my fellow WordPress blogger, and added, to her 80 previous comments, from My Birthday Two Years Ago, about her not thinking The Graduate should be filed “comedy”, that she is missing a great effect. Which is a line. When Ben or Dustin loves Elaine but is trying to be mean to her and drags her to a strip show and humiliates her and the performer is spinning her pasties I guess in opposite directions, one clockwise and one counter-clockwise; it’s not funny because she is humiliated, the irony in the classical sense, we know what the two characters stuck in the script don’t know, that he loves her so he’s being mean, and that’s why it’s funny, right? That, and him approaching the hotel clerk and fake-yawning and saying he found his tooth brush, and will turn in now. Like today, I had a large stack of books at Palo Alto College Terrace library and I asked the clerk or librarian or staff member, who is also Pinay, by the way, if you are spilling over from below, about Pi Day w. Pinay, if at that branch they sell friends of the library canvas tote bags, I would buy another, rather than balancing my books and giving self carpal tunnel, and she offers me a plastic not quite reusable grocery or I would say garbage bag, and I say not thanks, and what I’m getting to, back to “The Graduate” is indeed in my trunk I do have another bag, canvas, from Stanford Hospital and I’m all set and I wanted to run back in there and say “all set”.

    I will try to read more of this blog more currently and get her drift. Save me a piece, sweetie. And in real life I don’t call people “sweety” although someone just hit me with that the other day, must be from New Orleans.

  33. hi, after going through your post and a lot of comments, i can’t really hold back. I only watched the movie recently and really enjoyed it. The question that you are proposing is based on the premise that a movie should belong categorically to a category. Any movie like any other other form of art should not be categorised and left to be enjoyed as an amalgam of emotion and experiences.

  34. Don Smith · · Reply

    just so everyone knows that is wondering, the genre is revisionist romantic comedy. id just google it i wont be able to explain it as well as the rest of the internet

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