Superbad Bet Everything On The Success Of One 'All-Or-Nothing' Scene

There's always a risk when including a joke, gimmick, or punchline in a comedy that the audience won't respond well or find it funny, but featuring a long-running gag that continues throughout the story is one of the greatest cinematic gambles of all. If Biff Tannen getting covered in manure in the "Back to the Future" films didn't get a laugh, or Ted Striker's literal drinking problem in "Airplane!" fell flat, the constant appearance of the joke would only birth resentment from the audience. In the millennial favorite "Superbad," one of the most memorable scenes had to walk a tightrope line between humorous and offensive, forcing the entire team to go all-or-nothing on a visual gag.

The moment, in particular, involves Seth (Jonah Hill) dancing with a woman at a party who straddles his leg while grinding on him. When the two finish dancing, Seth is flagged down by some other party goers who realize that he has blood on his pants, a sign that the woman he was dancing with was menstruating and got period blood on his pants. His reaction is exactly as could be expected of a high school boy dealing with menstrual blood for the first time, and Seth spends the rest of the film trying to make it to a party, impress the girl of his dreams, and drunkenly run from cops, all while rocking a blood stain on his leg. They had to commit to the period blood joke and hope that it stuck the landing because once that costume was stained, there was no going back.

'We're kind of backed into a corner'

Vanity Fair sat down with the main cast and crew to provide an oral history of the film in honor of its 15th anniversary, and they specifically talked about the period blood scene and how much stress centered on whether or not it would work. "We had great amounts of lengthy discussions about the period-blood dancing leg scene," said producer Shauna Robertson, "because once he's got period blood on the leg, we're kind of backed into a corner, and he's got to have that as his costume for the rest of the movie. So if it doesn't work, we've got to figure out something." 

Director Greg Mottola admitted that his first thought was whether or not the joke was offensive to women, and that he "didn't want to do something that crossed the wrong line."

"It was one of those ideas where we thought this is an all or nothing type of joke idea," said producer Judd Apatow. "It's either going to be really funny and people are going to get it, or they're going to be horrified and it's going to sink the movie." 

Now, I can't speak for all menstruating people, but I've always loved the scene because the punchline is so clearly "Cis men aren't mature enough to handle period blood," and not at the expense of women. This is confirmed when we later see Mark (Kevin Corrigan) wearing the same stain, completely unbothered by it, but furious that there's proof another man danced with his girlfriend.

'They locked themselves into that'

Ultimately, the team decided to go through with the joke, and Jonah Hill's character not only spends the rest of the movie with blood on his pants, but it also motivates him to use laundry detergent bottles as a way to smuggle alcohol from one party to another, his "a-ha" moment occurring while looking for a way to clean off the blood. "I gotta give Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] and [Greg] Mottola so much props, because they locked themselves into that," said Jonah Hill. "They didn't have another version they shot of that, like, the rest of the movie, I had that on my leg."

Judd Apatow said that they did shoot the film in a way that would allow the moment to be cut if necessary, but the lingering problem would have been the stain. "Maybe we would try to correct with CGI, but back then the CGI was more expensive than the budget of the film," he continued. Luckily, the big swing paid off, and "Superbad" became a beloved addition to the teen comedy canon.