Honeymooners Kisser Disser
May 16th, 2019 – Catchphrases can often become as iconic on a television show as the characters themselves. Lucy Ricardo had some splainin’ to do. Arnold Drummond wanted to know what Willis was talkin’ ’bout. Joey Tribbiani wanted to know how all the ladies were doin’. And while most catchphrases are pretty harmless, some are harder to swallow (that’s what she said).
On The Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden had a couple catchphrases solely for his wife, Alice. Fed up with her misgivings about his latest get-rich-quick schemes he would lean in, raise his fist and shout ”One of these days, Alice – Pow! Right in the kisser!” Played by sketch comedy legend Jackie Gleason, Ralph would change up the playful threats exclaiming “BANG, ZOOM!” or “You’re going to the moon!”
The Honeymooners only lasted for one season, but the episodes became enshrined in the sitcom world. Dubbed the “Classic 39” episodes, Ralph and Alice’s shenanigans aired on CBS from October 1955 to September 1956. Originally crafted as a sketch on Cavalcade of Stars and The Jackie Gleason Show, The Honeymooners was a pioneering comedic hit with its cast filming live with little rehearsal to keep the lines and reactions fresh.
Ralph was a boisterous bus driver living in a dingy, barely furnished Brooklyn apartment with his best friend, Ed Norton, living on the floor above. While his wife possessed the patient, level-headed genes, Ralph would wind himself up every episode — his fuse growing shorter by the minute — until he exploded on Alice. Although he never carried out any physical violence (and his wife easily held her own with a common comeback of “Ah, shaddap!”), the language used toward Alice hasn’t aged well.
In 1987, The New York Times ran on opinion piece referencing the catchphrase as an example of the insensitive and uneducated attitude toward domestic violence.
“The routine and the laughter it elicited reflected wide public insensitivity to the violence that continues as terrible reality in millions of households,” they wrote. “Poverty exacerbates domestic tensions, but such violence is by no means confined to the poor. To rationalize a punch in ‘the kisser’ is to deny a crime.”
For her part, Audrey Meadows defended her onscreen husband’s antics and empty threats years later. She categorized the actions as a way of letting off steam but acknowledged that the material might not work anymore.
“He never did touch her,” Meadows told Phyllis George on The CBS Morning News. “There was no violence there. It was his way of letting off steam, and that’s it.” In a 1985 Washington Post profile on Gleason and the release of additional Honeymooners episodes, Tom Shales noted that I Love Lucy had more truly troubling moments.
“Often in the heat of battle Ralph threatened Alice physically. Yet these threats remained so farcical, and the mutual devotion of Ralph and Alice so unmistakable, that even seen through ’80s sensibilities — a “Burning Bed” awareness of the frightening extremes of domestic violence — the threats are not upsetting,” Shales wrote. “The bleakness of [Ralph and Alice’s] lives is frightening; the possibility of violence occurring is not.”
When the show was adapted into a movie in 2005 starring Cedric the Entertainer, the lines “pow – right in the kisser” and “one of these days” were scrapped. “To the moon” was tweaked into “I’ll take you to the moon” and said in loving adoration when Ralph begins his relationship with Gabrielle Union’s Alice.
Do you think Ralph’s “Pow – Right in the kisser” catchphrase was playful or problematic? Would it fly in a television show today?