The first public screening of motion pictures was held in 1895 by Louis Lumière, who showed ten very short films directed by him. Most of these were microdocumentaries, but there was also a comic anecdote entitled "L'arroseur arrosé" ("The Sprinkler Sprinkled"). This forty- four- second movie, which has been called the first comic film, involves a middle- aged man and an adolescent boy. The man is watering a lawn when the youth steps on his hose, interrupting the flow of water and causing the man to peer into the nozzle with a stupidity that foretells the whole future of film comedy. Then the boy removes his foot from the hose, which squirts the man in the face.
If you think the symbolism Freud saw everywhere was just a figment of his filthy imagination, a good look at the humor of his era — the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — will convince you that he wasn't the only one with a dirty mind. We all have dirty minds, in the sense of thinking a lot about sex; and when a culture forbids people to discuss or represent sex directly, they don't think about it any less. They just discuss and represent it indirectly. There's no other way to account for the bewildering profusion, in old humor, of jokes about squirting and soaking.
Garden hoses, seltzer bottles, squirting flowers, dunking stools, water balloons, plumbing disasters, puddles, brimming buckets above doorways— an intelligent being from a planet with humor but not water might conclude from earthling humor that there is something uniquely funny about that substance. In Snoopy's first appearance, in the third ever Peanuts strip (October 5, 1950), he gets drenched as he walks below Patty's window with a flower affixed to his head just as she is watering the flowers in her window box. Chekhov famously wrote that if you show a gun above a mantelpiece in Act 1, the gun has to go off in Act 3. And it's the same with squirt guns, hoses, and the like: if you show one in the first scene of a slapstick comedy, or the first panel of a comic strip, it has to soak somebody by the last.
Christopher Miller's American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny. Available from Amazon.
If we grant that a train going into a tunnel can stand for intercourse, and a burst of fireworks for orgasm, we should at least be willing to entertain the proposition that the water squirting at people in a zillion comic strips, cartoons, and live- action comedies— and in real life from a zillion trick flowers and other squirting novelties— sometimes stands for urine or semen. Every baby pisses on its parents, and the urchins who squirt grownups in old comics are asking to return to that beatific state when such deeds were allowed because all was allowed. As for semen, men have been ejaculating in other people's faces as long as oral sex has been around, and it's safe to say that in any era where they couldn't joke openly about such things, humorists have joked about them covertly.
Mad's maddest artist, Don Martin, was especially fond of squirting flowers, and used them in many of his Mad cartoons. in one, a doctor attending to the owner of Irving's trick and novelty Store is squirted in the face— with a "SHKLITZA"— by a vase of flowers at the convalescent's bedside. in another, a man buys a squirting flower from Hal's novelty Shop and then tries it on a pedestrian, but the rubber bulb bursts messily in his pocket with a "SKLOOSH . . . glik glik glik glik." (Anyone who doubts that the real gag with squirting flowers is about piss should reflect that the water is kept in a rubber bladder in the prankster's pocket, close enough to his penis that if the bladder bursts, it looks like he's wet himself.) in another, two men are walking on a beach when one is squirted in the eye with a "SHKLIKSA!" by something buried in the sand that turns out to be a clam. They stroll on, with the unique double- jointed gait of all Don Martin characters, until the other man gets squirted with a "SHKLIZICH!" by what proves to be a buried squirting flower. Nor should we forget the one where an Old Testament practical joker comes up to Moses and says, "Hey . . . get a load of my new boutonniere." When the joker tries to squirt him, Moses parts the waters with a "GASHKLITZ."
Flowers are the classic squirting novelty, but by no means the only one. The 1929 Johnson Smith catalog also offered a Squirt Pencil ("it is a good joke to play upon the inquisitive person who insists on looking to see what you are writing"), a Squirt cigar case, a Squirt cigar cutter, a Squirt Pipe, a Squirt electric Button (which looks like a doorbell but squirts the caller rash enough to push it), a Squirt Pocket Mirror ("if charged with scent instead of water it will probably prove less objectionable to the ladies"), a Squirt rubber Heart (imprinted with the words "Wiedersteht jedem Eindruck"— a suspicious number of laff- getters originated in Germany), a Squirt rubber Snake, and a Squirt Mouse. By the 1940s, the company had added several new squirting gags, and anyone who doubts that the real joke has do with bodily fluids should consider the ad, in the 1942 catalog, for the Squirt chocolate Bar: " 'Say, sweetie, have a piece of chocolate!' This is the one all the girls 'bite' on. The chocolate bar is temptingly peeled open. As they reach for a piece, give the bar a gentle squeeze, and out shoots a stream of water."