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Fact-Checking the ‘Goodfellas’ “Funny Like a Clown” Speech

It’s hilarious and horrifying — but is it accurate?

Warner Brothers/Ringer illustration
Warner Brothers/Ringer illustration

Goodfellas is a movie about the mechanics of the mob as carried out by four key characters. One of them, Paulie, is the leader of the organization. The other three (Tommy, Henry, and Jimmy) are various levels of henchmen. Early in the movie, Tommy, a hyper-aggressive psycho, holds court over dinner and drinks in a restaurant with several of his associates, including Henry, with whom he’s especially close. During the hangout, Tommy tells a story that prompts Henry to tell Tommy he’s a funny guy, which Tommy pretends to take as an insult. It’s a scene that has since aged into lore. It’s frenetic. It’s intimidating. It’s got just the right blend of boiling tension and uneasy confrontation and humor. But is it … true?

Let’s fact-check it.

These are the names of the people in the scene:

Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci): A quick-tempered enforcer in a criminal organization.

Henry Hill (Ray Liotta): Also a member of the aforementioned criminal organization. He is as ambitious as Tommy, though not nearly as violent.

Anthony Stabile (Frank Adonis): Also a member of the aforementioned criminal organization. He’s mostly an unseen character here.

Sonny Bunz (Tony Darrow): The owner of the restaurant that Tommy and Henry and Anthony and everyone else are having dinner at. He is not in the criminal organization, though he is familiar enough with them to get a sit-down meeting with Paulie.

Terrorized Waiter (Paul Mougey): The waiter serving Tommy and Henry and Anthony and everyone else at the dinner. He is not affiliated with any criminal organization, as far as I can tell. (He’s for real listed as “Terrorized Waiter” on the IMDb page for Goodfellas, which is my third favorite character listing of all time, behind Jean-Claude Van Damme being listed as “Gay Karate Man” in 1984’s Monaco Forever and a seagull getting listed as “Sully ‘Steven’ Seagall” during the credits in 2016’s The Shallows).

The Scene

TOMMY (to everyone at the table, halfway through a story about having been brought in for questioning following a bank robbery): What’s really funny is, the fucking bank job is way in Secaucus. I’m in the middle of the fucking weeds, laying down.

Fact check: Likely accurate. He was likely attempting to hide from the police, though it can’t be said for certain.

TOMMY (still to everyone): [The police officer] comes over, he says, “What are you doing?”

Fact check: Likely accurate that a police officer approached him, a known felon, and asked him what he was doing near a crime scene.

TOMMY (still to everyone): I said, “I’m resting.”

Fact check: Likely inaccurate that Tommy was simply resting in a pile of weeds. He makes no mention before or after this scene in the movie of being a weeds enthusiast.

TOMMY (still to everyone): “Here, you’re resting?! Go to a fucking beach or the park.” I said, “I’m resting.” I know I’m resting. I’m resting.

Fact check: Still likely inaccurate. Just because you say a thing a several times does not make it true. I spent the first six years of my sons’ lives telling them that every picture of Manu Ginobili that they saw was actually a picture of me. I must’ve said that shit 100 times. To the best of my knowledge, I am still not Manu Ginobili.

TOMMY (still to everyone): He pulls me in, he starts giving me all kinds of questions. You know, this and that. He says, “Oh, uh, so what are you gonna tell us, tough guy?” I said, “My usual. Zero, nothing. Why tell you?”

Fact check: Likely accurate. Tommy does not seem like the snitching type.

TOMMY (still to everyone): The fuck, he says, “No, you’re gonna tell me something today, tough guy.” I said, “Alright, I’ll tell you something: Go fuck your mother.”

Fact check: Likely accurate. Tommy does seem like the tell-you-to-go-fuck-your-mother type.

(Everyone laughs)

TOMMY (to Anthony): Bing, pow, boom, bang [makes these noises while showing how he was hit by the police]. You saw the paper, Anthony. My head was out like this [intimates how swollen his head was using his hand]. The prick.

Fact check: Accurate. Anthony confirms that he saw the paper, and that Tommy’s head was swollen from the beating.

TOMMY (to everyone): Eh. So now I’m coming around, you know, I start to come out of it. And who do I see in front of me? This big prick again.

Fact check: Likely accurate, given that the term “big prick” is being used in reference to the aforementioned police officer.

TOMMY (to everyone): He says, “Oh, what do you wanna tell me now, tough guy?” I said, “What are you doing here? I thought I told you to go fuck your mother?”

Fact check: Likely accurate. Tommy does seem like the reinforce-that-I-told-you-to-go-fuck-your-mother type.

(Everyone laughs)

TOMMY (to everyone): I thought he was gonna shit.

Fact check: Likely accurate. He likely did think the officer was going to shit. (However it’s impossible for me determine whether or not the officer did, in fact, defecate, or even if he felt like defecating.)

(Everyone laughs)

TOMMY (to everyone): Pow, ping, boom. The fuckers. I wish I was big just once.

Fact check: Likely accurate. Tommy is played by Joe Pesci, and Joe Pesci is short (5-foot-4). Short people do, on occasion, wish they were big. Tom Hanks made a movie wrapped around that exact premise in 1988. He was short and wished he was big. The movie was called Big. Tommy’s wish was not granted in Goodfellas like Tom Hanks’s wish was granted in Big. Goodfellas would’ve been a way different movie if it had. So would Big if Hanks’s wish hadn’t been granted. It wouldn’t have been called Big. It would’ve been called Normal. It probably would’ve sucked.

(Everyone laughs)

HENRY (to Tommy, laughing hard): Really funny. You’re really funny.

Fact check: Currently accurate. That is a funny story that Tommy told.

TOMMY (to Henry): Waddya mean I’m funny?

HENRY (to Tommy): It’s funny, y’know, the … the story. It’s funny. You’re a funny guy.

Fact check: Accurate on both counts. The story is funny and Tommy is funny, though he is quickly becoming less so.

TOMMY (to Henry): Waddya mean? You mean the way I talk? What?

Fact check: Inaccurate. Tommy is not funny because of the way that he talks. He is funny because of the things he says.

HENRY (to Tommy): It’s just, y’know, it’s … you’re just funny. It’s … you know, the way you tell the story and everything …

Fact check: Accurate.

TOMMY (to Henry): Funny how? I mean, what’s funny about it?
ANTHONY (to Tommy, worriedly): Tommy, no, you got it all wrong …

Fact check: Accurate. Tommy is pretending to have it all wrong. Tommy is pretending to believe Henry is insulting him. Henry is not insulting him. Henry is paying him a compliment.

TOMMY (to Anthony): Whoa, whoa, Anthony! He’s a big boy, he knows what he said.

Fact check: Accurate on both counts. Henry is a big boy and Henry knows what he said.

TOMMY (to Henry): What’d you say? Funny how? What?

HENRY (to Tommy): Just, you know, you’re funny.

Fact check: Inaccurate. Tommy is no longer funny.

TOMMY (to Henry): You mean, let me understand this … cuz I … maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m a little fucked up, maybe?

Fact check: Very accurate. Tommy is extremely prone to violence, up to and including murder. He is, to be sure, at least a little fucked up.

TOMMY (to Henry): I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?

Fact check: This was possibly accurate before but now it is no longer accurate. Tommy is not being funny, not like a clown or anything else someone might consider humorous.

TOMMY (to Henry): I make you laugh? I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? Waddya mean “funny”? Funny how? How am I funny?

HENRY (to Tommy, nervously): I don’t know, just … you know, how you tell the story. What?

Fact check: Inaccurate. Tommy does not know.

TOMMY (to Henry): No, no I don’t know.

Fact check: See? Told you.

TOMMY (to Henry): You said it. How do I know?

Fact check: Accurate. Henry did say it.

TOMMY (to Henry): You said I’m funny.

Fact check: Accurate. Henry did say that Tommy was funny.

TOMMY (to Henry): How the fuck am I funny? What the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me. Tell me what’s funny.

(Long silence)
(Longer silence)
(Longest silence)

HENRY (to Tommy, laughing): Get the fuck outta here, Tommy. Tommy.

Fact check: Inaccurate. Tommy does not need to get the fuck outta there. In fact, it’s the opposite. If all of the characters in the scene were ranked on how expeditiously they needed to get the fuck outta there, Tommy would rate last place. He has to get the fuck outta there the least. He is the one causing those who need to get the fuck outta there to feel like they need to get the fuck outta there. He is the impetus for all of the area’s fucks outta there.

(Everyone laughs)

TOMMY (to Henry, then to everyone): Ya motherfucker, I almost had him! I almost had him!

Fact check: Accurate. He did almost have him.

TOMMY (to Henry): You stuttering prick here!

Fact check: At least half-accurate. Henry did stutter on several occasions. I cannot speak to whether or not he is, or was, a prick.

TOMMY (to Frankie, then to Henry): Frankie, was he shaking? I wonder about you sometimes, Henry. You may fold under questioning!

Fact check: Extremely accurate. At the end of the movie, Henry folds under questioning, offering up evidence that helps convict Jimmy and Paulie.

(Everyone laughs)

TOMMY (to Sonny, who has snuck up on Tommy’s side): What the fuck is it with you? I thought I was getting pinched over here. He’s hanging on my fucking neck like a vulture, like impending danger. What do you want?

Fact check: This is inaccurate if Tommy is speaking literally (Sonny is not hanging on his neck like a vulture) but accurate if he is speaking figuratively (Sonny is hanging on his neck like a vulture).

SONNY (to Tommy): This guy’s worried [referencing the waiter, who is standing in the background]. He didn’t wanna come over and give you the check.

Fact check: Accurate. The waiter did not want to give Tommy the check because he knows that Tommy is Tommy (which is to say, capable of anything).

TOMMY (to Sonny): The waiter?

Fact check: Accurate. Sonny is referring to the waiter.

SONNY (to Tommy): If you could take care of this?

Fact check: Inaccurate. Tommy will not take care of it.

TOMMY (to Sonny): Yeah, it’s no problem. Tell him to put it on my tab. Of course.

Fact check: Accurate in the sense that Tommy would like for the waiter to add the bill to his tab, but inaccurate in that he has no interest or intention of paying the balance.

SONNY (to Tommy): That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You know, it ain’t just this here. It’s seven fucking big ones here. Seven fucking Gs you owe me here.

Fact check: Likely accurate. Tommy, a regular in the restaurant, likely owes $7,000 to Sonny.

SONNY (to Tommy): Seven thousand dollars, I mean … that ain’t peanuts.

Fact check: Accurate. Seven thousand dollars is not peanuts. It’s dollars. Seven thousand of them, to be exact.

SONNY (to Tommy): I don’t mean to be out of order or nothing.

Fact check: Accurate. Sonny is clearly terrified of Tommy. He does not mean to be out of order. He simply would like his bill paid, which hardly seems unreasonable.

TOMMY (to Sonny): You don’t mean to be out of order?

Fact check: Accurate.

TOMMY (to Sonny): Jeez, it’s good you don’t mean to be out of order, Sonny.

Fact check: Inaccurate. It is not good Sonny didn’t mean to be out of order, because, at least according to Tommy, the fact that Sonny even brought it up means he was out of order.

TOMMY (to Sonny): You call embarrassing me in front of my friends, calling me a fucking deadbeat, you know … [Tommy grabs Sonny by the tie] You know, Sonny, you’re a real fucking mutt.

Fact check: Inaccurate. There are two definitions listed on Google for “mutt.” The first is: “A dog, especially a mongrel.” Sonny is not a dog. Sonny is a human man. The second definition is: “A person regarded as stupid or incompetent.” I would argue that Sonny’s willingness to approach Tommy about his outstanding balance means Sonny is a more-than-competent restaurant owner. (Of course, I’m also willing to admit that approaching Tommy was not a smart move. This one’s a push, I suppose.)

TOMMY (to Sonny): You know the money we spend in this fucking —

SONNY (to Tommy): What are you talking about? Come on. Don’t be like that, Tommy. Come o —

TOMMY (to Sonny, as he smashes a glass into his forehead): What do you mean, “Don’t be like that”?!

(Sonny runs away. Tommy gives chase just enough to kick Sonny. Everyone at the dinner table laughs.)

TOMMY (to Henry): Do you believe this prick? You think this is funny, eh?

Fact check: Accurate. Henry is laughing a great deal. He thinks it’s all very funny.

TOMMY (to the waiter): What the fuck are you looking at? You fucking … you fucking moron. You don’t wanna bring the check?

Fact check: Extremely inaccurate (the waiter being smart enough to not deliver the check to Tommy shows that he is not a moron) and also extremely accurate (the waiter super did not want to bring the check over).

TOMMY (to Henry): Do you believe this prick? Fucking guy. You’re supposed to be doing this stuff, too, you know?

Fact check: Accurate. Henry is a criminal, the same as Tommy. He should likely be doing criminal activities.

HENRY (to Tommy): You know what? You’re a funny guy.

Fact check: Accurate. Tommy is back to being funny.

TOMMY (to Henry, pulling a handgun from his waist and pointing it at him): That’s it, Henry. That’s it, Henry.

Fact check: Inaccurate. That is not it. Tommy does not shoot Henry.

HENRY (to Tommy): No, no, no. Come on, come on, come on.

TOMMY (to Henry): Hey, you wanna laugh? This prick last week asked me to christen his kid.

Fact check: Likely accurate. Within his particular sphere of associates, Tommy is an important person. It is very likely that Sonny asked Tommy to christen his child.

TOMMY (loudly, to Sonny, but really to everyone in the restaurant as they’re all watching Tommy by this point): Yeah, alright. For $7,000, I charge you.

HENRY (to Tommy): You really are a funny guy!

Fact check: Accurate. Tommy really is a funny guy.

In sum, the “Funny Like a Clown” scene is: Very Accurate.