I don’t know how many comedies or half-comedies have resorted to a certain overworked bit, but many dozens have done so.

I’m talking about two or three or four characters realizing that something awful or calamitous or mortifying has just happened, and their uniform response is to scream “aaaaagggghhhhhh!”

If I’ve seen this once I’ve seen it 80 or 90 times, maybe more. And I’ve never laughed, not once.

If a bearded wizard were to come up and say “if you want, I can erase every last ‘aaaagggghhhhhh!’ scene that’s ever been used” I would say “yes…please!”

Question: Four or five decades ago some director invented an “aaaaggggghhhhh!” scene. It must have gotten a huge laugh the first two or three times or people wouldn’t still be drawing from that well.

So what film was the first? Was Bob Clark the responsible party?

I got started on this because there are at least two “aaaggghhh!” moments in Barbie apparently, at least according to a couple of trailers I’ve seen.

“Aaaaggghhh” almost certainly started in the early 1940s black-and-white era with (a) Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, (b) the Three Stooges and (c) Joan Davis in Hold That Ghost! (’41), arguably the all-time greatest Abbott and Costello comedy.

A friend says that Our Gang‘s Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) let go with a few “aaaggghhh!” screams in his day; ditto Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall in one or two Bowery Boys shorts.

But “aaaggghhh!” didn’t become a repeated, profoundly irksome cliche until much later.

Inner voices had been telling me that “aaaggghhh!” was launched around the dawn of the early ‘80s hormonal sex comedies, otherwise known as the tits ‘n” zits genre which began with Risky Business (‘83), which wasn’t itself tits ‘n’ zits but actually an urbane and sophisticated adult comedy.

But “no, wait, hold on,” a more probing voice recalled.

The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that “aaaaggghhhh!” actually began sometime in the mid to late ‘70s.

Someone has mentioned an early incarnation in Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (‘79), particularly from the bellowing larynx of Ned Beatty.

Then it hit me there were at least one or two big “aaaggghhh!” moments in I Want To Hold Your Hand, a 1978 slapstick screwball comedyabout the Beatles’ first U.S. arrival in February ‘64, directed by a young eager-beaver Spielberg protege named Robert Zemeckis. The under-appreciated cult film and box-office whiff costarred Nancy Allen and the always reliably hyper Eddie Deezen.

There were also a couple of full-throated “aaaggghhh!” moments in Zemeckis’s Used Cars (‘80), most memorably from the late, great Frank McRae (who passed in ’21) and the legendary Gerrit Graham.

I’m not 100% sure but I seem to recall (although I may be mistaken) a Gerrit Graham “aaaggghhh!” in Brian DePalma’s Phantom of the Paradise (‘74).

Boiled down, the principal responsible parties are most likely Zemeckis, DePalma, Graham, McCrae and Deezen. But mainly Zemeckis.

The most egregious and agonizingly unfunny “aaaggghhh!” moment (as in “will you assholes please shut the fuck up?”) is in Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Raising Arizona — a moment shared by twin beefalos John Goodman and William Forsythe.