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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A lot of sitcoms are, in fact, darker than you realize. At its core, "Two and a Half Men" is about loneliness. "The Big Ban Theory" is about alienation. "Mike & Molly" is about self-hatred. You would never know it from the shows themselves, but you do, sometimes, feel it while watching them. To laugh at these things with our mental families may allow us to cope with our own loneliness and alienation and self-hatred. It may be that the sitcom's constant avoidance of any final, dramatic catharsis is its accidental strength. If so, that would make this least lifelike form of entertainment the most comfortingly similar to real life."
"A Simple Medium," by Tom Bissell, The New Yorker, December 6.

Comedy is discomfort. It is about something bad happening to someone else.

Slapstick is comedy about physical pain and, occasionally, death. ("And now we see the importance of Not Being Seen.")

A lot of teen comedies are about the characters being embarrassed or scared.

A lot of grown-up comedies are about characters doing things for which they should be embarrassed, but aren't, so we're embarrassed for them. (E.g. the Marx Brothers, THE OFFICE, SEINFELD, ROSANNE, Mr. Bean, etc.)

I would say a lot of Woody Allen's comedy, back when he was funny, was based on frustration. The comedy in my series, NAKED JOSH, was mostly frustration. A lot of Jewish humor is based on frustration. And fear. No soup for you!

Absurdist comedy ) is really a sort of intellectual discomfort. ("We want your pollen.") Juxtapose two things that don't go together and you get absurdity. (ROMANES EUNT DOMUS!) As my six year old daughter will say, laughing, "Thaaaat's not riiiiight!"



Which is why Canadian Sitcoms so rarely work. You're not allowed to feel or experience -- even gently -- the darkness at the core of it. So Little Mosque can't actually be about xenophobia and racism and reverse racism. The "dark heart" gets systematically sanded down and out.

Four Cdn comedies that work -- Slings & Arrows, Trailer Park Boys, Call Me Fitz, Less Than Kind -- all retain their dark hearts.

Corner Gas was dark too for all its whimsy -- a riff on the intolerance in small towns, dressed up as "not a lot going on."

By Blogger DMc, at 12:52 PM  

I think it was Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land that observed (through one of his character) that humor is pretty much about laughing at pain & hurt.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 1:04 PM  

Carlin was great about that too.

And somewhere I remember some writer who contrasted a laugh to a sneeze. Both were explosions of the unexpected -- and the laugh comes because either it's laugh, or be consumed by horror.

By Blogger DMc, at 2:53 PM  

via DMc re: Larry Gelbart's comments "If what you're writing is likely to neither offend nor upset someone, start over."
Hence the problem with Canadian Comedy ranging from the newest improv troupe to the the CBC.

By Blogger sean, at 11:04 PM  

Of course, there's the opposite problem, such as with Comedy Central sitcoms, which often seem to have no purpose other than to be offensive and cause discomfort, and as such are generally awful.

By Blogger Little Miss Nomad, at 2:28 AM  

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