Embarrassment Comedy

17:13 Wed 27 Dec 2006. Updated: 23:19 16 Jan 2007
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I’ve always had a tough time with it. I can see that it’s funny, but it’s also just painful. I can only take so much of it before having to stop.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is a classic example. It’s a fantastic show, extremely funny, and created by an obviously gifter observer of human foibles. But watching more than most of the first season just proved unendurable. Over time it came to seem less like comedy and more like watching the social equivalent of staged torture. At first watching Larry get screwed is funny… then it happens again. And again. And again. And some of it is cumulative, an incident building on the prior incidents. Essentially, it seems to cross the line into cruelty.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is an extreme case in a lot of ways, but it’s not unique in the reliance on setting up excruciatingly bad social situations for laughs. More or less every sit-com I can think of does this, and I remember physically wincing on numerous occasions while flicking channels, encountereing one of these setups, and lingering too long. I’d be pulled in by the show, but then I’d have to change the channel because the embarrassment just seemed too extreme.

I guess this is a form of squeamishness. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly squeamish, but if I add this category of things to the tally, then I clearly am—just regarding social rather than physical carnage.

It could be that I’m too scared of embarrassment myself to feel comfortable; it could be that I simply empathize too much with the protagonists. Neither of those explanations feel sufficient.

A friend of mine once made the claim (not original to him, but he endorsed it) that all comedy is based on deriving enjoyment from the suffering of others. I wouldn’t agree. I can certainly see the point, and there’s an awful lot of evidence to back that claim up (while I could only think of the category of wordplay comedy as clearly not predicated on the suffering of others). But if it’s true, there’s just something in me that’s not comfortable with it. Of course it’s funny (often hilarious), but I guess I’m overly nervous about where one crosses the line into voyeuristic sadomasochism…

(Today’s post probably inspired at least in part by watching Peep Show, comedy very much in the embarrassment genre.)

One Response to “Embarrassment Comedy”

  1. mollydot Says:

    I hate them too. They make me cringe.

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