Cringe comedy  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
comedy, humor, cringe

Cringe comedy is a comedy genre that uses offensive or vulgar material or awkward and embarrassing situations to cause audiences to be repulsed or feel uneasy. The audience will often laugh out of nervousness. Comedians who rely on this style of humor are often described as controversial; however, it is a burgeoning field of comedy, and has been popularized by comedians such as Ricky Gervais and Jim Norton.


On film

Humor based on uncomfortable situations, e. g. cringe humor, is not a new concept, but its recent flowering has deep roots. One can point to black comedy as the likely origin of the concept, as it is often intended to provoke a similar response. A movement toward this style of comedy began in earnest with the films and television show of Monty Python. Their film Monty Python's The Meaning of Life is generally considered to be a masterpiece of the genre. Countless films employing this style of comedy were made during the 1980s and 1990s (examples include There's Something About Mary, among many others). Unlike how it as evolved on television, cringe comedy in film is based more on scatology than on social embarrassment. One notable exception is the recent film Borat. Others include the films of independent filmmaker Todd Solondz.

On television

Cringe humor has followed a different path on television. TV standards do not allow the sort of explicit gags as do movies (cable programs such as Jackass, South Park, the work of Tom Green as well as many of the MTV-type shows such as Punk'd are exceptions). Practitioners of cringe humor on the small screen have tended to focus more on embarrassing social situations, as a result of said standards, as well as the controversy that some of these shows have attracted. Although it is rarely acknowledged as a part of this genre, one of the early shows that frequently employed this approach was Frasier, whose titular character's travails with romance often involved intricate and extraordinarily humiliating denouements. The label has been applied most frequently to the original (BBC) version of The Office. The series often captures excruciating moments in the lives of employees of a Slough-based paper firm, including, but not limited to, overheard conversations that suddenly become explicit in nature, office party dances so bad they literally leave the viewers speechless, and, frequently, boss David Brent's inability to censor himself or even understand that he is being offensive. This approach can also be seen in Gervais's more recent series, Extras, although Gervais's character is generally the straight man in the show. One also finds frequent examples of this in the Larry David-created series Curb Your Enthusiasm. David stars as a version of himself who is unable to censor his feelings and does not believe that he should have to follow social rules he does not like, but also feels that everybody should follow the social rules he likes (which he usually invents himself). The result is often unfortunate--nearly every episode ends in humiliation for Larry. This is a style that was previously used in popular UK sitcom I'm Alan Partridge in which the main character Alan Partridge, portrayed by Steve Coogan seemed inept at being able to keep his thoughts and emotions to himself and constantly spoke his mind. The critically-acclaimed Peep Show, took a different slant on this, by actually showing the audience the character's thoughts, often their most embarrassing and awkward ones.

David had begun to explore the bounds of traits generally regarded as socially unacceptable years earlier with a character loosely based on himself, George Costanza on Seinfeld, which he had co-created and served as an executive producer. Costanza's character storylines often revolved around extreme selfishness and blatant disregard of others, but portrayed more explicitly than David's Curb Your Enthusiasm version of himself.

Another show which can be closely identified with this trend is Da Ali G Show. Sacha Baron Cohen's crossover UK hit often features cringe comedy. This can be seen with two characters in particular: Borat, whose frequent anti-Semitic and misogynistic remarks generally make the audience uneasy (but often not the subjects of the interviews) and Bruno, whose extravagant homosexuality often drives his subjects' homophobia to the surface. The central character on the show, Ali G, often says things that are cringe-worthy in their stupidity, but whether his material can be considered "cringe comedy" is debatable.

In comedy

Some examples of comedians who often use cringe comedy:

Humiliation comedy

Since the 1990s a popular sub-genre of cringe comedy that has arisen is humiliation comedy, which is typified by the works of actor Ben Stiller. Humiliation comedy emphasizes the degradation of sympathetic characters typically in a slapstick, physical way (mostly self-imposed) which serves only to generate cringing laughs rather than advance a story line. While many comedies employ the humiliation of characters with physical slapstick, the device is used as part of the cathartic experience in the storyline. For example, in Revenge of the Nerds, the antagonist mean-spirited jocks reject and humiliate the protagonist lovable nerds, and the nerds avenge themselves by humiliating the jocks. In this example, humiliation is a device which helps advance the storyline of antagonist vs. protagonist. An example of humiliation comedy is There's Something About Mary where the protagonist Ted Stroehmann often serves as his own antagonist, and his self-imposed, bumbling physical tortures serve only to solicit laughs from a cringing effect, and they do little to develop the character or advance the storyline. Other examples include Meet The Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Along Came Polly.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cringe comedy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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