The Humor We Find in Other’s Discomfort

Awkward comedy or cringe comedy, is defined by some as a specific genre of comedy that derives humor from social awkwardness.  Others may define it as watching the room react when your 80 year old grandpa forgets it’s 2017 and not 1950.  However you may define it, to some it is comedy in it’s finest form.  Watching someone as they struggle each step of the way to figure out how to respond to what is happening.  A live, unexpected, improv show right in front of your face.  To others it is gut wrenching, the awkwardness of the player is inherited by the observer.  In essence, to some, it is just plain awkwardness, and not comedy at all.  Then there are those with a stance somewhere in-between, like me.

One of my favorite sitcoms “The Office”, mastered the art of cringe comedy, shown by this video.  Michael Scott, Americas favorite boss is often the center of many awkward situations due to his lack of social IQ.  To me it’s hilarious, I’ve seen every episode multiple times and laugh every time.   The key is that it is staged, in the back of your head you know someone isn’t really watching their boss dance like a complete moron in front of everyone.  There’s character development as well, you know what to expect from Michael Scott, or in other cases, Nathan for you, Eric Andre, or Zach Galifinakis in most of the things he does.  Finally, there’s an ability to escape these situations, in “The Office” when these awkward situations arise, they can switch over to another story line to relive the audience when the timing is just right.  Your not stuck to the point where someone is offended or embarrasses the person for being awkward, making it even MORE awkward.  The underlying basis is that your in on the joke.

The biggest problem with cringe comedy in real life is it actually affects you or people you know, take this scene from “Nathan For You“.  It seems as though most of this is set up and a situation like this would never arise, but bare with me.  Towards the end, Nathan asks the young man going on a date a bunch of questions about whether or not the guy plans to harm or violate the young women he’s taking on a date.  Questions any human with an ounce of decency wouldn’t need to be asked.  To us, were in on the joke, we know this is all set up, it’s hilarious.  But imagine if this was some girls real dad, and you somehow found yourself next to your friend getting these questions asked in real time.  You’d be scared shitless, or at least be really weirded out, with a range of emotions, depending on whether or not this dad (asking very intense questions) could kick your ass.

That’s awkward comedy in a nutshell, whether you find it funny or not is completely on a person to person basis.  Just like many other forms of comedy, like charged humor, black humor, or situational humor, it all depends on your world views, personality type, and past experiences on what you find funny; and in this case what you find to be just awkward enough too make you laugh and not shrink up into a ball trying to escape the situation as quickly as possible.


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