Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Comedy: Laughing at the Clown

Last week’s post about Silicon Valley referenced social circles or norms as instruments of comedy. This week’s post continues to explain how those instruments serve comedy.

When a character defies, neglects, or ignores social norms, he makes himself a target for laughter, but the laughter tends to be gentle--more a chuckle really--because we recognize our own missteps. We remember when we have looked foolish and silly so we aren’t too harsh in our judgment. We will welcome the character back into our social circle once he recognizes his errors.

Donald Duck is a classic example of such a comic character. He’s quick-tempered and bull-headed. Either trait is bound to jeopardize his peace and harmony, but together those traits guarantee plenty of momentary misery. We laugh, shake our heads, and wonder when Donald will learn to calm down, be patient, and accept help, and once he does, we forgive all.

Donald Duck's kin--their waddle alone makes people smile.
Photo courtesy of Al Griffin Photography

Some characters will never be a Donald Duck. They never seem to learn. Jonah Ryan and Dan Egan, major characters on HBO’s Veep, are comic clowns so ambitious and so jealous of others that each is equally doomed to exist outside the boundaries of social circles.

Each character defies social norms. Dan recently ignored a date to meet Amy Brookheimer for a sexual romp in favor of Amy’s sister--just because she was handier. Jonah, in the same episode, cursed at potential voters because they insulted his appearance and later, offered him food that he disliked. His arrogance in both moments revealed the true nature of the candidate, and that nature is unelectable--or at least, was once unelectable--until the race for president in 2016, that is.

As a result of their natures and their bad behaviors, Jonah and Dan are forever condemned to dwell outside the circle of social norms. Even those among us who have stumbled on level pavement, stomped on the feelings of a dear heart, and thrown a tantrum over something truly inconsequential thrust Jonah and Dan outside the circle. They have yet to repent, yet to recognize their own hubris, and yet to ask forgiveness. In return, they have yet to be forgiven. They are the buffoons, the louts, and losers we are quite willing to laugh at--never with.

Reading Challenge:

“Read” Veep to enjoy its snarky, rapid pace; its deadly aim at narcissism, especially the peculiar narcissism among politicians; its bombast and its lambaste. Watch the antics of two clowns forever outside social norms.

Writing Challenge:

Identify a moment of low comedy in this season’s episodes of Veep. Explain why the moment exemplifies low comedy.