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Funny Ha-Ha

By Alyssa Rosenberg

"Funny Ha-Ha"

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Jamelle explains why he doesn’t like The Office:

Much in the same way that a lot of people can’t handle dramatized violence or sex, I am almost incapable of watching the dramatized awkwardness and desperation that the show traffics in. The Office regularly leaves me feeling extremely uncomfortable, and more than a little bit depressed for the characters. It is actively painful to watch clueless mediocrities trudge through their jobs animated by little more than their mutual disdain and acrimony.

I actually couldn’t disagree more. The reasons Jamelle doesn’t like the show are the reasons why I enjoy it, and, I would argue, why it’s done so well. The best humor exists in the space between comedy and pain. We see this mix most often in dramas. I’m specifically thinking of Veronica Mars and scenes where the title character masked her pain and frustration with her peers through biting humor. Or, to go back a bit further, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow and Xander were at their most comedic when they played the losers to Cordelia’s queen bee.

But we don’t often see the bitter-sweetness of The Office in half-hour comedies, particularly sitcoms. Mostly we see dumb, broad jokes, and no real character movement or depth. In contrast, Michael’s desperation, Angela’s insecurity, and Jim’s inability to take off all inform the show’s realness, and more importantly, its humor.

My current television crush, Community, is an interesting study in pain and humor. While it isn’t nearly as awkward as The Office, it has a cast of seriously hurting men and women who are all attempting to make their lives a little better. Except, sometimes they’re so screwed up that they don’t know what “better” is, and the adults who teach them are often worse off. Add to that a fantastic, often absurd script each week, and you have a show which successfully blends pain and humor.

Huh, I didn’t mean this post to turn into a plug for Community, but it seems I just can’t help myself.

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