Sunday, September 25, 2016

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Tone Deafness is Consistently Funny

Let’s talk about a type of comedy scene that almost always works: a scene where our hero is comically tone deaf. Before this scene, at his kid’s first birthday party, Grant had told Dev how great it was to have a kid, but now that Dev has returned to his house after the party, and asked to use the restroom, he gets a different story:
  • Man, I was just watching those guys for, like, an hour, and I'm destroyed. You had a kid for a year. How do you do it? What's your secret?
  • My secret is, I'm getting a divorce.
  • What? Are you serious?
  • We've just been dealing with some issues lately. We tried to figure it out. I don't think it's gonna work.
  • I thought everything was going really well. What about all that stuff you said earlier?
  • Oh, come on, man. That's bullshit you say at a party. What am I supposed to say? I don't sleep. I haven't fucked in a year. I never see my friends. I hate my wife. God.
  • Yeah, I guess that's not really good party... What's the word? Party... fodder.
  • Fodder, yeah. It's tough, man. We'd only been dating six months. Brenda got pregnant, and we really thought we could pull it off. It started off okay, but then things got a little rocky. It was just too soon. And then you throw a kid in the mix... And Zach's awesome. We couldn't love him any more, but it just wasn't enough to keep us together. Anyway, here's the bathroom.
  • All right. [sighs] Man, it smells really nice in there. You got to hit me with the deets on that candle. [Off his depressed look] Sorry.
  • [Sighs, but must admit:] It is a great candle.
Like most recent comedy heroes, Dev is a combination of laugh-with and laugh-at, and this scene is clearly the latter. We like comedy heroes with strong characterization, so it’s funny to show them sticking to their characterization even in situations where it’s inappropriate for them to do so.

This show never tips over into “cringe comedy”, but it does go far enough to be “wince comedy”. We get exasperated with Dev in a minor and pleasant way: he’s adorable because of irrepressible flaws, such as his tone-deafness.

A scene like this also allows the show to get serious, deepening and enriching the theme, but also undercuts that seriousness with persistent comedy. Just as Dev is impervious to the seriousness of the situation, so too is the episode able to take a few hits to its jocular tone and still stay afloat, which allows it to have it both ways.

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