Adult Swim, Anti-Comedy, and Cringe Humor: What’s the Appeal?

V. Breaking Out of Late Night


Anti-Comedy has received a big screen facelift in recent years thanks to director Rick Alverson. His two latest feature film ventures, Entertainment and The Comedy, have joined his bleak and biting satire with recognizable Anti-Comedy faces (Gregg Turkington in the former and Heidecker in the later).

In The Comedy, Heidecker plays a 35 year old man-child trying to escape the hollowness of his upper-class existence by breaking social norms, drinking heavily, and disrespecting everyone. For a more in-depth look at The Comedy, you can check out my full review of it here. The short story is that the film’s lack of structure contributes to the satire while also turning off many viewers from enjoying the piece. This structure fits squarely into the realm of Anti-Comedy.

The Comedy proved just as divisive as your standard Anti-Comedy affair, but it can be interpreted in a couple of ways that defend its merits. In one instance, it is clearly a satire of the very character Heidecker plays in the film: affluent, needy, borderline sociopathic. But it can also be viewed as a parody of film narrative itself. The characters focused on have drama inherent to storytelling, but the drama is superficial. The characters are purposefully unlikable. We question throughout why we are bothering to follow Heidecker’s character at all, and that seems to be the point.

A little backstory on Gregg Turkington. A longtime member of the comedy scene, he is perhaps most well-known for his off-beat character Neil Hamburger. Hamburger is a stand up comedian with an overly greased comb-over who gets on stage with a drink and another drink tucked under his arm (at times, two or three drinks tucked under his arm). Hamburger clears his throat into the microphone and awkwardly delivers corny or non-jokes in a barking manner. If his jokes don’t land, he’ll bark at members of the crowd.

Hamburger is, more or less, the character leading the charge in Alverson’s 2015 film Entertainment, although the role is entitled “The Comedian.” Turkington plays a fictionalized version of himself, putting Hamburger on small stages at dive bars across the south, to little success. The Anti-Comedy delivery of Hamburger is present, but the film itself is more of a tragedy than anything else, chronicling the cyclical mental turmoil of The Comedian. It does have a meta-satire element as well, depicting audiences who don’t understand the comedy of Hamburger’s Anti-Comedy just as audiences may not be on board for the narrative of the film itself.

Anti-Comedy in its nature is confrontational. Entertainment takes this confrontation to the next level by turning the tables on the audience itself, indicting them for their inability to laugh at what isn’t funny. Is this the future of the form: putting audiences on the defensive, making them the enemy? Perhaps. Or is it simply filming tragedies whose satire yields no comic relief?

Either way, no one is laughing.


As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)


Works Cited

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