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Cringe comedy is a specific genre of comedy that derives humor from social awkwardness. Often a cringe comedy will have an air of a mockumentary and revolve around a serious setting, such as a workplace, to lend the comedy a sense of reality. It could be argued, therefore, that the film The King of Comedy (1983), directed by Martin Scorsese, was a forerunner of cringe comedy.
The protagonists are typically egotists who overstep the boundaries of political correctness and break social norms. Then the comedy will attack the protagonist by not letting them become aware of their self-centered view, or by making them oblivious to the ego-deflation that the comedy deals them. Sometimes, however, an unlikable protagonist may not suffer any consequences, which violates our moral expectations, and also make the audience cringe.
"Imagine the cutlery laid out for a formal dinner. Suppose that the salad fork is in the wrong place. If you are the sort of person who is disturbed by such deviations from the norm, you will not be capable of finding this amusing. On the other hand, if you are more easy-going about such matters and also aware of the incongruity, it may elicit a chuckle. That is, you may find the error amusing or not. But if you find it genuinely amusing you cannot find it annoying."
This mutual exclusivity with annoyance can explain the divisiveness of cringe comedy.
Popular examples of television programmes that employ this genre of comedy include The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, Da Ali G Show, The Comeback, Parks and Recreation, Modern Family, Louie, Girls and The Mindy Project. Other TV programmes include The Inbetweeners, Peep Show, The IT Crowd, Nathan for You, The Last Man on Earth, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
- Susman, Gary. "Discomfort Zone: 10 Great Cringe Comedies". Time.
- See page 18 of Fairclough-Isaacs, K. (2014). Documentary's awkward turn: cringe comedy and media spectatorship, by Jason Middleton: New York, Routledge, 2014, 185 pp, ISBN 978-0415721073 (hardback). Comedy Studies, 5(2), 207-208.
- McFarlane, Brian (2009). "A curmudgeon's canon: random thoughts on 'Summer Heights High', 'The Office' and other nasty pleasures". Metro Magazine (160): 134–138.
- Carroll, Noël (2014). Humour: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-19-955222-1.
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