Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.
So I have a ten-year-old little brother.
And that means Disney Channel.
I’m going to get right into things today. While I’ve made a point of not being in the same room as the television at all, for a wide variety of reasons, I still am just a room away. This means that even through headphones and such, I can hear pretty much every line of dialogue my little brother watches. To be completely honest, I have the theme songs of most of the shows memorized–much to my own dismay. So I end up half-listening to whatever is going on over there, and half-listening to whatever music has made its way into my life most recently.
This gives me an indirect window into a lot of things, including but not limited to a lot of stereotypes, societal tendencies, emerging trends…et cetera. And it’s interesting, for about five minutes, to take a critical look at what exactly the content means. But then…those five minutes expire, and I want to pull my eyes out of my face because it will be markedly less painful.
That takes into account a number of factors, of course, but one drives me particularly insane.
The Comic Relief.
What I mean is, in every show without fail, there is a character created apparently for the singular purpose of making awful jokes at the expense of the storyline, other characters and audience. Which wouldn’t be as terrible, if there were occasionally a bit of actual humor in there, but…there isn’t.
Sorry, Disney. Frozen was still good, I promise.
Wow…that’s kind of a weird word…frozen…just looking at it, it seems more ominous and kind of more refined to describe a state of matter caused by a lack of thermal energy….
So there’s this character in every single freaking show, and it drives me absolutely insane.
Now, the reasons for its inclusion are kind of straightforward. Kids allegedly appreciate bad humor, it’s a useful cop-out for writers…stop me if any of this sounds familiar. But at the same time…it’s so unnecessary.
Come with me back to the eighties, for a minute. Cosby Show. Any takers? Family show, marketed to kids…but at the same time, the humor is so different from anything you’ll find today, especially in youth media. Take this clip, for example. For the record, the other actors’ laughter is real–this is pure improv, essentially. And while Bill Cosby takes some silliness liberties, to be sure, the delivery is genuine. That’s just it. And the humor is used as a vessel to convey something, rather than to simply exist on its own.
I’m not saying the show was some paragon of humor, but it wasn’t exactly poor-quality, either.
So this kind of brings me to my main point…but I’m not going to break it down or anything. Today I think I’m just going to say it.
You don’t need comic relief.
This applies to pretty much everything, but ESPECIALLY to writing fiction. The use of a specific character, put into use as some sort of comic vice, is pointless–even if the humor itself is good. You can have that character tell the best jokes, work in the funniest one-liners…but it’s still going to fall flat after about ten pages. And once it starts, the jokes will fail. Every. Single. Time.
The reasoning for this is simple: The jokes don’t need to happen. Whether they’re decontextualizing the scene, sacrificing emotional depth, or otherwise impeding the storyline, it’s absolutely a waste with regards to the actual content.
The jokes can be funny, if they’re told standing alone. They can be hilarious. Look at comedy legends and the jokes are golden. But slip one of those into a story, for the sake of it being there–which is the only reason it would be there–and it’s blatantly obvious.
Truth be told, it’s insulting.
Now, I know I’m probably sounding a bit mean today, but…this is kind of a long-standing problem in my mind. The Comic Relief character is everywhere, especially now, as the commercialization of media grows more and more every day. There is a formula being created for B-and C-rated content, and that formula includes vampires, the same teen love story, idiot authority figures, et cetera…and the Comic Relief.
But note that the content is B-and C-rated.
From what I’ve seen, I’ve been extremely fortunate as far as the people who read this blog are concerned. We’re all good writers. That’s that. But at the same time…it’s tempting to give ourselves and fall into these traps. It’s an easy solution to a hard problem.
But it doesn’t need to happen.
Revisiting the Cosby Show, watch any episode and you’ll see how the humor works. Here’s one, if you’ve got twenty minutes (skip to 1:30 if you want to go past the introduction). It’s not outright. The Comic Relief isn’t there. It’s a family dynamic–and that’s where the humor originates. It’s essentially a compilation of point after point that people can relate to, directly, because it’s all familiar and it’s all contextual.
That’s the key bit of it, too. It’s all offhanded, contextually appropriate, relatable humor that would come up, really, within the contours of any conversation between innately humorous people.
It’s not forced.
It’s not contrived.
And that’s why it’s good.
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May you remain existential,