Movies · TV

The Delicate Balance of the Tragicomedy

By  · Published on March 9th, 2017

The PB&J of storytelling.

Comedy and tragedy go together like peanut butter and jelly, they’re complimentary while at the same time they’re complete opposites. Both have elements of the other sewn into them, but when it comes to comedy in particular, a little tragedy thrown in translates to a certain kind of absurdity, one that has become quite prevalent in the last decade or so thanks to programs like Louis, Baskets (or really anything Louis CK is involved with), and You’re the Worst, and films like Little Miss Sunshine, (500) Days of Summer, and pretty much every Noah Baumbach and/or Wes Anderson movie.

Funny moments, it would seem, can be made even funnier by injecting some sadness into them, and for a discussion on the whys and hows of this strange alchemy we turn to Jack Nugent of the Now You See It channel on YouTube, who in his latest essay “My Favorite Movie Memory: Tragicomedy,” gives the subject a thorough exploration.

For my money, I think tragedy in comedy works because that’s how life works, nothing is either or, there are stars shining light in the darkest night sky and there are shadows on the brightest days. By blending one with the other onscreen, balance is achieved: the tragedy stops the comedy from becoming too silly or juvenile, and the comedy stops the tragedy from being too much of an emotional anchor and dragging the scene down. Nugent has come up with a stellar example of this balance in a scene from the first episode of Horace & Pete – yet another Louis CK production – to start the conversation, and by its conclusion I think you’ll agree that in every life a little rain must fall, if only so we can laugh at it.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist