comic immortality, again








Last week’s episode of Community presented a lowbrow garden of forking paths.  Jeff rolls a die to see which one of the group will have to go get the pizza and in so doing causes six counterfactual timelines to come into being.  The worst of these is the one in which Troy fetches the food: as we find out in the episode’s resolution, in that timeline Pierce is accidentally killed, the apartment is set on fire, Jeff loses an arm, Annie goes insane, Troy himself irreparably damages his throat and vocal cords, and probably bad things happen to Britta and Shirley too (I don’t remember what).  The Abed of this parallel universe realizes that none of the other timelines could possibly be worse, so theirs must therefore represent the evil parallel universe. Naturally, he then suggests to the survivors that they all wear fake goatees (after the classic Star Trek episode).  One-armed Jeff is none too pleased and yells at Abed “I’ve lost an arm!” before getting up and leaving.  Anyway, while my recounting isn’t funny, the scene made me laugh pretty hard.  I found it truly funny to see an exasperated and fuming one-armed Jeff. And this prompted me to think again about the previously mentioned indestructibility of the comic character.

I don’t know if I mentioned this before.  I guess I’m too lazy to look back at my previous posts.  If I did mention it, I guess I then feel it’s a point worth reiterating: that in comedy indestructibility or immortality does not mean the total release from or the total transcendence of suffering.  Quite the contrary.  The comic character may be indestructible or immortal but she still suffers and suffers enormously.  Yet we can laugh at her torment because she can take it, because her frame is such that nothing can cause her any real diminishment.  Even after losing an arm, Jeff is somehow exactly the same as he always was.  To paraphrase Elaine from Seinfeld, Jeff’s not different; he’s the same, just changed. And because he is exactly the same, his complaints about his lost limb ring false, as if he’s just kidding around, just pretending to be upset. What’s this all about?

I think originally I thought that I could use Herbert Marcuse’s reinterpretation of Freud to try to figure out what this all means.  That’s probably a good idea. Eventually I’ll give it a go, but not necessarily immediately.


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