I read the following by Mario Focchi today.
Comedy is certainly one way of escaping the tragic conflict that imprisons the neurotic: when we are able to alleviate the many competing tensions which grip the subject, we can free his libido from its chains, and let it surface in laughter. … Comedy, humour and irony are all different ways of escaping the weight of the institutions that control our lives, not just the social one but also the subjective one. It’s an escape from the imposition of being what we must be … in order to become what we actually are: an object, waste, a spark of life without an identity card. … Laughter allows us to wander from the constraints of life’s seriousness … In fact, everyone always needs to escape, and not just now in this time of forced imprisonment for everyone all around the world, and for a period that is difficult to specify. … each of us has our own way of laughing, that is, of lightening up, of being rarefied, of drifting, of sneaking out. You always have to invent a way out, because there is always a lock waiting around the corner.1
For me there is something left out of this text, which I’d like to call attention to —the difference between being comedic and being cynical.
What makes something a comedy is that it takes the seriousness of tragedy (the tragedy of being trapped by circumstances that are largely of our control) and somehow makes the tragedy seem silly. When the tragic of our lives is made into something silly we can skip away from our tragic lives for a bit.
But here’s the thing, for comedy to work is must admit the tragic. If the tragic is never acknowledged it can’t be inverted. In this way comedy represents a useful form of dialectical pessimism. Comedy sees that things are bad and then does something funny with how bad they are.
Comedy needs the tragic, but the jouissance of comedy is in using the tragic sense of life to escape the effects of the tragic.
With cynicism, in the other hand, there is jouissance in relishing (rather than in escaping) how bad things are. The cynical enjoyment is in knowing that things are tragic, and believing they are the only ones capable of knowing how tragic it all is. The cynic then uses the tragic as a hammer.
The comedian sees things are tragic, then enjoys showing us something about our tragicness that makes us laugh.
The cynic season how tragic things are and then enjoys putting this tragicness into the faces as many people as possible.