In recent years, there have been a number of comedy television shows, where one of the central themes is the constant social embarrassment of the main characters. Most of these series might fall into the category of “cringe comedy” – the name of the genre is based on the idea that you cannot help but cringe in the horror of watching somebody making a fool of themselves in a social context. It is a very entertaining genre, and this comedy of discomfort is often used in conjunction with a heightened sense of realism.
One of the flagships of this world is the original, British version of the sitcom The Office. The series stars Ricky Gervais (who co-created the show with frequent collaborator Stephen Merchant) as David Brent, a middle manager at a paper manufacturing company. The show is made in a mockumentary (that is, fake documentary) format, which is the basis for all the humor in the show. Almost every character, and especially Brent, is highly aware that they are being filmed for a documentary; therefore they try even harder to show off in front of the camera. Brent thinks of himself not only as a great boss, but as a good entertainer and comedian, and constantly tries making jokes, rehashing well-known catchphrases, and other old tricks. What makes watching him cringe-worthy is the fact that he does not seem to realize that nobody respects him, and that he does not abuse anybody.
Another great example is Curb Your Enthusiasm, which created by Larry David. The show stars David as a fictionalized version of himself – that is, the co-creator of the most successful sitcom of all time, Seinfeld, who now lives in Los Angeles. Larry constantly gets into trouble because he can’t help but express his annoyances with the unwritten conventions and rules of society. Such breaches of social etiquette include leaving a party without waiting for dessert, or starting your warm main course at a restaurant, even if your friend has not received his order yet. Larry has rules about how many samples you are allowed to try at an ice cream shop, if there is a line behind you.
Comedies such as The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm present everyday situations that everybody can relate to, with the consequence of social embarrassment, which is something that every viewer can empathize with viscerally.