I’ve found that black comedy suits my personality to a tee. Looking at the world, all its ugliness and stupidity, and choosing to laugh. It speaks to something inside me, that asshole nugget buried deep (or not very deep at all, depending on who you ask). It’s a perfect fusion of the masks of comedy and tragedy – somewhere between a frown and a smirk. I laugh without compromising my pessimism.
There’s few other genres that make me cringe as much as I laugh. Or even do both at the same time. It only happens when I really care about the characters. If my life has had one constant, it’s that ‘it’s easy to hate people,’ but that’s the difference. Everyone’s bad here, which makes the whole thing a lot more relative in who I can root for. No matter how vile, despicable, or just plain old fucked up, every character is deserving of love if handled correctly.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (having just wrapped shooting on their ninth season) and Trailer Park Boys (similarly finished a new movie after a brief hiatus, with an eighth season in the works) have been influential in cultivating my taste for black comedy. Both offer particularly good examples of that very same character building that has endeared them to me over the past few years.
There aren’t too many parallels between the two shows, really. Trailer Park Boys deals with arcs. Every season the Boys are released from jail, ready to make their fortune and retire; hilarity ensues, and they usually are back in jail by the end of the season. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is far more episodic. Not so much as Seinfeld, or many other sitcoms where the status quo is god. When things go back to normal for the beginning of the next episode, well… what’s normal for the Gang, anyway? (e.g. I can’t wait to see Liam McPoyle again.)
One thing the shows do have in common (and in spades, for that matter) is excellent characters. There are two in particular that embody the core of that comedic tragedy, offering a mirror of each other’s qualities. Those two are Ricky the trailer park boy, and Charlie Kelly.
Ricky is easily the single least intelligent person in Sunnyvale Trailer Park, with the possible exceptions of Corey and Trevor.
“I’ve met cats and dogs smarter than Corey and Trevor.”
On the other hand, Charlie seems to be even more damaged than Ricky right off the bat. He’s the result of a botched abortion, probably a pregnancy during which his mother drank regularly (quite the head start). How Charlie made it through high school while he was huffing cleaning products in the bathroom, I don’t know.
“Oh my God, make a decision already… I didn’t sit around thinking all day, ‘hey, do I do this? Do I not do this?'”
So they’re both morons. Ricky and Charlie have learning disabilities, and between the two Ricky is the only one who’s barely literate – and not by much. On the other hand, both characters have things that they do well. Nobody in Sunnyvale grows dope better than Ricky. It’s even hinted that his dope is the best in Canada, maybe some of the US as well. If we’re all good at something, then that’s Ricky’s one thing. Personally, I don’t think it’d be a bad way to make a living if pot were legal. Somebody’s got to grow it, right?*
I guess Charlie has his own aptitudes, but they’re not quite as admirable. Although there’s nothing particularly malign about being a piano savant, Charlie’s potential is more sinister. Nobody else can manipulate with such Machiavellian expertise. By the way, that’s really saying something when three of your friends are Frank, Dee and Dennis Reynolds. He’s fooled those closest to him into thinking he had cancer, used a billionaire heiress to make the Waitress jealous, and completely conquered the online game he helped Dee with (including seducing and outmaneuvering the second most powerful player).
It’s this very potential that wrings the heart. Neither Ricky nor Charlie ever had much of a chance, really. Charlie never had a father figure, Ricky had a despicable father and a mostly-absent mother. Both have had people taking advantage of them for most of their lives; Charlie was even molested as a child. Snowballs, meet hell.
“Daddy bought you some encyclopaedias so you can get smarter; so you won’t be stupid like Daddy when you get older.”
Ricky, deep down, wants to be a good person. He loves his daughter, bought her a set of encyclopaedias (and kept living in his car because of it). Ricky actually respects knowledge and intelligence, but can’t express it. When Ricky gets angry with Julian for lording his books over Ricky’s head, he does so because he knows he’s not smart. He just doesn’t know what to do about it.
“No, hummingbirds are a legal tender, you cannot!”
If circumstances had been different, Charlie might’ve found himself working in law. But they’re not different. You generally need to be literate to be a lawyer. When Charlie gets frustrated over trying to describe the current state of American bird law, it’s because he wants more than anything to be taken seriously. Of course, it doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. At all.
These moments are my favourites. Both characters constantly make up whatever will hide their ignorance, or just lie, when they get flustered and can’t think clearly. Ricky simply can’t express himself half the time, resorting to half-understood phrases and terms he coins.
“I’m not a pezmits, I’m an optometrist.”
Watching him fumble through sentences, trying desperately to communicate what he’s thinking, I can feel bad for Ricky even while I laugh at him.
When Charlie gets overwhelmed, whether by the Lawyer, a mall Santa, or just a game of Simon, he’s more likely to run away shrieking than anything else. But if I’m being honest then I have to admit that any time Charlie Day is freaking out in front if a camera, I’ll probably watch it.
I’m a firm believer that in order to experience highs, you must also experience lows. I’m trying to think of it as an old-fashioned meter with a needle hanging at zero when I’m bored. I’d rather have some movement than nothing. These days I try to get my jollies where I can, regardless of which direction the needle happens to be pointing. Cringing and laughing are both pretty cool feelings. Something that can do both is sort of beautiful.