HOLLYWOOD LIBERAL: The Sopranos & the Myth of Dark Comedy

The Sopranos is the best comedy series of all-time. You may be thinking to yourself “maybe, maybe not, Maybe fuck yourself.” In any case, I’ll qualify this objectively subjective...
This Fucking Guy
This Fucking Guy

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The Sopranos is the best comedy series of all-time.

You may be thinking to yourself “maybe, maybe not, Maybe fuck yourself.” In any case, I’ll qualify this objectively subjective statement based on the following two criteria:

  1. No show has ever made me laugh as hard.
  1. “Drama” and “comedy” are merely two sides of the same coin.

There’s that dreaded term “Dark comedy” (aka mulignan, shvartza, or black comedy).  What complete and utter horseshit.

If we’re trying to understand why so many of the comedy balls that used to hang from television shows and movies (particularly the latter) have been clipped, we don’t have to look much further than The Sopranos and genre-identity politics in pop culture.

For something to be a comedy (at least in the way many executives who don’t know anything about comedy think about comedy), it doesn’t have to be inherently “ha-ha funny”. It doesn’t need to just have a lot of 1-2-3 multi-cam sitcom jokes accompanied by a laugh track (You know.  The kind that make you want to teabag a hot wok coated with sesame oil?).

It doesn’t have to feel good. The characters don’t have to be likeable. They don’t have to win all the time.

This is why It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues to be great.  It’s also why a lot of network sitcoms make me want to cannonball off a bridge with a heavy bag tied to my nuts.

In The Tao of the Bada BingDavid Chase captures the essence of how Tony Soprano best encapsulates what makes The Sopranos the best drama and the best comedy:

What Tony Soprano shows…is that rarely is anything black and white in life. Life is difficult, messy, disappointing. Things don’t work out the way we’d like – our kids make bad choices, our parents are a burden, our friends disappoint or betray us. In that sense, I hope The Sopranos is similar to the foreign films I loved as a young adult for their ideas, their mystery, and their ambiguity.

Ambiguity. Messy. The grey-area.  If you were to make a Venn diagram, this would be the sweet spot for both drama and comedy.  All comedy (or rather, all good comedy) has at least a touch of “dark”.  The best humor comes from our ability to laugh at ourselves.  This includes the screw-ups and all.

Comedy, as it stands, is blind to the elements. People don’t generally think of Goodfellas or Casino as comedies, but I’ll be goddamned and dipped in bird twatsone if those movies don’t make me bellylaugh until it hurts.  This happens seemingly no-matter how many times I watch them.

So what qualifies a comedy as “dark” anyway?

Is it violence? Death? Mean words?  Could it be when bad things happen to good people (or vice versa)?  That sounds like life.  When the dramatic stakes are high, the potential for comedy is infinite.

Consider the civil war that breaks out in the Soprano family after Uncle Junior takes offense to his nephew goofing on him for being a kooz-snorkeler in season one.  Being the insecure, macho-posturing, wrinkle-basket that he is, Uncle Junior projects his own mishegas onto Tony by convincing himself that Tony’s decision to see a shrink was just-cause for a whacking.

Tony survives the attempt on his life, and, after having had time to ponder and laugh at the existential absurdity of his own life (and life in general), he breaks it down to Carmela,

“This whole war could have been averted. Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this.”

Tony swallows his pride, makes amends with Uncle Junior, and goes back to being the able and effective leader that he was born to be.

Oversensitivity isn’t good for anyone.

Not for Tony. Not for Uncle Junior.  To bring things full-circle, it’s most-definitely not good for our culture.

I’ll be a guinea pig in an experiment.  At one point in the series, Paulie refers to Zellman.  He’s been acting as Tony’s partner in a real estate scam and Paulie calls him a “Christ Killer” (a reference to Zellman’s Jewish heritage).

Now guess what?  This Jew-boy right here isn’t offended one bit.  As a matter of fact, I think it’s hilarious.  While I hate to dissect comedy like a frog in chemistry class, I can say that this unexpected politically-incorrect slur is funny precisely because it violates a taboo.  Context, as always, is everything.

This Fucking Guy

This Fucking Guy

Paulie is pretty much universally agreed-upon to be a hilarious idiot.  He’s total id.  This is not a guy you’re supposed to take seriously.  To laugh at this comment is to understand its context.

But, hey, even if you don’t – ho! It’s just a goof! I guess Leslie Jones didn’t get the message.

For years now many of my friends have told me that my view on political-correctness, that it has gotten out of control, has been nothing but the product of my own imagination.

I find this interesting, particularly in light of a new Pew poll which found that:

“in [the] ‘political correctness’ debate, most Americans think too many people are easily offended”

At a time when the appropriateness-of-language has become a political issue; most Americans (about 59%) say that

“too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use.”

All in my head, right?

In today’s political and social climate, the friggin, derp derpin, ciccerone, SJWs really need to lighten up.  As it stands, they’ve got a sense of humor comparable to a used diaper getting shish-kebabed by a couple of billy goats.  My recommendation for these appropriateness-of-language puritans would be for them to revisit the The Sopranos playbook.  To stop being so dramatic.  To stop getting so easily offended.  But, most importantly, to stop taking themselves so goddamn seriously.

As a wise man once said, “We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore!”

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David Ross Spielman is a writer, host of the "Hollywood Liberal" podcast, social commentator, and curator of all things badass. A Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop finalist and a recipient the R. Breen Graduate Scholarship at The Loyola Marymount University’s Writing & Producing for Television & Film program. David cut his teeth at The Weinstein Company in New York City and at The Mark Gordon Company in Los Angeles. In addition to his extensive portfolio of articles, screenplays, and teleplays, David has written for Reel Movie Critic, been a spokesperson for Sharpie’s “Write Your Own Movie Review Contest,” and curated music libraries for GoGurt, Schick, Mead, and Quaker. As a cultural libertarian and a classical liberal, David promotes freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and individual autonomy. He believes that pushing the culture forward in Western society begins with getting past antiquated, humorless, and regressive concepts such as political correctness, identity politics, outrage culture, and the grievance industry. Hit David up at [email protected] with all of your questions and stories involving your own experiences with Hollywood Liberal snowflakes. Follow David on Twitter @DavidRossSpiel for all of his latest politically incorrect ramblings and on Instagram @DavidRossSpielman for all of his badass film, television, podcast, book, and music picks.
  • One-Eye

    I’ve always said that one of the many reasons CASINO (itself an excellent movie) always suffers in comparison to GOODFELLAS is that it’s easy to forget how hysterically funny GOODFELLAS is, where CASINO is not particularly funny at all.

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