Why Hopelessness Is Hilarious (Rick & Morty, Archer, Gary and his Demons) – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on on Gary And His Demons!
Written by: Alec Opperman
Directed by: Michael Luxemburg
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
Special Thanks to: Jonathan Ramirez, Helen Thompson, and Trine Daely
Why Hopelessness Is Hilarious (Rick & Morty, Archer, Gary and his Demons) – Wisecrack Edition
Hey, Wisecrack. Jared here. Full disclosure: this video was made possible by the people over at VRV. We’ve been fans of the Mondo show Happy Tree Friends for a while, so when VRV reached out and asked us to check out the new Mondo show Gary and His Demons streaming exclusively on VRV, we were pretty excited. And five episodes in, we couldn’t help but notice a lot of similarities to two other Wisecrack favorites: Archer, and this show that we’ve mentioned once or twice before — don’t hate.
One particular moment stood out to us as particularly Zeitgeisty: “When it comes to murdering people, I guess you could say…” “You’re hooked.” “What? Wha-What’d you say?” “I guess you could say you’re hooked, that’s what you were going to say.” “That wasn’t what I was going to say” “Pretty sure it is.” “No, it’s not.” “Your whole personality is hooks, man.” “There’s other hook things you can say!” “Alright.” Which reminded us of this — “Cool runnings, man.” “God, would you give it a rest? Uh… Damn, I had something for this.” and this — “I guess I did the butler, haha! Does… does that scan?” “Oh, I… I get it.”
This subversion of hero one liners got us thinking: why is this kind of humor so prevalent these days? Is there something more going on here that says something about our modern social condition? And as we watched more, we realized that was just the tip of the iceberg. So, if you haven’t seen Gary and His Demons yet, check out vrv.co/wisecrack for a 30-day free trial, and join us, as we impart on a time-honored Wisecrack tradition: over-explaining a joke for the sake of social commentary.
One thing we’ve noticed lately is a particular trend in comedy: subjecting the fantastic to the mundane. In Rick and Morty, the fanciful fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk is taken down a peg, when the narrative becomes mired in legal proceedings. The horrifying Freddy Krueger has the same marital woes and performance anxiety as your average shlub, and even the post-apocalypse still has suburban domestic spats. “Ding, ding, ding! Wow! Everybody hear that?” In Archer, the secret agent fantasy of blowing sh*t up and womanizing is subjected to the realities of expense reports, — “You’ve got some serious discrepancies in your account.” “No, Cyril.” “I’m sure you wouldn’t use operational funds for personal expenses.” — HR, — “Most of my job’s dealing with sexual harassment complaints against Mr. Archer.” — and hearing loss — “What the sh*t, Barry?” “What? We don’t have any peppers.” “Or earplugs, you idiot. You know how bad that is for your eardrums!?” “What?!” Gary and His Demons does the same, subjecting demon-hunting to the mundanities of office life and sock puppets. “You’d be comfortable talking to my friend, Sock Guy.” “What?” “Hi, Sock Guy.”
Why does this comedy work so well? And why now? Or, at least for adult cartoon viewers between the ages of 18-34. Well, to be overly dramatic: one could say it’s because OUR DREAMS ARE DEAD. Still with me? Good. Because to understand why, we’re gonna have to dive in to the philosophy of humor.
There are a few major theories of humor out there, but one that popped up only a few hundred years ago is “incongruity” – basically the idea that humor arises from the discrepancy between our expectations and reality. I mean, what is a punch-line if not the subversion of our expectations? “Remember, we used to smoke pot and then talk about how one day maybe we could on Conan together?” “Yeah, that was yesterday.”
But there’s one philosopher who takes this further, arguing that humor arises from the incongruity between our notion of ourselves as humans, and the subversion of that notion by the mechanical nature of our lives. While this theory is a bit antiquated, we can use it to help us understand humor today. In 1900, philosopher Henri Bergson theorized that the source of humor was the “mechanical encrusted upon the human.” Writing during the industrial revolution, Bergson said when we laugh because someone falls, it’s not necessarily their misfortune that we find funny, but the spectacle of a machine malfunctioning — in this case, our bodies.
For example: Take the classic prank of pulling a chair out from under a friend about to sit. They fall on their ass. Hilarity ensues. According to Bergson, we laugh because an action as routine as “sitting down” is basically the body on autopilot. Seeing that habitual motion fail is what generates the lulz. And while this kind of falling-on-your-ass humor certainly predates machines, we can still think of it in terms of mechanical rigidity against human flexibility.
It’s probably no coincidence that Bergson was writing when factories and machines reshaped modern life. More than 30 years later, Charlie Chaplin would, in some ways, embody elements of Bergson’s theory in “Modern Times,” where the intrusion of mechanization onto the human is put front and center. If Modern Times was so popular, was it because he struck a nerve with people’s relationship to machines? For Chaplin, it’s not just that humans are acting like machines, but have also become entangled in a society of machines.
Which brings us to modern day: we no longer feel our sense of self threatened by physical machines, but another kind of machine.
You see, Bergson’s formulation has evolved. Humor isn’t just the “machine encrusted upon the human,” but “society encrusted upon the human.” The component parts of society: state and corporate bureaucracy, cultural expectations, all act like a kind of machine – one that happens to simultaneously feed us dreams and tear them away from us. The discrepancy between our fantasies that helped us cope with reality, and the reality that forsakes those dreams is the new engine of humor in 2018.
Gary and His Demons imagines a “chosen” demon hunter as a sad-sack working stiff who can’t even retire. “I realized why I’m mean all the time. It’s because my job f**king sucks and my life f**king sucks more than anyone else’s. And that’s not navel-gazing. That is the truth.” Demons have to face being “in” or “out” like fashion trends. “He’s the hot new mirror monster. Runnin’ his mouth about how the old guard is out of touch. Bloody Mary dates back to the 1500s. I am mirror monsters! That’s me!” In Archer, even the exciting world of espionage won’t take your mind off your flex account. “I forgot to spend the balance in my goddamn flex account!” And while Rick may be the only one “above it all” — I mean, he’s not bogged down by expense reports and bureaucracy, — “They’re bureaucrats. I don’t respect them. Just keep shooting, Morty.” — his arch nemeses are a bunch of himselfs that reduce other versions of himself to factory workers and stooges. The whole joke of “Simple Rick” is the revealing the real nature of escapist fantasy as just another cog in the soulless machine — “Come home to the unique flavor of shattering the grand illusion. Come home… to Simple Rick.”
And it’s not just these three shows: this kind of humor is everywhere. “The Good Place” imagines an afterlife full of legal arbitration and algorithms. “When your time on earth has ended, we calculate the total value of your life using our perfectly accurate measuring system. Only the people with the highest scores, the true cream of the crop, get to come here to the good place.” “One Punch Man” imagines superhero-ing as a dumb bureaucratic game mired in red tape, and the sleeper hit soon-to-be-TV-show “What We Do In the Shadows” envisions frightening vampires fighting over banal roommate issues. “Vampires don’t do dishes!”
To return to Bergson, if we find all this funny, it’s because we are confronted with a mirror of our own lives. More than just laughing at bodies as machines, we laugh when we imagine people as mere instruments of a greater machine. Bergson gives the example of a person who performs their duty not like a human, but like a machine. He cites a story he found in a newspaper: a large steamer was wrecked off the coast of France. After courageously rushing to save the passengers, the customs officers didn’t ask if the survivors if they’re okay, but rather, immediately asked if they had anything to declare. The customs officers were not acting as humans, but mere instruments of a larger bureaucracy.
And this is exactly what shows like Archer, Gary and his Demons, and sometimes Rick and Morty, rely on — how we’ve become mere instruments of a larger game. “We know how you feel. We’re working stiff Ricks just like you, but our assembly line is justice.”
It puts on display the incongruity between the way we imagine the world ought to be, and the way it really is. Because of this discrepancy, we no longer live in a world where we can stomach the cheery idealism of heroes past, but have to deconstruct the fantasy at every turn because our fantasies have been deconstructed. We can’t imagine much of anything without wanting to think of what is pulling its strings. Take the superhero one-liner, once a source of catharsis — “Yippee kay-a motherf**ker.” It now needs to be exposed as a tired cliche. So we get this — “Table for one.” “Eh… you wanna try… you wanna try, eh… one more time?” “Um… This guy’s cut off.” — and this — “You should know this isn’t personal.” “You should know that isn’t original.” — and this — “Gilette should be ready with a transdermal solution of the most powerful laxative known to man.” “I… Dammit, I had something for this!”
Marvel movies can’t sell superheroes without constantly undercutting the seriousness of what they’re doing. “Hey! Hey! We know each other. He’s a friend from work.” Deadpool is one of the most popular superheroes by virtue of not being a hero at all. And things like CinemaSins draw humor from subjecting films to a level of cold-hard logic that they weren’t even built for.
This leads us to the second marker of modern humor – a broken protagonist. Now, this certainly isn’t new — Jerry Seinfeld did it over 20 years ago. But instead of looking up to Burt Reynolds, we now admire a broken version of Burt Reynolds or a broken Van Helsing or a broken Doc Brown. And then there’s something like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a show that, according to creator Glenn Howerton, shows what the American Dream looks like when you fail.
Even the notion of doing good deeds is shat on: relishing in the collateral damage that often comes with being a “good guy.” Our demon hunter amputates an orphan by accident, and tries to be a nicer person before realizing it’s pointless. “You came! I knew you cared about me! You ARE a good guy!” “F**k you!” Similarly, Morty tries to save an interdimensional being from assassination only to discover it only wants to exterminate all life — “Carbon-based life is a threat to all higher life. To us, you are what you would call a disease.” — and has to kill it himself. Rick highlights the futility of do-gooding when he says, “What about the reality where Hitler cured cancer? The answer is don’t think about it.” And the entire premise of Archer is to explore the self-obsessed eccentricities of the people who are supposed to keep us safe at night. “Rampaaaaaage!”
To summarize: we were promised jetpacks and hoverboards, and because we never got them: we have no fantasies, no heroes, and some serious skepticism about doing good. And now the best sense of pleasure we can get is collectively reflecting on that sense of disappointment. Now, that’s not to say we are completely without dreams. Instead of dreaming of nicer cars and the perfect relationship — which sure, definitely still happens — we also get gratification by relishing in the utterly mundane. “Would you rather get embroiled in a particularly nasty Ponzi scheme or go on a date with Trevor from school?!” Things like the Roy game or this are barely even science fiction. “She’s obsessed with her new virtual bouncer game. Real fun, ha ha ha.” “You on the list? Nice try, pal. Get to the back of the line!” Is it any different than that the wildly popular Job Simulator game, where one pretends to be a robot poorly re-enacting mundane office work? Or clicker games?
But is everything hopeless? Of course not. Yes, we Wisecrackers can sometimes seem like curmudgeons, but that’s what happens when you read philosophy, BRO! But I promise, there’s still hope – like my dog, Woody. Look at that baby face muffin man. Oh, oh— or, for instance, I went to this place that took my two favorite sauces – hummus and garlic sauce — and turned it into ONE sauce. It pretty much shattered my worldview. So, look, how can you fixate on the hopelessness of the modern condition when there are still breakthroughs made every day in sauce technology?
And for more good ol’ fashioned distractions, check out new episodes of Gary and his Demons on VRV every Sunday by going to vrv.co/wisecrack. Whether you’re online or offline you can watch Gary and a bunch of other great animated shows on VRV: like Freakazoid, Bravest Warriors, Deep Space 69, and Bee & Puppycat. Also, if you’re into anime, VRV has all the best subbed AND dubbed shows, including: My Hero Academia, Dragon Ball Super, Black Clover, and Food Wars. Thanks to VRV for giving us this opportunity, and as always, guys, thanks for watching. Peace.