Late to the Party: Too Many Cooks

Sometimes, you just miss one completely. At the time this late-night experimental-comedy-short hit Adult Swim on CN, and subsequently the internet exploded, I was in a (metaphorical) cave revising my dissertation for final submission, and by the time I re-emerged, blinkingly, into the world, this moment had already passed without my knowledge.

Fast-forward three-ish years to a first exposure to Too Many Cooks this week, and I’m delighted to have more to consider in the Horror/Comedy nexus that keeps asserting itself in our culture. For readers, who, like me, hadn’t seen this short (available in full at the top, NB: NSFW, parental discretion advised), this short edits together a generic 90’s sitcom credit sequence that just keeps going, and going, and going, adding more characters and restarting the song every time you would expect it to end. It covers seemingly every conceivable cliche of such credits sequences, so much so that viewers are first too busy identifying and cataloguing them to notice increasing notes of instability–a repeated intruder lurking in the background who isn’t credited. Slowly, the credits morph through several genres, adding and dropping appropriate signifiers (musical style, visual cues, typographies) and become, increasingly, a bloodbath, as the intruder slashes his way through the immense cast. More disturbing, perhaps, is the short’s steady descent into glitchy hellscape: people and typography transposing places, a seeming video tracking glitch that prevents us from seeing the killer’s name, the name credits physically attaching themselves to the actors and alerting the slasher to their locations. The longer the sequence goes, the more self-aware those in in it seem to become, and the more desperate to end the torture of their artificial circumstances.

As I had commented earlier this month, writing about Mr. Robot‘s sitcom ep, there is a sense that the horror has been lurking within the sitcom genre all along, and that it is merely being exposed with a few canny tweaks, all so that we are better able to perceive it. We laugh nervously during things that horrify us, and the excesses that frequently underlie both humor and horror also threaten to tip one genre into the other at any moment. Comedic gags can be as reliant on elaborate setups as horror premises, and we have an instinctive sense with these genres when the setup in either has gone awry in some way. Things that fail to scare us often make us laugh, and things that try too hard to make us laugh can begin to feel threatening. I’ve long been fascinated with how hard it is to write with any insight about the new strains of comedy championed by Adult Swim, such as Tim & Eric, or The Eric Andre Show, but a large part of both their elusiveness and their fascination comes from how deeply, somatically, uncomfortable they can be to watch, many steps beyond what is often called “cringe comedy”. Increasingly, I suspect this is because they have located, through experimentation, some peculiar “sweet spot” in the confluence of these two superficially unconnected genres.

I’m feeling inclined to explore this further, and would love to hear about other things you’ve encountered that might be more of the same. Thanks!

h/t to J for showing me Too Many Cooks.

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