Dinner for Schmucks and a Brief History of People Laughed At, Not Laughed With


In this week's Dinner for Schmucks, Steve Carell plays an idiot. Paraded around for his colleagues at a dinner party by corporate go-getter Paul Rudd as part of a strange office tradition, Carell is meant to elicit humor, both for the other characters and the audience, from his poor clothing, his bad haircut, his lack of social skills, his general eagerness, and his hobby of dressing up mice in periodwear and then using them to re-create great moments in history. That is not nice! And it's also the latest iteration of the mean comedy subgenre. Best defined by the presence of characters who are being laughed at, not with, mean comedy has snaked its way through Hollywood, reality TV, radio programs, the music industry, and, of course, YouTube. It's often hilarious, but almost never justifiable: Why is it okay to laugh at helpless, unwitting targets onscreen when we'd never be so callous as to do so in real life? Ponder the thought as we travel back through a brief history of mean comedy.