April 24, 2021


Aubrey Plaza: the art of making people squirm  (Tara Brady, 4/24/21, Irish Times)

Comedy is a complicated science that has been pondered by everyone from Plato to Freud, without anyone, to date, pinpointing what exactly it requires to make a person laugh. Cringe comedy is even trickier still. Painfully Funny: Cringe Comedy, Benign Masochism, and Not-So-Benign Violations, a 2018 paper by Marc Hye-Knudsen, postulates that contemporary cringe comedies such as The Office and The Inbetweeners "...differ from traditional embarrassment humour by being explicitly aimed at evoking not just the positive emotion of amusement but also the decidedly negative emotion of vicarious embarrassment (ie 'cringe') in their audiences."  

Nobody embodies this theory quite like Aubrey Plaza. From her early awkward TV appearances as "the worst talk show guest ever" and her 2013 attempt to wrestle Will Ferrell's award from his hands at the MTV Movie Awards, Plaza has worked and honed cringe to hilarious effect. That's especially true of the films she has produced and starred in. In Ingrid Goes West, she stalks Elizabeth Olsen's Instagram influencer to eye-wateringly embarrassing effect; in the Decameron-inspired, squirm-making Little Hours, she plays a secretly sadistic medieval nun competing with other novices to seduce a young gardener posing as a deaf-mute.  

"I don't think I consciously seek out scripts that make people really uncomfortable," laughs Plaza. "But I think maybe I do. I'm interested in really complicated behaviours that are just not okay. And those feelings of making someone squirm or feel uncomfortable, for better or worse, you feel more alive. There's nothing more relatable than things that people want to avoid most. There's something gratifying about putting myself in those vulnerable, humiliating positions and situations on camera. It's a way of dealing with my own fears."

Posted by at April 24, 2021 12:00 AM