In the fifth of our series Thinking Comedy, film comedian Adam Sandler talks about the relationship between comedy and pain.
I think that all comedy comes from pain. It has to. I know mine does. And for it to be really funny, the pain has to belong to someone else.
This is what is called the superiority theory of humor. It appears everywhere, in the Bible, Shakespeare (think of Malvolio in Twelth Night) but it was first conceptualized by Thomas Hobbes in his masterpiece Leviathan. In this treatise on almost everything, Hobbes remarks that laughter is a sign of Sudden Glory, when we recognize our safety and strength over another. We glory in it. The suddenness is what makes this particularly funny. It is unexpected and the surprise makes us laugh before we realize what we are doing.
Look at when I slap David Hasselhoff in Click. It’s unexpected, funny and we revel in our superiority. The fact that David plays my asshole boss makes the glory all the more glorious.
In all my films I am careful to portray myself as an ordinary Joe, but one who is revealed throughout the film to be superior to the despicable caricatures I surround myself with. Guy Pearce played that role very well in Bedtime Stories for instance. My humor is quite deliberately ungenerous. It could all be summed up by Nelson’s laugh in The Simpsons, because that’s what it is the laughter of the bully. That’s what I am in Happy Gilmore, Little Daddy and Grown Ups. But I’m in good company. There’s a scene in Paradise Lost by John Milton when Jesus and God are watching the rebel angel army led by Satan approach the walls of heaven. ‘Let’s retreat,’ says God. ‘There are so many.’ But Jesus knows his dad is just taking the piss and has a hearty laugh. And if you want to know what it sounds like, it probably wasn’t a million miles away from Nelson’s laugh.
Sudden Glory bitches!
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