‘Get Out’ and Getting Off: How Comedy and Horror Coincide in Popular Culture

On Tuesday, news came to light that Get Out would compete as a comedy in the 2018 Golden Globes. As the directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele, the horror film is largely devoid of comic moments. However, the recent news emphasizes the overlap in comedy and horror. How does the final punchline from Lil Rel—”I told you not to go in that house”—fit so well in a gory final showdown?

Earlier this month, the New York Times published the testimonies of five women accusing Louis C.K. of proposed or realized sexual misconduct. Louis C.K. then confirmed the allegations in a statement less than 24 hours later. However, the archives of his stand up comedy act as somewhat of an evidence reel. The uncanny resemblance between his jokes and his offenses raises the question: can you be whole and humorous? Or do all things funny come from a place of fear?

“Thursday is Thanksgiving and there’s so much to be thankful for—unless you’re a human woman.”

This joke opened The Weekend Update on November 18th’s episode of Saturday Night Live. As ‘anchor’ Colin Jost pauses for laughter and lip-biting, a collage of six faces appears on his left. Louis C.K. is in slot #4, with present company Al Franken and  Bill Cosby. The three men share a history in comedy, all of which include jokes on the subject of their indiscretions. A trio of predators, all arrogant and untouchable enough to joke about their brand of misconduct—how is that possible?

Louis C.K. - comedy and horror

The most provocative comedy contains a threat of disturbance. Jokes often stem from discomfort: caused by an incomprehensible situation, or by something within ourselves. In the routines of these particular comics, comedy acts as the stick used to poke the hornet’s nest. The risk is evident. Nevertheless, one can’t help but ask—what could really happen? Would they really find out? Would it be as bad as I think?

In contrast, political satire like SNL lowers the branches to diminish the threat. Comedy is the art of the imperfect. Jokes find something flawed or fraying to put on center stage. That’s the only way it’ll get there—after being manipulated, exaggerated, or adulterated until it lands, rippling deep in someone’s gut. Kate McKinnon’s possum-like Jeff Sessions gives us the honesty we’ll never see from the original. The incomprehensible situation loses the authority of its distance—it’s no longer untouchable.

Comedy can do the same with the taboo. Two types of jokes comprise the bulk of stand up: at the expense of the audience; and at the expense of the comic. Louis C.K.’s jokes about masturbation allowed him to cast a light on the things he wished to keep in the dark. His jokes gave him a public alibi of I am disgusted by myself—notably distinct from remorse.

Whereas comedy makes the sensational more accessible, horror makes the believable more worthy of note. At its core, Get Out is a survey of racist American definitions of blackness as a commodified other. Though it contains spooky elements like hypnotic paralysis and bodily possession, most of the film is hauntingly real. The only shocking thing about the micro-aggressions at the party is the lack of time that passes in between them. Old people can’t move around that quickly.

Get Out is only the most recent of films that shed a light on very real horrors.  Horror should have its own category at the Golden Globes. It’s no longer 1943—abundant contrary evidence notwithstanding. It’s time to stop penalizing productions that are overt in their intentions to disturb. Furthermore, it’s time to stop rewarding comics for doing the same thing.