Comedy is Murder: 4 Reasons for the Crime Comedy Craze
Seemingly out of nowhere, comedy is suddenly awash in murder. Sure, we find killing people as hilarious as the next guy, but what’s going on? In the past year or two, we’ve seen:
Only Murders in the Building - Steve Martin, Selena Gomez, and Martin Short start a true-crime podcast (comedy’s second favorite pastime) to solve a murder;
Murderville - Detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett) welcomes celebs to solve an improv game of “catch the killer”;
The Afterparty - Tiffany Haddish is a detective trying to solve a murder at a high school reunion afterbash;
Murder Mystery - Married couple Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston get framed for murder and need to solve the crime to prove their innocence;
Summer in Argyle - Mr. Show’s Bob Odenkirk and David Cross reunite in this scripted podcast about “one town, one murder, one million hot dogs”;
The Resort - Nick Offerman just joined production on this upcoming Peacock series described as a “comedy/thriller/mystery.”
That’s not even counting the dozens of comedy/true crime podcasts, suddenly one of the most popular genres in the medium. This isn’t a trend, it’s a damned bloodbath!
What’s up, comedy? Should we read this as an allegory for the trainwreck we’re living through right now, attempting to laugh our way through this darkest timeline?
Or did the meteoric rise of the true-crime podcast, coupled with the enduring drone of countless CSIs and Law and Orders, just make this kind of storytelling ripe for a satiric rip? Here are ComedyNerd’s four reasons for all this bloody good comedy.
Procedural tropes are ripe for ribbing
Maybe the biggest reason for the rise in murder-comedy is that we’re all so familiar with the tropes of the genre. And because the players in TV crime dramas take the subject so seriously, they practically beg to be ridiculed.
Arnett’s Murderville is practically a master’s class in deconstructing those cop show formulas, satirizing the stereotypes beat by beat. “I wanted to have … fun with the police procedural genre in America, which is one of those things that anyone who watches TV kind of knows in their bones and knows the tropes,” says Krister Johnson, Murderville’s showrunner.
True-crime podcasts jump-started the craze
True crime podcasts were one of the medium’s first mega-hits, especially with week-by-week whodunnits like Serial (5 million iTunes downloads!) and S-Town. It didn’t take long for TV satirists like Saturday Night Live to recognize the potential for comedy.
Real-life listeners trying to solve podcast crimes played a role in creating the podcast fans/amateur sleuths in Only Murders in the Building. “It was fascinating, absolutely fascinating,” says John Hoffman, the show’s co-creator. “We wrote episode eight with that in mind, with the superfans. We tried to honor that as much as possible and yet the thing to remember is all those theories, they still may play a part. There’s a lot of open things by the end of season one. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten them. Certain things will come back still. Don’t despair if your theory didn’t play out. There’s aspects of it that may still be there.”
Cast and crew are huge genre fans
“For my whole life, I have loved watching Columbo and Murder She Wrote, reading all the Agatha Christie books,” says Afterparty’s Chris Miller. "So to be able to do a comedy version of a whodunnit has been a real dream come true."
Those true-crime podcasts have given birth to a new generation of crime story enthusiasts like Selena Gomez. She’s even attended Crimecon, a geekfest dedicated to solving real-life cold cases. That’s why she felt a connection to her Only Murders character Mabel.
“I’m not as dark,” she told the New York Times. “Actually, you know, maybe I am. But I’m not as intense as she is.”
Comedy helps us deal with real-life tragedy
“Comedy has always been a part of the true-crime fascination,” says Henry Zebrowski, co-host The Last Podcast on the Left, a forerunner of the recent rise in the crime/comedy genre. “It goes back literally hundreds of years, so we’re part of a long-standing tradition of people that use humor to deal with the horrific nature of the facts.”
OK, sure, but … it’s still murder. What’s so funny about that?
“There’s plenty to laugh about that doesn’t come at the expense of a victim,” says Rachel Fisher, one of the hosts of the Hollywood Crime Scene podcast. “There can be absurd elements in a story that are funny.”
Such as? Fisher’s co-host Desi Jedeikin lists a few: “The criminals, an incompetent investigation, bad media coverage and people who let the victim down are all fair game.”
Afterparty’s Tiffany Haddish wants to bring some humanity to the crime solvers. "Here's my thing," she told Newsweek. "I've been interrogated by many detectives from South Central Los Angeles and guess what? They all have personalities. I've dated some too.”
"Some of them are funny, some of them are boring as hell but weird, some of them are really into sports, and everything they asked me was sports-related and they trick you with it. Most of them like to have fun too but also want to uphold the law."
So maybe that’s what’s up -- humor and humanity are helping us see through the darkness.
“I know it can be a relief for others to see how I use humor when discussing dark stories. Including my own,” says Hollywood Crime Scene’s Jedeikin. “We get a lot of emails expressing gratitude for helping people laugh through the pain of their own circumstances.”
What seems to be undeniable is comedy audiences continuing their thirst for other people’s tragedies.
As Martin Short points out in a recent Collider interview, there’s a line in the show where the characters say,
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and somebody else will be murdered.”
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Top image: Hulu