Freud and the Absurdity of Wet Hot American Summer

In absurdist comedy films, it can often be very difficult to find specific and directed jokes. Instead, we find comedy we find comedy in the absurdity of the events in front of us, the meteoric escalation and aggressive randomness of it all. Freud understood this as being the subversion of the ego by the super-ego to find a humour that we experience as being “liberating and elevating” (Sigmund Freud, “On Humor,” pg 166). By this he meant that we, through absurd humour, can comically operating above the contingent order of our physical existence, allowing us  to create a vantage point from which we can laugh at the cruelty and hopelessness of our world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhKdtX8MFmc

I believe a great example of this kind of humour would the “Wet Hot American Summer” (David Wain, 2001). In the scene above, it not only has an exponentially ridiculous escalation of events, it ultimately plays on the concept of time in order to take any sort of logic out of our processing of the events. Therefore, we are invited to find the eventual addiction of these teenagers to various drugs as humorous because it is so detached from what our reality would actually allow.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGgGiV22QiQ

In this scene, we see an example of how Freud believes we are able to find humour in the impeding danger of our world as he says, “Look! here is the world, which seems so dangerous! It is nothing but a game for children- just worth making a jest about!” (Freud, 166). Here, the danger of the scene is a catalyst for the absurdity, we assume the adults in this situation ought to be concerned about the impeding doom for the children in the rafts. However, the comedy comes from the actors over-reacting as far as they can, destroying everything they see for no reason other than their “concern” for the children. This then unlocks the possibility for us to position ourselves above the danger of the contingent order, laughing down at it.

2 comments

  1. Wet Hot American Summer is a great example of absurdist comedy. As you say, it plays mainly through overreaction (especially in that first clip) and expectation of what the scene is ‘supposed’ to deliver. I love how in the second clip they make you forget completely about the children while you watch the camp counsellors act ridiculously.

  2. Getting away from camp is easily my favourite gag in this movie. On a larger scale, I enjoy how the film takes the absurdities of people’s experience of camp, but also of youth in particular. By this I mean it plays with the idea of how important we feel each event, relationship, or place was when we are young. By creating caricatures of these memories and feelings Wet Hot American Summer highlights the true meaninglessness of these times, it’s an absurdity that is so distant from reality yet very relatable.

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