Cringe comedy has been in vogue for a decade or more, with the popularity of the British version of “The Office” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The fact that Seth MacFarlane, who dabbles in cringe as the creator of “Family Guy,” is hosting the Oscars next month is only more proof that the comedy of discomfort has gone mainstream.
Cringe isn’t necessarily raunchy, although it sometimes is. Cringe is that kind of humor that makes you writhe in both pain and laughter as you watch someone in the middle of an embarrassing or humiliating situation. You’re teetering on the line between sympathetic uneasiness and hysteria. It’s not entirely new, by the way; Jane Austen was making readers cringe back in the 19th century, as she ridiculed the likes of Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins in “Pride and Prejudice.” Mr. Collins would rival Ricky Gervais’s David Brent in “The Office” in self-important buffoonery.