When NBC’s The Office goes off the air on May 16, it’ll be the end of an era — not just for the staff of Dunder-Mifflin or the fans who’ve followed their every well-scrutinized move over its nine-season run. It’ll mark the end of the signature example of the cringe comedy genre. And yet, many viewers may not even recognize that such a genre exists.
Cringe comedy is all about the painful laughs derived from the awkwardness of social interaction and around people’s lack of self-awareness. Its building block is the painful silence that hangs in the air after a thoughtless remark. That’s why cringe comedy often uses single-camera (documentary or movie-style shooting) and no laugh track, instead of the more theatrical three-camera, live-audience setup that’s been the sitcom standard since I Love Lucy. Cringe comedy often borrows the techniques of reality TV – the relentlessly tracking camera, the confessional asides – to find humor in the difference between a character’s self-image and the way he or she actually comes off to other people. That kind of clinical scrutiny is funny but merciless – that’s where the “cringe” comes from.
For many viewers, the debut of The Office in 2005 was their first exposure to cringe comedy, but by now, the form has a long history, of shows and comic performers that either influenced The Office or were influenced by it. If you’re already missing the gang at Dunder-Mifflin, here are 10 more key cringe comedy shows for you to laugh and squirm at.