What we can learn from ‘Limbo with Lyrics’

NOTE: The music video for this song features a child drawn in a stylistic manner repeatedly dying violent deaths.

When it came out in 2010, ‘Limbo’ quickly became one of the most famous independent video games ever created, quickly putting developer Playdead on the map. With it’s beautifully dark art style, bleak aesthetics, brutal violence, and haunting soundtrack, ‘Limbo’ is a masterpiece of grim video games… so, naturally, parodies starting coming our way, including this rather amusing song.

There’s only one lesson to learn from this video, but it’s a good one:

Be cautious when doing making light of real-life horrors

If you haven’t played ‘Limbo’, here are two videos to show you what kind of game it is:

When I initially started this article, I was going to write about how the use of an upbeat tune and comedic sound effects makes for comedy gold when contrasted with very dark media (which it does very well). After all, such a mix has worked before:

However, I then realized that while that combination of lighthearted fun and horrific suffering is funny for fictional stories, it doesn’t work as well when used in real life: A fun Reggie song about concentration camps in Nazi Germany would be rather… tasteless. So would a happy jazz tune about atrocities committed by ISIS to innocent people. It’s easy and fun to parody Jason Vorhees, Darth Vader, and the Alien and Predator, but when it comes to poking fun at torture, genocide, or the mutilation and murder of ordinary people, we walk a very dangerous line between making a point and being tasteless.

Now, nothing is off limits when it comes to comedy. Writers should be free to do dark comedy if they wish, on whatever subject they wish. But discretion is important: Doing a parody song about how millions can’t pay their bills, afford insulin, or even a place to live can be funny because it critiques society and makes a point. Doing a Reggie song about children having limbs hacked off because their parents couldn’t make daily quotas on a rubber plantation probably won’t have the same effect.

When audiences watch or read comedy, they want to laugh and get away from the horrors of the world, if only for a few minutes or even a few seconds. As writers, we have to be careful how we use horror to make them laugh. If we use the horrors of a fictional world, we have more leeway because those horrors don’t really exist. But if we use the evil that surrounds us in everyday life, we must be careful of the point we’re trying to make… unless we’re talking about people who push shopping carts in grocery stores at half a mile an hour and block isles so that no one can get past them. They’re fair game.

Favorite Moments: It’s a Giraffe!

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

It takes one of the greatest film moments of the 1990’s and gives Alan Grant the voice of Patrick Starfish. That’s all you need to know.

Okay, maybe a more detailed explanation is in order. I adore how taking the audio from an episode of Spongebob Squarepants changes the mood and feel of such an emotional scene by making it comedic. It’s probably a cosmic law that adding circus music to anything makes it funnier, no matter how dramatic, heartwarming, or awe-inspiring it is, a law I’d love to explore and see if it’s true or not. But until then, I’ll continue chuckling at Dr. Grant acting like an over-excited starfish.

Favorite moments: ‘Mad Max Power Wheels’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re writing Hollywood’s next big film, the blockbuster that will finally earn you cinematic immortality and a big boost of friends on your Facebook page. But there’s problem: You’re writing a comedy, and you’re doing a big action scene of, say, soldiers attacking a fortress. The scene’s well-written, but it’s not funny, and nothing you do makes it work. What do you do?

Why not replace the soldiers with kids?

‘Mad Max Power Wheels’ is a near-perfect example of one of my favorite comedy tropes: Having children re-enact adult movies with a comedic bent. We expect to see little kids pretending to be police officers, paramedics, or firefighters when driving around in Power Wheels, not celebrating the release a of an R-rated post-apocalyptic movie by pretending to be hardened road warriors slaughtering each other for gazzoline gasoline. Yet, seeing that contrast between bloody death and ruin and innocent kids having lots of fun makes for comedy gold, and it only gets funnier the more mature, bloody, or gruesome said stories are. Captain Phillips, anyone?

Favorite Moments: ‘Conan the Librarian’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Scene

Why it’s great

I’ve written before about my love of Fish Out Of Water humor, which makes this scene from ‘UHF’ one of my favorites from the film. Not only do we have a giant, muscle-bound barbarian plucked out of the dark ages and in the modern era (the 1980’s), but he also has a job that’s one of the least suited for his particular skills.

While having people from different time periods dropped into the modern age is always great for comedy, extra humor can be gained when they get modern jobs that don’t always mesh with their talents and abilities. Even better is when they throw themselves into those jobs without hesitation, striving to do their best. When you combine that formula with the almost endless types of characters from history to choose from, you’ve got a formula for comedy gold.

 

Favorite Moments: Soaking Vengeance

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

Ah, the Noir film: A genre unafraid to portray the dark, seedy underbelly of humanity, a genre where hope dies in the drains, bloated and soaked with the rain of an uncaring sky… which means it’s a good idea to have an umbrella in hand.

Though it’s astonishingly short (5 seconds), ‘Soaking Vengeance’ features my favorite type of comedy: Fish out of water. In this case, it’s the hard-boiled guy heading out into the darkened night with a scowl on his face, and a bright, blue umbrella in hand. The contrasts between the dark tone, the childish umbrella, and the dramatic music makes a strong case for two storytelling points:

*Any dramatic character becomes hilarious when wielding something made for a child.

*The Noir genre can be a gold mine for parody, especially if their tough guys stay tough, no matter how ridiculous things get around them.

Perfect Moments: ‘Combat Rangers!’

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

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The Video:

Fedex’s ‘Combat Rangers’ commercial.

 

Why it’s Perfect

There are some moments in media that beg for deeper explanation, moments that causes us to pause and think deeply on why they move us, prompting lengthy soul-searching in an attempt to better understand ourselves and our desires, our frailties and vices. From such deep prompting, growth and understanding can result, and possibly even enlightenment as we come to understand our place in the cosmos, and what we can do to contribute to it… Or we can just laugh at the sight of muscular toy soldiers going into war wearing tutus and wedding dresses while wielding handbags and umbrellas.

I remember watching this commercial as a kid back in the mid 90’s; back then, I had little comprehension of shipping, manufacturing, and the unseen side of the retail industry, but I didn’t care, as I thought the Combat Rangers were hilarious. Over twenty years later, they still are, and this remains one of my favorite commercials for its use of humor to illustrate what could happen if a mistake is made in shipping goods from overseas. Most of that humor comes from the sheer absurdity of warriors charging into battle wearing attire and weapons so inappropriate it’s absurd, making it an excellent example of ‘fish out of water’ comedy that I love so much: Someone or something taken into a situation that they have no experience or business being in, and doing their best to make it work. In this instance, men dressed in women’s clothing, yet still charging into battle.

To take this idea to it’s logical extreme, imagine how ridiculous, yet hilarious it would be for any modern war movie to have it’s soldiers wearing wedding dresses into combat. ‘Hunter Killer’ may have gotten triple its box office revenue if Gerard Butler and the Navy SEALS were wearing pink ballerina outfits as they battle to save the Russian president. It would be a comedy goldmine.

The very best commercials stay with you years after you’ve seen them, and long after their products have left the market. ‘Combat Rangers’ easily earns its place among those hallowed ads… and I have to confess, that squishy mud sound effect six seconds in never fails to make me laugh.

Favorite Moments: ‘The Shining Recut’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

‘The Shining Recut’

Why it’s Great

Ah, Halloween. The most wonderful time of year for people who love the supernatrual, the spooky, and the macabre. This is the holiday when Jason, Freddy, Leatherface, and all the other malevolent legends of pop culture get to enjoy the limelight, and when our favorite horror films are popped into the DVD player or streamed online. It’s a celebration of all things terrifying… but instead of posting a video showcasing that terror, let’s go with something a bit different… turning one of those horror films into a feel-good family film!

‘The Shining Recut’ is arguably the video that launched the ‘recut trailer’ genre, and is still one of the best. The humor of seeing a dark, creepy film turned into a feel-good funfest cannot be overestimated, especially knowing the context of all the scenes used in the clip, and imagining just what ‘The Shining’ would be like in this alternate version, where Jack, Wendy, and Danny come together as a loving family who overcome all their hardships in life… instead of, you know, freezing to death in the show and enduring permanent psychological trauma.

I think one of the great pleasures of Halloween is taking icons and beings who scare us and making them harmless and fun, if only for a day, and one of the best ways to counter that fear is to turn it into something funny. Where we would otherwise run and hide from a maniac with an axe, or a chainsaw, or an alien who wants to eat us, we render them harmless through the power of comedy. And maybe that’s what Halloween is really about: Gaining mastery over the powers of the night… well, that, and filling our arteries with sugar.

Happy Halloween!