‘Horrifyingly absurd’: how did millennial comedy get so surreal?

From Adult Swim to ‘dank memes’, modern comedy is confronting the illogicality of life in 2019

There is an episode in the first season of Broad City – the US sitcom about two twentysomething, weed-loving best friends – that involves an epic journey to pick up some post. In order to track down a parcel, co-protagonist Abbi must travel on an eerily empty subway before boarding a ferry populated solely by identical twins. Finally, she arrives at a cavernous warehouse, where a demon-voiced, yoghurt-smeared old lady called Garol refuses to hand over the package, sternly informing the now desperate Abbi that she does not possess the requisite ID.

Frenetic and weird, this tale of lost mail possesses quintessential qualities found in Gen-Y comedy: it is unsettling (Garol’s warehouse belongs in a horror film); it is absurd (Why all the twins? Why all the yoghurt?); and it is soundtracked by a scream of millennial angst. If 1990s sitcoms were characterised by sexually liberated pals cracking wise, and the 00s by docu-realist, workplace-based cringe comedy, this decade has been dominated by the sadcom, a strain of comedy-drama shuddering under the weight of personal hardship and the idea that actual jokes are largely unnecessary. But as the 2010s come to a close, a new wave is establishing itself: one that retains the sadcom’s essential bleakness, but overlays it with surreal settings, chaotically strange plotlines and jokes that ring with an erratic absurdity.

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‘Horrifyingly absurd’: how did millennial comedy get so surreal?