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Comic Relief Committed To 'American Horror' Adds 'Name Game' To Genre

Opposites do attract, and no where is that precept more common than when comedy is blended into a good horror drama. Like salt and pepper, they're an odd pairing. Yet for some reason, they go hand-in-hand. So why does a plot device intended to make one laugh and another to frighten the 'be-jesus' out of us seem work so well together?

Comic relief is defined as the inclusion of humorous elements, characters, scenes or witty dialogue in an otherwise serious work, often to relieve tension. William Shakespeare deviated from the classical tradition and used comic relief in his more serious dramas, including Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet.

In modern day, examples abound. "Les Miserables," the Broadway show released this week as a movie, and its light-hearted tune "Master of the House" relieves much of the dark sadness depicted earlier in the story.

But it's in horror movies where directors can really crank up the volume, by adding comic relief adroitly. Who can forget Jack Nicholson's iconic performance in The Shining when his descent into insanity is served up royally with him delivering this now famous line.


Now, fast forward 32 years, and watch Jessica Lange do Nicholson one trick better with her hip dance with madness in a recent FX episode of 'American Horror Story.' Here her defrocked nun character Judy launches into a comical musical hallucination where she performs  Shirley Ellis' "The Name Game." after undergoing electro-shock therapy.


According to Gawker's Rich Juzwiak, "this is the height of absurdity for a show that is positively obsessed with the concept of identity and the terrors of unknowing." Personally, I don't see it that way. Moreso, the artful mash-up of this upbeat pop hit of the 60s with the vapid darkness of this drama is a masterful stroke applied by the writers and director to entertain their fans in an very innovative way.

It's ingenious how they took a musical number everyone could relate to, shoved it down the Snake Pit known as the Briarcliff Asylum and then out of that horror twisted it into comic relief! Totally unexpected and totally satisfying for their 'American Horror Story' fans! It's programming like this that will not only win this show critical acclaim and awards, but gives the horror genre a whole new name - namely genius! Genius, Genius, bo-Genius, and then some!

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Ron Callari
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