It’s fascinating to me how writers can make this work and the philosophy of comedy that petains to it.
In dramas we have anti-heroes: Our Walter Whites, Tony Sopranos etc.
What makes us love these shows? What makes us want to watch these despicable characters go through trials and tribulations? And when they succeed, what makes us happy for them?
“The Iliad” by Homer featured an anti-hero named Thersites. This is one of the earliest recollections of thr concept in a drama.
Greek drama may have pioneered the device, but with comedies there was Roman satire and Renaissance literature.
Don Quixote may have been intended as a dramatic novel, but in the post-chivalric age it’s easy to see a characer, often defined as quixotic, go through his tribulations.
Philosopher Thomas Hobbes referred to laughter as “sudden glory,” and spoke of the aspect of “superiority.”
Standard analysis by paychologists categorized 3 theories of what causes laughter: Relief theory, incongruity, and superiority.
Superiority may be the reason we laugh when Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin fell. Or when a comedian shares an embarassing story.
Superiority, I believe, is a huge factor of why we laugh at characters who fail. An example is “It’s Always Sunny,” or “Seinfeld.” The characters of “Seinfeld” are often defined as despicable, but watching them fall into conflict makes us feel superior to them – it feels like justice.
If we laugh because we feel superior to characters we like; we love it when we feel superior to characters we don’t like.
So, whenever a friend mentions they don’t like a comedy with despicable characters, remind them of the superiority theory. And reassure them that the humor will grow with them.