The unexpected news Thursday that revered comedian Garry Shandling had died set off a rush among his fans and admirers to state the obvious about the ways Shandling and his peers (Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David — the list is long) made the world safe for the elemental human response known as the cringe.
Works of comedy are now often judged on their “cringeworthiness,” which is a shorthand way of describing an exact combination of hubris and humiliation, in situations that are once absurd and yet universal. Its ingredients include neurosis, self-absorption and the certitude that hell really is other...
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