The Comedy of the Suffering of Others
Joker and the Superiority of Comedy
You are probably aware of the old quote, "It's funny until someone gets hurt... then it's hilarious." This quote itself is something of a joke. We are brought up not to laugh at the pain and suffering of others. Yet, eventually we all do. You have the slapstick comedy of The Three Stooges and other similar patterns, like in Looney Toons. Physical comedy is what describes these examples best. Other forms of comedy exist, and the pain and suffering of others does not always have to be physical. Take any joke of male rape from any film. They do not just joke about the physical aspect. If anything, they are truly laughing at how humiliating such an act is.
What Joker does is take comedy or this quote in a sense, and show us how perpetrators use it to inflate their ego. Laughing at others—making jokes of their victim in a sense—gives them some level of superiority.
Randall and Gary
Let us look at Randall and Gary, two of Arthur's co-workers. Gary is a person of small stature. Randall takes pleasure in making jokes at Gary's expense. In one scene, the two come to check in on Arthur. They want to make sure he is doing alright, after the loss of his mother and job as well. One would hardly see this as a time for humor, but instead, for mourning, grief, and support. Amidst all of this, Randall still finds a way to poke fun at Gary's height.
Who is Randall though? He is a co-worker at this clown agency. No doubt he is not making any more than Gary, at least not by much. They have similar jobs, and they both live in New York City. It is hard to believe that Randall has a better apartment than Gary. Both characters preside in the same socioeconomic status. Randall is balding, overweight, and overall not a handsome looking man. However, he is taller, and has that going for him.
Many of people are guilty of this. They pick one particular flaw or deformity in a person to exploit. We body shame people for their height, weight, facial characteristic, hair, or lack thereof, and much more. Say what you will, but we humans can be shallow, judgmental, and we can prioritize someone's appearance over more important traits of their person. A lot of the time, people make such remarks to make themselves feel better. Let me drive attention away from your gut, and onto your short stature. In a way this drives the attention away from them, and to them. Randall has the positive attention of being the comedian now. Simultaneously, the negative attention is passed away from his weight towards Gary's height.
Boys will be boys, right? That is how one would paint this scene. We have three Wayne Enterprise employees, or better yet, yuppies aboard the subway. Sitting across from them is a lovely young woman, quietly reading. One of the yuppies has a bag of some leftover fast food. He offers the young lady some fries. The young lady pays no mind to these three man-children, acting like jocks in the locker room. One of them states his friend is trying to be nice by offering her free food. This almost plays into men's entitlement to a woman and her body, if he's just nice.
Things go south, as the man begins to pelt her with fries. His friends all find this hilarious. After all, they are just fries, right? Throwing fries at someone cannot be painful. Eventually, she gets up and leaves. Men such as these three yuppies would find such a scenario funny. In the minds of such, men are the superior sex. Again, if she won't accept their advances, then throw fries at her and laugh at her. She turned down a kind, generous offer (in their minds) so now, we laugh at her stupidity. Hence, they laugh at her humiliation and the suffering of not having a man now, because she's just some uppity bitch, right?
Poor Arthur Fleck. We see an earlier scene, which is really just a fantasy he builds up in his head. He views Robert De Niro's character as something of a father figure. Murray is a comedian, just like Arthur. He and his mother spend time together every night, watching Murray's show. In an odd manner, this makes them something of a family... at least in Arthur's head. Murray might be the worst perpetrator of them, all though.
You see it even in the trailer. Murray has footage of Arthur from a club, in which he states how no one's laughing now. "You can say that again!" Murray retorts. He even begins this segment looking at people who think they can do his job. Is Murray afraid of a little competition? Keep in mind that this is all he really shows in Arthur's stand-up, nothing else. Nothing is older than taking someone or something out of context, for your own sake.
Arthur notes to Murray that he simply invited him onto his show, just to make fun of him. He is not wrong on this. Time after time, Murray takes some light jabs at Arthur. When Joker takes out his book of jokes, Murray certainly makes note of this... as a joke. After all, what real comedian, like Murray Franklin, relies on a book of jokes? One thought-provoking statement is how Murray tells Arthur to make no off-color jokes. What is off-color comedy? Basically, off-comedy humor relates to things of poor taste and vulgarity. Yet, making fun of a man's dream and aspirations is not in bad taste? Inviting a man onto your show just to mock him is not in bad taste? Keep in mind, this is a common practice. Liberal Bill Maher will invite people from the other side onto his show, just to mock and demean them.
Joker makes a joke about someone getting killed, and the victim's mother getting the bad news. Murray does not like this, but why? Is this off-color humor? Interestingly enough, Joker reminds Murray how humor is subjective. Again, Murray has no problem in using humor to put down Arthur. He also invites a comic on who makes jokes about sex, especially towards women, almost demeaning them. Or, is it because Joker is taking control of the audience away from Murray? Joker also finds humor in the death of the men on the subway, and all the riots in Gotham. No one else does—why not? Reasoning can be that the status quo and the establishment are losing its superiority. Joker finds the humor here, yet no one else does. Now, he can find the funny side. The yuppies, the police, and more are getting their just desserts, and a working class individual cannot help but find this hilarious.
By the end of the film we see Joker has become something of a hero, if you will. People around the city are wearing his face. Law and order has been disrupted; the face of the establishment, Thomas Wayne, is murdered. It can only get funnier in how the establishment will still proclaim the high ground, even though their footing is no longer solid. They will continue to act this way, lying to themselves.