Cyanide & Happiness is gross, crude, vulgar, and shocking. The artists who collaborate on the strip make no attempt to communicate lofty ideals or give us insight into the human condition. There is no clever political satire here. Among the archive of C&H, you’ll find blunt jokes about every kind of sexual kink and fetish, murder, spousal abuse, pedophilia, abortion, suicide, and more. They cover all of the bodily fluids – blood, urine, feces, vomit, and semen all make appearances. At the base of all of this lies a foundation of gleeful misanthropy that is somehow both disturbing and endearing.
It’s because of this lack of boundaries that C&H is so successful. They’re not afraid to address any taboo, but unlike envelope pushing comedies like South Park, the writers of C&H don’t feel like they have to justify their shock humor by including moral lessons. I’m not going to say that what they’re doing is important – that would just be pretentious and pointless. C&H isn’t adding anything to philosophical or political discourse, but that’s fine; in fact, it’s better than fine – it’s perfect. There’s something intensely liberating about confronting taboos and finding humor in the most grotesque parts of human existence.
Maybe enjoying Cyanide & Happiness means I’m a sick person. Honestly, though, I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, I think acknowledging that I can find some humor in shocking and disgusting things reveals the deeper truth that we are all conflicted beings who are simultaneously drawn to the extremes of “sweetness and light” and “dark and macabre.” It’s an alarmingly existential realization – like Roquentin’s liberating but troubling revelation in Nausea (OK, now I am being pretentious!).
Already I’ve made the mistake of attempting to justify Cyanide & Happiness – I think it’s a natural inclination to want to explain why we’re attracted to things that our culture tells us are wrong, like rubberneckers slowing down to see the carnage of a car accident. In the end, whatever justification you concoct for reading C&H, don’t be ashamed if you find yourself laughing at something while simultaneously telling yourself, “I shouldn’t laugh – this isn’t funny!” It just means you’re human.