An Ode To The Karl Havoc Sketch From ‘I Think You Should Leave’

Karl Havoc is all of us in 2021 - the face of a year of desperation, panic, and pain.

karl havoc i think you should leave sketch photo

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I Think You Should Leave, the funniest sketch comedy show of the last two decades, makes play out of taking universal experiences and sanding off their edges until they become deeply alien.

We’ve all felt affronted when holding a baby that suddenly starts crying. We’ve all had someone envy the food that we have ordered at a fancy restaurant. We’ve all been awkward when it comes to splitting the bill. But such kernels of experience are twisted into long, rolling punchlines in the world of I Think You Should Leave. It’s a free-associative kind of comedy, where ideas are skipped from at lightning pace.

Suddenly, we are not watching a man get insulted by a baby — we’re watching an existential crisis about the human capacity for change (plus the joys of dumping water over well-cooked steaks.) The food envier doesn’t just want a bite of a burger, he goes ahead and takes it. A game designed to split a bill turns into a screaming match interrupted by a performance from the Singing Waiter Brothers. The real world slowly gets bled out, leaving only human behaviour at its most extreme and vicious.

And then there’s the Karl Havoc sketch, one of the standout moments from season two. The brief, three-minute long gag works in the opposite direction. It takes an alien, narrowly-focused situation — a man with too much shit on him — and twists it into deeply recognisable, even relatable forms. His pain starts off cartoonish, and then, in its extremity, not despite of it, snakes back around to the world as we actually understand it.

For the uninitiated, the sketch is simple in the way that all I Think You Should Leave sketches are, a lampooning of prank shows. Karl Havoc is a character created for a fake series Everything is Upside Down, a make-up-adorned agent of chaos who is instructed by his producers to travel to a mall and start making trouble.

Only, the actor playing Karl Havoc is overburdened by the costume. He can’t breathe. He just stands there, his arms askew, speaking in a murmur to the producers in his ear. “The chin kills,” he says, his eyes only barely visible through the mask. As his frustration mounts, he alternates between screamed pleas to pull off his latex prison, and deeply troubled pronouncement on existential matters. And then he says it: “I don’t even want to be around anymore.”

The moment is funny, of course — the man is trapped in a prison of entirely his own making, dressed for a skit that he has elected to participate in. But it’s also deeply sad. In his hubris, Karl Havoc has bitten off more than he can chew, laid low by a terrible sense of ambition. He has been sent inwards, his entire life flashing before his dimming eyes.

Most of us don’t know what it’s like to be an actor in a bottom-of-the-barrel prank show. But there is something universal about suffering, and that particular type of suffering that we have brought upon ourselves. Especially given the year that we have just been through, rife with new and unusual punishments, almost all of us will have a moment we can call to mind in which we have been laid low by decisions that we have made and now painfully regret.

Indeed, in the weeks since the second season of I Think You Should Leave premiered, Karl Havoc has become something of a totem, a lightning rod for our pain and our regrets, his motto a rallying cry for a culture that has been through so much for so long.

The genius of Havoc is thus a kind of re-learning of our own experiences. He is a way of introducing us once again to the world that we have been living in for over a year; a process by which the old is made new again.

Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.