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In the story for a game I am making, there is a sideplot involving a messed up cult as a minor antagonist. Originally, the cult was supposed to be a comedic villain, mainly as a parody of religion in general, and just how absurd the cult is in their beliefs and customs. However, when writing them as more deeper antagonists, and learning how real cults work, I realized that they can actually be WAY more scary and demented than the original version. However, I still want to keep some of the comedic angles of them.

Of course, having an antagonist be both scary and funny at the same time has been around for a long time. What is some advice on making a well-written antagonist that can be both scary and funny at once?

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  • Is the cult supernatural in nature or is it modeled after real world cults?
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 14:43
  • @hszmv It is actually a bit of both. While it has the weird, supernatural aspect of it, I also want it to have some sort of realism to it, so it actually feels like a cult, not just the typical one dimensional antagonist caricature.
    – Crafter
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 15:37

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Generally humor exists in situations where something is wrong, dangerous, or unsettling, while simultaneously safe and comforting. Take the scene from "Finding Nemo" where the two fish Marlin and Dory meet Bruce, a Great White Shark who invites them to meet his friends all while showing a menacing toothy grin, only to reveal that Bruce's friends are two other sharks... all of whom are members of a support group to help Sharks overcome their addiction to eating fish and Bruce was inviting Marlin and Dory in because the assignment was for everyone to make a fish friend (the other two sharks attempt, but one fish is petrified with fear and runs for it while the other shark has no idea where his fish is... but it's strongly implied the fish was with the shark when he fell off the wagon.

All of this is funny to the view because the Sharks are trying to do this to change the public appearance of Sharks, who are stereotyped as "Mindless Eating Machines" in all likelihood in some bizarre attempt to do their part for shark conservation. The whole idea that a Great White Shark attends AA for fish eating (and is named after the prop shark from the film Jaws) is funny given the expectation of what he wants to do. The only time Bruce becomes truly scary, it's clear that he literally cannot control himself, for which his friends profusely apologize.

In another example that is much closer, the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's spinoff Angel both used cults and tropes associated but also injected them with humor. In the first season finale of Buffy, an Earthquake strikes the California town the show is set in unexpectedly. In his lair, the Master, the season's primary antagonist and leader of a cult of vampires, begins to loudly and dramatically quote his cult's sacred texts, which alludes to an Earthquake heralding the events that will lead to the Master's end goal. The text reads like it was inspired by the Book of Revelations from the King James Bible. He finishes his read as the shaking stops , recomposes himself, closes the scripture and looks to his minions. And then in a much more calm and less dramatic voice asks them "What do you think [of the earthquake]? 5.4 [on the Rictor Scale]," referencing a common practice among Californians of setting up friendly little wagers as to what the Earthquake's intensity will be reported while in the brief moments between the quake occurring and the official reporting hitting the news.

In an episode of Angel, Angel is hired by a prominent wizard to protect his adult daughter. During the climax where the wizard is revealed to be the villain and leader of the cult, he questions how Angel, who is under a curse that prevents him from having sex, could betray the wizard by sleeping with the daughter left in Angel's care and thus taking her virginity... only for the daughter to correct the record and tell her father she and Angel didn't sleep together and in fact, she hasn't been a virgin since her teenage years and that she had a long list of sexual partners. Her father reacts with the typical horror of a religious conservative parent learning their daughter was quite promiscuous... which is more hilarious because the fight started when Angel learned that the father had hired him to protect her until the Wizard could perform a black magic ceremony which required a Virgin Sacrifice... three guess who he wanted to sacrifice and the first two don't count.

Others will treat the cult with all the trappings of Satanists from rituals to cloaks and ominous chanting as just as much of a community as any other small town church. Sure, they may worship the prince of evil and hold congress with the devil, but they also have cheery bake sales for fundraisers, have a world class daycare system, are concerned with all the sex and violence on TV and the Internet corrupting the Youth (Back in my day, we didn't have Instagram or TikTok. If you wanted to corrupt your mortal soul, you went out and mutilated a goat in a Pentagram in the name of Beelzebub like everyone else. Built character!) all while... you know what, I'll let my old man Satanist declaring that the true evil is, as always, the new media all the kids are into today do the speaking for me.). A great example of one of these can be found in the cult from "Hot Fuzz" which not only was responsible for an astonishing number of murders, but was made up entirely by people who were pillars of their community and whose motivations for their evil were highly petty.

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