|Happy or Sad, choose one.|
Comedy, as it is popularly understood, is the genre that makes us laugh, and then has a bunch of "sub-genres" contained within it--or so we think--depending upon the type of humour that makes us laugh. The word humour should give us pause, because it's an important one for the time when our modern version of Comedy was being formulated in the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical periods. Why do I say it's important? Because the modern association of the word with "something or someone who is funny" isn't the first thing listed if you bother to look it up in the dictionary. In Merriam-Webster it isn't listed until the third definition, and our sense that it's associated with comedy doesn't come in until "part c" of that definition. What comes before it? Well, the short and simple answer is that both definitions prior to that have to deal with the medieval (and ancient) belief in the "four humours".
|The weird symbols are Zodiac Signs.|
Now how did this word humour get associated with comedy? Well, truly, old-fashioned comedy I'd propose is about these four extremes coming together and driving each other batshit crazy until they balance each other out at the end of the story. Typically one type of humour has "gotten out of control" to the point where the opposite kind of character has to come in and subdue and heal the sick person. Essentially I'd argue that comedy is in its modern origins about the sick becoming healthy and the story surrounding that process is "funny" to us because the people are so extreme that we find them to be "ludicrous or absolutely incongruous". In modern comedy notice how it always plays to the extremities in its characters, plots, and paces. Up until the Age of Enlightenment (hell even during it), Western Civilization had this common acceptance of four humours that had to be treated medically in order for "balance" to be achieved. Health is associated with balance and sickness is associated with extremity (you can still see that connotation today in politics when politicians label their opponents as extremists). And sickness is something we've found inherently funny. Yes, when we are laughing in comedy we are usually laughing at sick people.
|Hint: Rom Coms will be reviewed.|
All right, now that we know generally that we laugh at sick people who are destined to become healthy again by the end of the story, how is that employed in a comedy?
|Menander in his stone glory.|
|Each door says something about their owner, don't they?|
|Oh I just can't wait to be king!|
|There's more to me than first appears.|
Cinderella, a staple archetype of most comedies about hidden worth being greater than obvious worth.
|Hard to believe it's the same guy, huh?|
|I wonder how many pictures were discarded to get this particular one?|
Ultimately, comedy is about what society considers to be a healthy life, first and foremost, a celebration of simply being human, and isn't that great?
Some Classical Examples:
As You Like It
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Once Upon a Mattress
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Django Unchained (it mixes in a few other genres, but its basic formula is Comedy)
Silver Linings Playbook
And now I'll leave you with a song... Comedy Tonight from (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum)
I think I'll make this kind of post a weekly ordeal as this technically took two days to write and post. So expect approximately every Monday a post about genre or the theoretical side of entertainment. In between times I might throw in a small review of a film, book or play I happen to read.
Next Theoretical Post: 5/13/13 - What Makes Us Cry -- Part One: Tragedy, with Fear and Pity
Next Serial Post: 5/20/13 - What Makes Us Laugh -- Part Two: Romantic Comedies, when Opposites Attract