|Even pumpkins do it. |
So let's do it.
A comedy gets away with the occasional fart joke, sweat comments, hunger pains, slap stick, pie fights, and may on occasion throw in some poop jokes as the ultimate limit, but beyond that is relatively contained on what it likes to think funny about the human body. Farce makes fun of all the utterly disgusting parts that comedy won't touch. The only body fluid that doesn't really get utilized that much in a farce is blood, and that's because Farce's brother Horror holds the monopoly on blood that it inherited from classic tragedy. What do I mean by the fact that Farce and Horror are brothers? Well, let's stop for a moment, anthropomorphising the genres and look at their "family".
Imagine, if you will, that Tragedy, Horror, Farce, and Satire are four brothers. Tragedy is the eldest and most serious older brother. Horror, is Tragedy's twin brother who later in life went off and did his "own thing" and tried his hardest to disassociate himself with his twin brother. Satire is the youngest and the most spoiled, but at the same time feels it got the "hand-me-downs" and so had to fight to survive competition with the older siblings--not to mention the one who feels like they've got to "take on the world" head on. Satire's the biggest risk taker of the bunch and it's the one that met Romance, married her and together they had two kids a boy named Comedy and a girl named Romantic Comedy--by the way Romance later cheated on Satire with his older brother Tragedy and that's how Melodrama was born. *cymbal crash* Meanwhile amongst all this commotion Farce is the middle child who often gets overlooked and is forgotten and says wild and crazy things from time to time to remind everybody that it exists. Farce isn't the black sheep of the family (Irony is, and that'll be covered in next week's post), but it's quite close to being so--it's more the "creepy uncle" who says and does whatever he feels like without anyone else commenting on it. And quite honestly I'd hate to attend their family reunions, I mean wouldn't you?
|They're all there, every single last one of them.|
|You're sick, I'm sick, we're all sick together.|
Farce as I said developed from the Satyr plays which proceeded to be performed immediately after a tragedy trilogy. They were written by the same playwright who wrote the tragedy trilogy and it is from that trilogy that these plays were in reference to, and they were a required part of the play competition at the City Dionysia--thus a tragedy trilogy was thought incomplete if a satyr play didn't follow. Even when Tragedy was shortened from its trilogy format to a single play, a satyr play was still required to follow thereafter. I once read an academic article (I forget which to be honest) which put it in terms which have stuck with me ever since: that farce is tragedy's younger brother that's given birth a few minutes after the tragic moment when you suddenly burst out laughing at the tragic idea. Sometimes the connection isn't immediately obvious, but is more often a thematic look. For example the one completely intact surviving Satyr play we have, The Cyclops, we can tell that it probably followed a tragedy about cannibalism, as the whole play is filled with references--especially from the Cyclops himself--about chopping people up, crushing them, cooking them, chewing on them, and consuming them. As was mentioned before the plot to a satyr play is pretty simple, Silenus and his merry band of satyrs get themselves into a pickle and a hero saves them. In this case Odysseus tricks the Cyclops into getting drunk so that it passes out so that they're not eaten by the monstrosity. And it is here where we get the core of farce, it takes an idea that we'd otherwise be shocked, horrified, scandalized, and cry over (whether in fear or pity) and it makes it laughable. Only farce can make incest, cannibalism, murder, rape, and all other human crimes seem almost innocently laughable. It takes us a while to realize what we just laughed about--some never realize it--but when you stop to think about a truly farcical situation seriously, you can't not cry about it a little. And it's not just in Greek tragedy where you have a serious examination of a subject followed by a farcical exploration of the idea, you can find it in the Japanese tradition of alternating Noh plays and Kyogen farces.
Arguably after the foundation of Greek New Comedy, farce (along with what would become satire) disappeared or diminished in quality in Greek culture--it lingered but no longer was AS prominent as it had been. The next stage of development arguably came from the Romans. Casina, a play by Plautus that would but for one thing be called a comedy, has arguably had a tremendous influence on farce. The only thing that keeps me from calling it a comedy outright is that the two "lovers" are absent the entirety of the play. They're talked about, connived for, and made much ado over, but you never ever see them on the stage. Instead the play is about how everyone else tries to arrange their lives for them behind their backs, without any thought but their own gratifications. And that arguably is probably the best way to divide comedy from farce--in a comedy two lovers get married and go about healing the society they're in somehow, while in a farce they are completely absent and their actions have little impact on the lives of the rest of the characters in the play. Essentially farce is a world where the doctor is out to golf somewhere and the sick people go around untreated.
Farce survived the Medieval period where satire did not--the farcical humour of some of the cycle plays in which to play to the audience scenes of the bible would be performed with an extra focus to body humour or gross-out humour. One of our earliest plays from Medieval times, written by a nun, involves a priest getting involved in some rather hilarious examples of body humour. The Second Shepherd's play, while a "romance" over all has some definite touches of the farce about it when the shepherds are all talking. And Noah's wife during the cycle of plays which focused on stories of the bible turns into quite a funny character, giving us the origin of the shrew as an archetype. But even so, it was mostly touches here and there of farcical humour meant to please the average peasant viewer in the audience.
However Farce really didn't emerge fully again until the Renaissance, where it arguably was brought to life again by Italian Renaissance playwrights and actually given a strong sense of intelligence. And this time it became, like everything else during the Renaissance, a bit more cynical.It's like one day everyone woke up and decided to be a little more pessimistic about life--that's the easy way to describe the Renaissance.
|What he doesn't know is she's doing the angel.|
|Doors, lots and lots of doors.|
|The scariest thing about it is...|
there are four sequels to it.
From this revival in farce in film I'd argue that it has been pushed as a genre to go beyond its tragic origins and attempt to cover other genres (new and old) alike--and as such it doesn't always work. Of the lower-end stuff from the 2000s and now, Scary Movie, Idiocracy, and the two end of the world scenario films are probably the best farces because they actually take things we'd fear or pity (and thus cry) over and turn them into something laughable. While films like Date Movie or Epic Movie completely fail as films because they lack that serious origin. Not Another Teenage Movie has its moments, when it looks at the "teenage psychological issues" we're supposed to take serious in a teenage film and goes to town on them, but beyond that it gets stuck in the mud by making the already ridiculous scenarios of teenage films even more ridiculous to the point where they start getting uncomfortably unreal. Not only that but American farce has tried to take the poking fun of American popular culture (a realm normally reserved for the more intelligent satire) too far to the point where if you watch the films almost a year or so later you forget at first what was so funny until you try and remember the reference. And that's the state of modern American farce--trying and re-learning the hard way it can only make fun of what we'd otherwise take far too seriously.
Who's the best at farce? I'd argue the Europeans. They've figured out the right balance of intelligence, wit, vice, and the ridiculous that goes into making a farce that one feels you don't have to bathe after watching. Compare European farces versus American farces if you doubt me, and if you disagree give a reason why below.
Next week we're taking another break from the What Makes Us Laugh & What Makes Us Cry series and we're going to ask the question: What is Irony? Think you have a clue? Leave a comment down below.