From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Comedy has a classical meaning (comical theatre) and a popular one (the use of humour with an intent to provoke laughter in general). In the theater, its Western origins are in ancient Greece, like tragedy, a genre characterised by a grave fall from grace by a protagonist having high social standing. Comedy, by contrast, portrays a conflict between a young hero and an older authority, a confrontation described by Northrop Frye as a struggle between a "society of youth" and a "society of the old". A more recent development is to regard this struggle as a mere pretext for disguise, a comical device centered on uncertainties regarding the meaning of social identity. The basis of comedy would then be a plot mechanism conceived to engender misunderstandings either about a hero's identity or about social being in general.
Returning to the popular term comedy, it is known to be difficult to describe. Humor being subjective, one may or may not find something humorous because it is either too offensive or not offensive enough. Comedy is judged according to a person’s taste. Some enjoy cerebral fare such as irony or black comedy; others may prefer scatological humor (e.g. the "fart joke") or slapstick. A common gender stereotype that plays on this convention is that men love the comedy of The Three Stooges, while women do not.
While hard to pin down, it can safely be said that most good comedy, as with a good joke, contains within it variations on the elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict, and the effect of opposite expectations. The audience becomes a part of the experience, if it is to be successful. Sometimes, it is the fulfillment of the expectation which is part of the experience, such as the long "take" of a Jack Benny, resolved, paradoxically, when the expected happens. Comedy is a serious business, and one only knows it when one sees it or hears it.
Forms of comedy
Comedy is one of the original four genres of literature defined by the philosopher Aristotle in the work Poetics. The other three genres are tragedy, epic poetry, and lyric poetry. Literature in general is defined by Aristotle as a mimesis, or imitation of life. Comedy is the third form of literature, being the most divorced from a true mimesis. Tragedy is the truest mimesis, followed by epic poetry, comedy and lyric poetry. The genre of comedy is defined by a certain pattern according to Aristotle's definition. All comedies begin with a low, typically with an "ugly" guy who cannot do anything right. By the end of the story or play, the "ugly" guy has won the "pretty" girl, or achieved some other goal. Comedies usually also have elements of the supernatural, typically magic and, for the Ancient Greeks, the gods. Comedy includes the unrealistic in order to portray the realistic. For the Greeks, all comedies ended happily which is opposite of tragedy, which ends sadly.
Aristophanes, a dramatist of the Ancient Greek Theater wrote 40 comedies, 11 of which survive and are still being performed. In ancient Greece, comedy seems to have originated in bawdy and ribald songs or recitations apropos of fertility festivals or gatherings, or also in making fun at other people or stereotypes. Aristotle, in his Poetics, states that comedy originated in Phallic songs and the light treatment of the otherwise base and ugly. He also adds that the origins of comedy are obscure because it was not treated seriously from its inception. That said, comedy had its own Muse: Thalia.
In ancient Sanskrit drama, Bharata Muni's Natya Shastra defined humour (hāsyam) as one of the nine nava rasas, or principle rasas (emotional responses), which can be inspired in the audience by bhavas, the imitations of emotions that the actors perform. Each rasa was associated with a specific bhavas portrayed on stage. In the case of humour, it was associated with mirth (hasya).
The phenomena connected with laughter and that which provokes it have been carefully investigated by psychologists. They agreed the predominant characteristics are incongruity or contrast in the object and shock or emotional seizure on the part of the subject. It has also been held that the feeling of superiority is an essential factor: thus Thomas Hobbes speaks of laughter as a "sudden glory". Modern investigators have paid much attention to the origin both of laughter and of smiling, as well as the development of the "play instinct" and its emotional expression.
George Meredith, in his 1897 classic Essay on Comedy, said that "One excellent test of the civilization of a country ... I take to be the flourishing of the Comic idea and Comedy; and the test of true Comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter." Laughter is said to be the cure to being sick. Studies show that people who laugh more often get sick less.
- Ancient Greek comedy, as practiced by Aristophanes and Menander
- Ancient Roman comedy, as practiced by Plautus and Terence
- Burlesque, from Music hall and Vaudeville to Performance art
- Citizen comedy, as practiced by Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton and Ben Jonson
- Clowns such as Richard Tarlton, William Kempe, Yukko the Clown and Robert Armin
- Comedy of humours, as practiced by Ben Jonson and George Chapman
- Comedy of intrigue, as practiced by Niccolò Machiavelli and Lope de Vega
- Comedy of manners, as practiced by Molière, William Wycherley and William Congreve
- Comedy of menace, as practiced by David Campton and Harold Pinter
- comédie larmoyante or 'tearful comedy', as practiced by Pierre-Claude Nivelle de La Chaussée and Louis-Sébastien Mercier
- Commedia dell'arte, as practiced in the twentieth-century by Dario Fo, Vsevolod Meyerhold and Jacques Copeau
- Farce, from Georges Feydeau to Joe Orton and Alan Ayckbourn
- Laughing comedy, as practiced by Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan
- Restoration comedy, as practiced by George Etherege, Aphra Behn and John Vanbrugh
- Sentimental comedy, as practiced by Colley Cibber and Richard Steele
- Shakespearean comedy, as practiced by William Shakespeare
- Stand-up comedy
- Dadaist and Surrealist performance, usually in cabaret form
- Theatre of the Absurd, used by some critics to describe Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Jean Genet and Eugène Ionesco
- Sketch comedy
Stand-up comedy is a mode of comic performance in which the performer addresses the audience directly, with the absence of the theatrical "fourth wall", and usually speaks in his own person (rather than as a dramatic character).
- Musical comedy
- Comedy albums
- Comedy club
- Stand-up comedy
- Comedy film
Television and radio
Lists of comedy television programs
- British sitcom
- British comedy
- Comedy Central - A television channel devoted strictly to comedy.
- German television comedy
- List of British TV shows remade for the American market
- Paramount Comedy (Spain).
- Paramount Comedy 1 and 2.
- TBS (TV network)
- The Comedy Channel (Australia)
- The Comedy Channel (UK)
- The Comedy Channel (USA) not to be confused with HA! - channels that have merged into Comedy Central.
- The Comedy Network, a Canadian TV channel.