(from the greek
κωμωδία,komodia) has a popular meaning (any discourse generally intended to amuse, especially in television
, and stand-up comedy
). This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre
, whose Western
origins are found in Ancient Greece
. In the Athenian democracy
, the public opinion
of voters was remarkably influenced by the political satire
performed by the comic poets
at the theaters
The theatrical genre can be simply described as a dramatic performance which pits two societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye famously depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old" (Anatomy of Criticism, 1957), but this dichotomy is seldom described as an entirely satisfactory explanation.
A later view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes; in this sense, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to take recourse to ruses which engender very dramatic irony which provokes laughter (Marteinson, 2006).
Much comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict, repetitiveness, and the effect of opposite expectations, but there are many recognized genres of comedy. Satire and political satire use ironic comedy to portray persons or social institutions as ridiculous or corrupt, thus alienating their audience from the object of humor. Satire is a type of comedy.
Parody borrows the form of some popular genre, artwork, or text but uses certain ironic changes to critique that form from within (though not necessarily in a condemning way). Screwball comedy derives its humor largely from bizarre, surprising (and improbable) situations or characters. Black comedy is defined by dark humor that makes light of so called dark or evil elements in human nature. Similarly scatological humor, sexual humor, and race humor create comedy by violating social conventions or taboos in comedic ways.
A comedy of manners typically takes as its subject a particular part of society (usually upper class society) and uses humor to parody or satirize the behavior and mannerisms of its members. Romantic comedy is a popular genre that depicts burgeoning romance in humorous terms, and focuses on the foibles of those who are falling in love.
The word "comedy" is derived from the Classical Greek κωμῳδία
, which is a compound either of κῶμος
(revel) or κώμη
(village) and ᾠδή
(singing): it is possible that κῶμος
itself is derived from κώμη
, and originally meant a village revel. The adjective "comic" (Greek κωμικός), which strictly means that which relates to comedy is, in modern usage, generally confined to the sense of "laughter-provoking". Of this, the word came into modern usage through the Latin comoedia
and Italian commedia
and has, over time, passed through various shades of meaning.
Greeks and Romans confined the word "comedy" to descriptions of stage-plays with happy endings. In the middle ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, La Divina Commedia. As time progressed, the word came more and more to be associated with any sort of performance intended to cause laughter.
, 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.
The phenomena connected with laughter and that which provokes it have been carefully investigated by psychologists. They agreed the predominating 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, if not the 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.
Forms of comedy
- 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
Musical comedy plays
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
Stand-up comedy events and awards
Lists of stand-up comedy performers
Television and radio
The First Couple of Comedy
This is a common nickname for comedienne Lucille Ball
and her one-time husband Desi Arnaz
. This nickname is based on the eight year success of their show I Love Lucy
. Their co-stars Vivian Vance
and William Frawley
are known as the most famous second bananas in comedy and television.
Lists of comedy television programs
- Aristotle, Poetics.
- Buckham, Philip Wentworth, Theatre of the Greeks, 1827.
- Marteinson, Peter (2006). On the Problem of the Comic: A Philosophical Study on the Origins of Laughter, Legas Press, Ottawa, 2006.
- Pickard-Cambridge, Sir Arthur Wallace
- Dithyramb, Tragedy, and Comedy , 1927.
- The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, 1946.
- The Dramatic Festivals of Athens, 1953.
- Raskin, Victor, The Semantic Mechanisms of Humor, 1985.
- Riu, Xavier, Dionysism and Comedy, 1999.
- Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane, Tragedy and Athenian Religion, Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Wiles, David, The Masked Menander: Sign and Meaning in Greek and Roman Performance, 1991.