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What’s So Funny? A Glimpse at the Origins of Comedy It All Started With The Greeks… Dionysus, Greek god of the common man, wine, nature, and human/wild impulses Drama originated from ancient festivals honoring Dionysus (masks, torches, dancing, singing)

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What’s So Funny?

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What’s So Funny?

A Glimpse at the

Origins of Comedy

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It All Started With The Greeks…

  • Dionysus, Greek god of the common man, wine, nature, and human/wild impulses

  • Drama originated from ancient festivals honoring Dionysus (masks, torches, dancing, singing)

  • Komoidia means “the song of the komos” (communal ritual carouse)

    • Normal social rules and inhibitions set aside

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Three Ages of Greek Comedy

  • Old Comedy (fifth century BC)

    • Political and social satire; enforce social norms

  • Middle Comedy (400-323 BC)

    • Mock reenactment of famous myths

  • New Comedy (320 BC to mid-third century BC)

    • Focus on family, love, relationships

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Old Comedy

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  • Original (not based on myths)

  • Outrageous ideas presented as plausible solutions (Lysistrata)

  • Role of the chorus prominent

  • Use of obscenity in language and gesture

    • Purpose: to ridicule recognizable figures without naming names

  • Political and social satire; vigorous concern with social events

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Old Comedy: A Serious Edge

  • Scatalogical and obscene humor, but for a purpose:

    • to influence civic ideology,

    • to provide political and social critique

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  • Most well-known figure of old comedy

  • Wrote over 40 plays; eleven survive

  • Frogs, Clouds, Lysistrata are three of the most well known

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Middle Comedy

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  • Turned from confrontation, topical humor to mythological burlesque (mock reenactments of famous myths)

  • Less direct social/political comment

  • More interest in daily life

  • Attempts to develop characters more fully

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New Comedy

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  • Less obscene

  • Focused on family matters with complications in love relationships.

  • Love is an important theme New Comedy introduces into literature.

  • New Comedy concentrated on everyday life

  • Genial, mildly philosophical reflections of human situation

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Focus of New Comedy

  • domestic situations,

  • troubles with husband/wives or particularly fathers and sons.

  • Interest in human characters revealed in an individual’s moral choice

  • Characters are placed in difficult situations through their own failings; must make difficult decisions.

  • Characters’ dilemmas reflect issues of Athenian society or Athenian attitude

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Echoes Today

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Where do we see Old Comedy?

  • Satire

  • Parody

  • Political cartoons

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Where Do We See Middle Comedy?

  • Comedy of manners

    • Satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class

    • Much Ado About Nothing

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And New Comedy?

  • Deals with relationships

  • Most easily translated to our society

  • Romantic comedies (“chick flicks”)

  • Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, It’s a Wonderful Life

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Subgenres of Comic Film

Or, Where the Greeks Led Us

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Comedy of Manners

  • Satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class

  • Often represented by stock characters

  • Plot often concerns illicit love affair or other scandal

  • Witty dialogue

  • Examples: Importance of Being Earnest, Seinfeld, anything by Noel Coward,

  • “Brit-coms”

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Fish Out of Water

  • Main character(s) in a strange environment…for example:

  • Swapping gender roles (Tootsie)

  • Swapping age roles (Big)

  • Free spirit fitting into structured environment (Police Academy)

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Parody or Spoof

  • Satirizes other film genres or classic films

  • Uses sarcasm, stereotyping, mockery of scenes from the films, etc.

  • Examples: Blazing Saddles, Airplane!, Young Frankenstein

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Anarchic Comedy

  • Nonsensical, stream-of-consciousness humor

  • Jokes and visual gags—usually non-sequiturs (i.e., random stuff happens)

  • Wildly exaggerated characters and situations, sometimes unrelated to the narrative

  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Marx Brothers, Animal House, Wayne’s World

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Black Comedy

  • Based around normally taboo subjects: death, murder, suicide, war

  • Treats these subjects in a humorous way

  • Includes an element of irony (belt example from Waiting for Godot)

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Romantic Comedy

  • Focuses on development of relationship between two people

  • Typical plot: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back

  • Sexual tension and confusion along the way

  • Generally happy ending

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Put Another Way…

  • Old Comedy focused on political and social commentary and change.

  • We see it today in satires (Daily Show, SNL, Simpsons, etc.)

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  • Middle Comedy focused on increasing interest in daily life and character development, less interest in social/political commentary

  • We see it today in comedy of manners films

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  • New Comedy focused on love, and developing human relationships. We see it today in one of the most prevalent subgenres of comedy: romantic comedy (chick flicks).

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