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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

What’s So Funny?

A Glimpse at the

Origins of Comedy

it all started with the greeks
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
three ages of greek comedy
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
  • 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
old comedy a serious edge
Old Comedy: A Serious Edge
  • Scatalogical and obscene humor, but for a purpose:
    • to influence civic ideology,
    • to provide political and social critique
  • Most well-known figure of old comedy
  • Wrote over 40 plays; eleven survive
  • Frogs, Clouds, Lysistrata are three of the most well known
  • 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
  • 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
focus of new comedy
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
where do we see old comedy
Where do we see Old Comedy?
  • Satire
  • Parody
  • Political cartoons
where do we see middle comedy
Where Do We See Middle Comedy?
  • Comedy of manners
    • Satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class
    • Much Ado About Nothing
and new comedy
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
subgenres of comic film

Subgenres of Comic Film

Or, Where the Greeks Led Us

comedy of manners
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”
fish out of water
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)
parody or spoof
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
anarchic comedy
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
black comedy
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)
romantic comedy
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
put another way
Put Another Way…
  • Old Comedy focused on political and social commentary and change.
  • We see it today in satires (Daily Show, SNL, Simpsons, etc.)
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
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).