How do comedies work?
There were many great comedians who contributed timeless acts to the craft of comedy. However, it can be agreed that nothing is universally funny because all of us have different senses of humour — -as that special little trait is often known. There is quite frankly, no right or wrong.
In this piece, we shall explore some common features of comedic performances that apply to the general art of evoking laughter.
So, turn that frown upside down and let us get straight down to it!
Tick-tock, watch that clock. (Credits: pixabay.com)
Comic timing is vital! Regardless of screen-writing for film or stage play, according to Greg Dean, a 40-year veteran in the art of comedy, timing is like how a drummer reacts to an ongoing track, it is a well-timed accompaniment.
Some believe that comic timing cannot be taught, unfortunately, it is either you are born with it or you are clueless as to what it is.
There has been works on strategic pauses and the tempo of comic delivery by film students but most comic geniuses such as Rowan Atkinson, believe that success falls down to a funny personality and not the telling of the joke itself.
However, Dean believes that there are some ways that comic timing could be fine-tuned. Two suggested methods were, the set-up, punch and classic timing or one-liner timing.
This refers to the technique whereby the performer onscreen delivers a joke, pauses and calculates the estimated audience response before delivering the next line, this allows laughter recovery.
The other technique, called tagging, deals with releasing quick successive jokes right after the first, building a chain of humour that leaves the audiences in stitches.
An example of the tagging technique can be found in a scene from the movie The Other Guys (2010), where the two main characters engage in a lengthy animated argument about Tuna versus Lion, moving from one comical line to another with no breaks in between, relentless with the audience.
A overdressed jester during days of the royal court brought tonnes of laughter…little has changed. (Credits: hitesh choudhary)
Some comedians belittle themselves through outrageous dressing styles and silly behaviours. Audiences tend to laugh at things that are too incredibly foolish to be taken seriously.
Some famous examples of exaggerated costumes can arise from character comedy such as: The Mask (1994), Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007), Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Although the films mentioned above do contain funny content, some audiences are left in stitches by the very appearance of the characters themselves.
In The Mask, Jim Carrey plays a cowardly clerk who transforms into an obnoxious green-faced playboy when he dons an ancient mask belonging to the God of mischief.
Jim Carrey with his rubbery facial features and comical movements, adds to the humourous package of the titular character.
The same thing may be said of the mime-like Mr Bean, a household name in the world of comedy. Rowan Atkinson masterfully portrays the neurotic man, always dressed in the same fashion and is practically a menace in civilised society.
With enlarged animated eyes, funny faces and strange posture, Mr Bean continues to appeal to generations of fans throughout the globe.
Then, there is Borat, a supporting character invented for Da Ali G Show (2000–2004) who gained widespread popularity, leading to his very own movie. Borat is played by British Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who stands at a strapping height of 1.9 m but alter ego Borat, the humorous journalist character from Kazakhstan is an awkward mess.
With his prominent height, pervy moustache and embarrassing movements, Cohen summons laughter through his dorky appearance alone.
Even from the earlier days of television and film, there have been stars such as Phyllis Diller and Charlie Chaplin who caused quite a stir in the comic scene with their over-the-top character portrayals. Guess there really is some method to the madness!
H.R. D’Costa, otherwise professionally known as Scribe Meets World, blogged that one powerful tool used by the film-makers of The Hangover (2009) was that of reversal.
Perhaps laymen might think of taekwondo and backflips when it comes to the word “reversal” but in this case, reversal refers to the showcasing of something contrary to what the audiences might expect.
This creates a comic effect of irony and contrast. What veteran comics do is that they grab the expectations of an audience and they twist it around like a balloon animal.
“What are you looking at?” (Credits: pixabay.com)
Here are two examples from the hangover movie, as noted by D’Costa:
1) A man enters a bathroom, hoping to get some peace and quiet from the outside world, only to find a tiger inside. (while most audiences would expect a urination scene)
2) Three friends hear the sound coming from the boot of a car and assumes it is someone they know but when they open the lid, a naked Chinese man emerges and hits them with a crow bar. (While audiences would most probably not expect a naked Chinese man)
As the late Wrestling legend, Rowdy Piper once said, ‘Just when you thought you had the answers, I changed the questions!’
Therefore, when the audience suspects a funny or predictable scenario, the film-maker comes up with the most absurd alternative and it pays off!
Slapstick humour – when it is okay to laugh at the plight of others. (Credits: Gratisography Pexels.com)
Some would consider slapstick an acquired taste but traces of this type of humour continues to find its way into some comedies.
Slapstick is the sort of exaggerated violence that is exemplified by cartoon characters such as Tom & Jerry or with E.Cayote and the Road Runner but this is even more hilarious when applied to real people, attempting to defy the laws of physics in reality.
Some classic actions in slapstick comedy include falling flat on the face, dropping on your behind and walking unknowingly into a lamppost. Audiences who prefer devilishly clever lines and wit are usually not taken in by the slapstick style as very little is left to the thinking mind.
Chaplin? Hitler? Both. (Credits: pixabay.com)
Finally, there is the element of satire, which refers to a scenario when a serious subject or character is ridiculed or mimicked through a grossly inaccurate ad hilarious interpretation.
Infamous titles of the satirical kind include the Scary Movie series (a film mocking the characters and scenes from horror movies) and Spaceballs (1987), a hilarious take on the Star Wars franchise.
The change in mood of subjects and themes typically serious truly evokes laughter in the crowd as they see familiar characters and scenarios distorted nearly beyond recognition, quite like gawking at a morbidly overweight Spiderman in a ripping suit who constantly falls from tall buildings because his webs can no longer hold him. Digests that visual.
Comedy is an art form.
Huge disclaimer though, according to the great writer, E.B. White, analysing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested in the process and the frog dies.
Perhaps it would be better if we just sat back, relaxed and let the magic of comedy take us by surprise!
If you have a brilliant comedic film idea, it is no laughing matter to keep it stored in your head! Why not share it with us at www.premise.tv, the online interactive media platform, and leave your audiences in stitches!
Author: Laurenzo Jude