Levels of Comedy powerpoint

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Levels of Comedy Lecture
• Comedy arose in Greece as tragedy did.
• Plots are similar: affairs go wrong, truth is
discovered or covered up, hero saves the day,
the villain is overcome and equilibrium and
balance are restored.
• Tragedy
– moves toward despair or death
– Diction is elevated and heroic
• Comedy
– moves toward happiness and marriage.
– Diction is common or colloguial, witty, witless and
The Comedic Pattern
• Comedic Problems: thwarted love,
eccentric behavior, corruption in high
places fueled by misunderstanding,
mistakes in identity, errors in judgment,
excessive or unreasonable
The Comedic Pattern
• Comic climax: confusions reach a peak,
misunderstanding is dominant, pressure is
at a high point, choices must be made and
solutions found.
• The catastrophe, or turning point,
introduces a sudden revelation in which a
key fact or identity or event is planned to
characters and audience at the same time.
The Comedic Pattern
• Comic denouement: Resolves the initial
problems…”setting things right”
• Education and change: the two key
features of comedy
– Characters learn something about
themselves, their society, or the way to love
and live.
Levels of Comedy
Lowest Level
Low comedy refers to the type of humor that is focused primarily on the situation or series of
events. Deals with ideas that require less thought and evaluation. Often bathroom humor,
falling on butt, slipping on banana peels, etc. This represents the lowest level of the comedy
ladder. It can include such things as physical mishaps, humor concerning the human body
and its functions, coincidences, and humorous situations. With low comedy, the humor is
straightforward and generally easy to follow and understand.
Since the primary purpose of most low comedy is to entertain, the action is frequently seen
as hilarious or hysterical and the laughter that can result is often riotous, and filled with
slapstick, side-splitting laughter and guffaws. Many times, the characters are grossly
exaggerated caricatures rather than fully developed characters. These caricatures are likely
to be caught in unlikely situations or to become victims of circumstances seemingly beyond
their control. Thus, the plot takes priority over the characters.
Farce - A play form that includes a lot of mistaken identities, slapstick humor, bathroom
humor, ludicrous situations, etc. Farce is usually fast-paced and relies on actors having good
timing and not being afraid of making a buffoon of oneself. The Taming of the Shrew
Burlesque - A play that lampoons other artistic works, especially theatre. Gay’s The
Beggar’s Opera.
Examples of low comedy might include Dumb and Dumber, Scary Movie, and America’s
Funniest Home Videos.
Shakespeare’s comedies, such as Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, are full of
low humor.
Three Stooges, Will Farrell movies
Highest Level
– High Comedy - Deals with "intelligent" ideas. Often requires or
is enhanced with intellectual evaluation.
– Refers to the type of humor that is focused primarily on the
characters, dialogue, or ideas. This represents the highest level
of the comedy ladder. It can include such things as clever word
play, wit, and pointed remarks regarding larger issues. Many
times, high comedy takes an irreverent or unconventional look at
serious issues. Sometimes, the humor of high comedy is not
immediately obvious; it can take a bit of reflection in order to
realize the humorous intent.
– Frequently, the purpose of high comedy is to express an opinion,
to persuade, or to promote deeper consideration of an idea.
Often described as amusing, clever, or witty, high comedy
typically results in chuckles, grins, and smiles rather than loud
laughter. Clever use of language and interesting characters
receive more attention than the circumstances that surround
– Examples of high comedy might include The Office, Scrubs and,
at times, The Simpsons. Shakespeare’s tragedies, such as
Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, also include instances of high
Levels of Comedy
• Comedy of Manners - You should have read
The Importance of Being Earnest, which most
folks consider a comedy of manners. And it is just
that: this play makes fun of the manners, or
brainless rules, of society. Nearly every bit of
humor in the play makes fun of the behavior that
was required to live in late Victorian society. The
play is still immensely funny today because many
of these manners still exist. Comedy of manners
is usually full of verbal wit, and it often takes
place in upper class society. Comedy of manners
is a bit more difficult to find nowadays. However,
try watching a Woody Allen film. His films often
make fun of societies stupid little "rules."
Clueless, Annie Hall, The Graduate, Breakfast at
Tiffany’s, The Royal Tenenbaums
• Satire - If you've seen political cartoons, you've probably
seen satire. It is sometimes similar to comedy of
manners in that it deals with aspects of society, but satire
wants its audience to see social problems and perhaps
even motivate change. For some great examples of
satire, visit the webpage of web-animator Mark Fiore. He
has dozens of short little animated films that comment on
his perceptions of social ills that need to be fixed. Jon
Stewart, Steven Colbert, Monty Python and the Holy
Grail, The Manchurian Candidate, Breakfast at Tiffany's,
The Truman Show, WALL•E
• Dark Comedy - This is humor that makes fun of things
that are supposed to be held with respect. So making fun
of the girl in the wheelchair is usually no-no, unless you
want to use dark comedy. However, it often also makes
fun of ideas that are sacred or special. Like the Pastor
who, with his arm around the new widow as they stand in
front of the casket, says, "It's okay. Just think: In a few
years, we'll laugh about this." If you laugh at comedy,
and feel guilty about it later, it's a good chance it's dark
comedy. Dark comedy can often be considered "low"
comedy, but since it usually deals with ideas, I like to
stick it in the "high" comedy area. Where would you put
it? Raising Arizona, Harold and Maude, Heathers, Dr.
Strangelove, Better off Dead,
Irony in its various forms
• Situational Irony:
– A discrepancy between what appears to be and what
is actually exists.
• Verbal Irony:
– Saying something different from what is meant; words
are sometimes intended to be taken at other than
face value. (Contradictory actions and statements as
well as the use of understatement and overstatement
can often be signals that verbal irony is present.)
• Dramatic Irony:
– When a writer allows a reader to know more about a
situation that a character does.
Irony in its various forms
• Tragic Irony:
– A form of dramatic irony; eg. Oedipus searches for the
person responsible for the plague, only to discover
himself the culprit.
• Cosmic Irony:
– When a writer uses God, destiny, or fate to dash the
hopes and expectations of a character or of
humankind in general. Discrepancy exists between
what a character aspires to and what universal forces
• Sarcasm:
– Strong form of verbal irony that is calculated to hurt
someone through, eg. false praise.
• Satire - The art of criticizing a subject by ridiculing it and evoking
toward it an attitude of amusement, contempt, or scorn.
• Satire (in relation to literature) - A literary technique used in prose
and poetry that combines a critical attitude with wit and humor for
the purpose of improving society.
• Hyperbole - A figure of speech that uses exaggeration to emphasize
strong feelings or to create a satiric effect.
• Understatement - The technique of creating emphasis by saying
less than what is actually or literally true.
• Sarcasm - A type of verbal irony often in the form of a remark in
which the literal meaning is complimentary but the actual meaning is
• Verbal Irony - words of praise which convey criticism and words of
criticism which convey praise
Horatian Satire
• Horace (b 65 BC, d 8 BC)
• “Tells Truth with a Smile”
• Appear to pass gentle comment on the
failing of mankind, rather than dealing with
these faults with malice.
• Satire, the attitude of which is amused at
the foibles of mankind and merely pokes
fun at them.
• Topical, short-lived, current
Juvenalian Satire
B AD 60-70
Bitter, ironical humor
Power of invectives, grim epigrams
Narrow-minded pessimism
– Attacks the rich then condemns females
• Satire, the attitude of which is bitter and angry
and attacks sometimes viciously the vices of
• Universal issues
Horatian or Juvenalian?
• “They dream in courtship, but in wedlock
wake.”—Alexander Pope
• “Wherefore being all of one mind, we do highly
resolve that government of the grafted by the
grafter for the grafter shall not perish from the
earth.”—Mark Twain
• “In other words, a war that could destroy the
global order and cast a region of the earth into
chaos was discussed for about as much time as
it takes Lenscrafters to make a pair of
bifocals”—Jon Stewart
Targets of Satire
society and its institutions
types of people
a particular person
a place (city, state, nation)
Vehicles of Satire
poetry, prose
drama, films
cartoons / comic strips
"The Unhappy Elephant"
a fable by Cam Amos
• An elephant who lives in the jungle became very
dissatisfied with his life. He was not happy living with the
herd and thought that the life of an elephant was too
hard for him. Tired of moving tree trunks, he left to seek
happiness in the world.
• After travelling many miles, he saw a group of monkeys
chattering happily while sailing from tree to tree, across a
deep ravine. He asked them if it was enjoyable and easy,
and they answered him, "It is indeed both."
• So he went to one of the trees that was very close to the
ravine, wrapped his tail around the overhanging branch,
and sailed over the cliff, crashing to the bottom and
killing himself.
Mr. Artesian’s Conscientiousness
by Ogden Nash
Once there was a man named Mr. Artesian and his
activity was tremendous.
And he grudged every minute away from his desk
because the importance of his work was so
And he had one object all sublime.
He figured that sleeping eight hours a night meant
that if he lived to be seventy-five he would have
spent twenty-five years not at this desk but in bed.
So he cut his slumber to six hours which meant
he only lost eighteen years and nine months
And he figured that taking ten minutes for
breakfast and twenty minutes for luncheon and
half an hour for dinner meant that he spent three
years, two months, and fifteen days at the table.
So that by subsisting solely on bouillon cubes
which he swallowed at his desk to save this
entire period he was able,
And he figured that at ten minutes a day he spent
a little over six months and ten days shaving.
So he grew a beard, which gave him a
considerable saving,
And you might think that now he might have
been satisfied, but no, he wore a thoughtful
Because he figured that at two minutes a
day he would spend thirty-eight days and a
few minutes in elevators just traveling up
and down.
So as a final timesaving device he stepped
out the window of his office, which
happened to be on the fiftieth floor,
And one of his partners asked “Has he
vertigo?” and the other glanced out and
down and said “Oh no, only about ten feet
• Saturday Night Live
• Weird Al Yankevic