Laughing Until It Hurts

PeopleLaughingIn going through my files I found an interesting article as a companion piece to the article on play I posted yesterday. It is a meditation on the seriousness of comedy. This reflection originally appeared in the 2005 City of Angels Film Festival materials. I have added my comments and asides in parenthesis.

“Comedy is never the gaiety of things, it is the groan made gay,” wrote drama critic Walter Kerr. This is the great irony implicit in comedy. It feels good to walk out of a theater laughing. But we often go into the theater not feeling so good. Many times, what makes us laugh is seeing that other people are not feeling so good either.

(I agree and would further add that human vulnerability is the essence of comedy. In fact, I defy anyone to think of a comedic situation where someone was NOT being made incredibly vulnerable– being humiliated, rejected, embarrassed, abused, kicked around, ridiculed, getting a comeuppance or being punished. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t funny!)

…Comedy at its best stares the (weakness and vulnerability of the) human condition straight in the face but comes out smiling. It comes out smiling and, sometimes, laughing at the most gravely serious situations….

Groucho Marx made a distinction between amateur and professional comedians: An amateur thinks it is funny if you dress a young man as an old lady, put him in a wheel chair and push the wheel chair down a hill toward a stone wall. For a pro, said Groucho, it’s got to be a real old lady.

…Both tragedy and comedy take human imperfection into consideration. Tragedy is about the human striving to achieve the divine, but falling just short. It is an upward reach for the divine. (And the inability to grasp it.)

Comedy is about the downward pull – the very things that make us (weak and) fallen creatures. The more serious the subject, the more comic potential exists. Mel Brooks said getting a hangnail is tragedy. Walking down a street, falling in an open man-hole and (going splat) is comedy.

As such, comedy inherently transgresses. It focuses on the (tender) underbelly of humanity and opens it to ridicule. Tragedy is the substance of drama, but comedy is the further reflection (and the smile of recognition at our shared stupidity, weakness and frailty).

…Perhaps laughter is a form of grace. A gift which enables us to cope with lacking that which seems both so close and so far away simultaneously – the divine. (Perhaps it is also the way we cope with the fallibility and disappointments of simply being human.)

Quoted from Michael C. Smith Producer of the 2005 City of the Angels Film Festival

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