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In Defense of the Absurd in comedy

The early forms of comedy in mass entertainment (vaudeville, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges) were unapologetically absurd. They embraced silliness. We see that tradition in more modern British comedy (Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore). And yet, American comedy seems to suffer from an unwillingness to be silly, as if silliness is somehow beneath us. There are notable exceptions of course (The Simpsons, Steve Martin’s early standup), but, by and large, we seem to be mired in a bog of socially relevant comedy, or rigidly responsible satire. Where’s the silliness? Is comedy allowed to be funny for funny’s sake? And here, I’m referring mostly to film and sitcoms, not to stand up comedians who are as varied in their style as they have always been.

  • This would be a good topic for one to explore the evolution of comedy in the US; how we went from vaudeville & Marx to more contemporary comedic styles. From there, one could argue whether the decline of absurd comedy is just a sign of the times, or a result of something else. – majorlariviere 3 years ago
  • I would be interested to discover if the rise of the United States and the decline of the British Empire as respective world powers had anything to do with a more collective trend toward silliness in comedy. Perhaps it’s a potential thesis, mere speculation or something else. – J.D. Jankowski 3 years ago