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The Birth of Comedy

Comedy comes from none other than tragedy. At least, this is what some say. In sitcoms, when we laugh, the jokes are often at the expense of someone else. This blurs the line between tragedy and comedy, two polar opposites of theater. What is funny to one may be tragic to another. The two are opposites where one represents the rise of positive circumstances and the other represents the descent of positive circumstances and the rise of negative, the downfall of a once powerful figure. Comedy is birthed from tragedy in the sense that if someone, for example, is a klutz, and falls down the stairs but the ways in which he does it, the motions made during the fall, could be hilarious. Sometimes, it depends on the circumstances that surround the tragedy that dictate whether the audience laughs or cries. An example of this is Peter Griffin in Family Guy who could fall down the stairs and the audience laughs, Homer hammers his own finger in and we laugh, yet if someone else fell down the stairs or hammered his finger in, it calls for crying. Does this mean there is a sort of inner sadist in everyone that laughs at the pain of fictional characters? Or is something else at play?

  • I know that there are three main stances that scholars take over the notion of humour. Superiority Theory, Relief theory, Incongruity Theory. Superiority theory: one of the oldest stances, relies on the notion that humour, or laughter, stems from positioning ones self at expense of another (Nelson from the Simpsons for example). in this vain, the humour one feels watching a character like Homer Simpson and Perter Griffith fall (sometimes literally) into shenanigans, because we feel superior/reassured that we are not in the same situation and therefore we laugh at them to confirm our position over them. Relief Theory: the next oldest position, posits that laughter is a elease valve for pent up emotions that are built up and unused. For example: your walking down the street and suddenly a giant gorilla jumps out of the bushes in front of you. only to be revealed soon after as a man (the show "just for laughs" for example), and you laugh when your pent up adrenaline and fear is suddenly confronted in a situation that no longer requires them, so you laugh to release the unused build up. In both of these two positions, an element of tragedy or negativity is mostly present. Incongruity theory can be a little murky in this. Inconcruity, the most recent of the three main stances, states that laughter comes from moment of realization of incongruity between a concept involved in a certain situation, such as Wyle E. Coyote getting the mail, and the objects/setting of it happening, Wyle. E Coyote gets hit with a boxing glove from inside his mailbox. There is the tragic element, but inconruity does not nessesarily rely on a tragic element of some sort. A group of frogs croaking "Budweiser" for example, from the Simpsons. in this, there is no sadists/sadist element causing the comedy, it is the cognitive dissonance one experiences making sense of frogs product placing. – KathyOttaway 6 years ago
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  • What about the ability to laugh at oneself, situation or the ability to look at society and point out it's flaws. A deconstruction of superiority perhaps. I think that is best discussed by people who are actually funny and study comedy as a performer: Academic understanding may be helpful but not as much as scholars would like us to believe. – fchery 6 years ago
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  • I think that this topic is really interesting. One could also look at the increase of awkward comedy, where you laugh out of potential emotional pain, rather than the physical pain, of a character. This is especially noticeable in a lot of Ricky Gervais' television shows (e.g. The Office, Extras, so on). I do not think this necessarily falls into the first theory of superiority, but rather equality, at times. I have considered writing something similar about the development towards this sort of "non-medy" (also check out the Tim Heidecker film The Comedy). – Matthew Sims 6 years ago
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  • I agree that this topic is interesting, in that sometimes I would laugh and sometimes I would cry for help. There are definitely times when I have witnessed someone I know do these things that Homer and Peter do and have laughed, simply because I can't help it, even though I see they are in pain. There are other times where immediately I have rushed to their aid. Does this mean that the comedy I see in fiction has blurred the lines between itself and reality for me? – kathleensumpton 6 years ago
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