October 8: Theories of Comedy



I ought to have more sympathy for Fielding's Preface to Joseph Andrews, for in it he gives some eighteenth-century theory of comedy -- particularly the distinction between the comic and the burlesque, which I won't go into here because I didn't find it interesting. But maybe it's because I had a comedy pitch today which involved some theory of comedy (how in animation you can be crueler to your characters than in live action), so I'm tired. Theory of Comedy is not a change of pace for me, today.

Here's one theory of comedy I like, though: Depressed People Aren't Funny. It's more of a rule of thumb than a theory, because of course depressed people can be funny, but never for long, and it's difficult in your main character if we're supposed to sympathize with him -- as we are supposed to, if we are an American audience. (Brit humor seems different in this way -- note that in the American "Office" we had to have Jim/Pam, as opposed to Tim/Pam in the UK version; Tim was a character I'd never really seen before on TV, the intelligent character we sympathize with who is also a huge failure because of his wimpiness. You can't do that on TV here.)

To continue on this thought, though -- I always thought the audience was right to reject "Arrested Development," as genius as it was, because those characters all hated themselves at some level. Who wants to see characters hate themselves? You can get that at home. You think, these poor people, why don't they get some help? Whereas losers who think they're winners give us permission to laugh at them. Fielding is onto this when he talks about the Ridiculous springing from either vanity or hypocrisy -- affectation, either way.

This essay comes to a sudden stop with another one of Fielding's theories which I like and will quote:
But perhaps it may be objected to me, that I have against my own rules introduced vices, and of a very black kind into this work. to this I shall answer: First, that it is very difficult to pursue a series of human actions and keep clear from them. Secondly, that the vices to be found here, are rather the accidental consequences of some human frailty, or foible, than causes habitually existing in the mind. Thirdly, that they are never set forth as the objects of ridicule, but detestation. Fourthly, that they are never the principal figure at that time on the scene; lastly, they never produce the intended evil.
Ineffectual evil dudes are funny. Effectual evil dudes are reality. And speaking of -- having started with a YouTube theme, let me give you the YouTube variation:

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