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The Elements of Comedy

Page history last edited by amrodrig@jeffco.k12.co.us 13 years, 5 months ago

The Elements of Comedy


Momentum or speed-The person who moves or talks way too fast or the machine that goes faster than its human counterpart are common sources of comedy. An object moving too fast also suggests loss of control or a potential for violence. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin capitalized on speed in their early films, making their movements look mechanical.



Arrests-An arrest is a moment that brings the momentum to an abrupt stop. The character hits his thumb with a hammer, doesn’t move, looks at the audience, smiles, looks back at his thumb, then screams and jumps up and down. A “take,” which is a “look” at the audience or another character, is a form of arrest.



Violence or potential violence-A character or object is always on the brink of completely demolishing someone. Remember the Three Stooges?



Mechanical inelasticity-This can be a physical way of moving (such as Charlie Chaplin’s stiff upper body and legs), facial masks, or vocal rigidity (using a squeaky high voice when a character is scared).



Types-Stereotypes are based on exaggerating generalities that can be imitated. (An imitation is something artificial, right?)



Repetition-A character repeats gestures, movements, words, or vocal patterns consciously or unconsciously. An event or situation may repeat itself in different locations. The famous “law of threes,” repeating something three times, is everywhere in comedy. So is the “running” gag, in which something may repeat more than three times.



Inversion or reversal-A character completely reverses his or her opinion or circumstances, especially if the original position has been extreme. A common version of reversal is the situation in which “the robber is robbed,” depicted brilliantly in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One when Prince Hal robs Falstaff.



Exaggeration-A character overreacts to the smallest obstacle, or even an imaginary one.



Understatement-A character calmly ignores the machine guns firing around him, or yawns when he wins the lottery. 


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