Monday, June 29, 2009

Anatomy of a Good Laugh: Why Comedy Matters

I think comedy gets a bad rap. Maybe it's because no one takes humor seriously anymore.

This riff is coming from the same direction as my last post, in which I defended my reading habits. Then I thought some more about comedy, especially in light of a story that Anne Lamott tells in Bird By Bird about how she went to the bookstore looking for funny books about cancer. They looked at her strangely. Cancer is a terrible thing. All the more reason to find something to laugh about.

I'm not sure why humor is undervalued in our society. Maybe it has something to do with theind of non-hilarity found most often - very little of it is actually funny. Then we're told it's funny, and once we wind up in an argument over the subject, we begin to distrust humor.

Writing comedy is equal parts timing, surprise, and cleverness. I made that up, but I think it's about right. Princess Bride is hilarious because it took us someplace familiar before it went and threw a bunch of curveballs. Juno took critics and viewers by storm for many of the same reasons - this was a teen comedy that went places and dealt with issues in ways no one expected.

In one of his director commentaries (I think Runaway Bride), Garry Marshall said that every comedy needs a tragedy. Or something like that, it's been a while, but the point is that it can't all be laughs. Think about it. You're most ready, most grateful for a laugh when you've had your heart broken.

If we're so grateful for that laugh - and let's face it, with the economy where it's at, we can use a chuckle - why do we look at comedy the way we do, as the poorer cousin of drama?

Comedy is just as capable of moving us to reexamine our lives, but unlike drama, is less likely to hit us over the head with a message. Rather, comedy when done right has the ability to lull us into a sense of security before the aha! moment.

(You could have a whole conversation here about certain satires and dark comedy that can, indeed, knock you unconscious with its agenda, but the ones that do that aren't actually all that funny, and therefore don't count.)

And, according to WebMD (for all of those internet hypochondriacs out there), laughing is good for you.

So go ahead. Have a chuckle without shame.

1 comment:

  1. I quite agree with you, Hillary. In fact, I wish I could write comedy. I went to a screenwriting workshop and the woman giving the class told us every time she sits down to write a drama, it becomes a comedy, no matter how hard she tries. I'm the opposite. Every time I try to write comedy (unless it's a fluffy spoof) it turns out either complete and utter rot, or drama. :)


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