Last week, I mentioned low comedy--just one of several levels of comedy. Knowing them provides insight into why we laugh; knowing them also helps writers use them.
Low comedy tends to be physical comedy or comedy related to bodily functions. Our body’s often betray us and make us look clumsy, awkward or foolish. Passing gas from upper or lower orifices is just one example. Staggering for balance after stubbing our toe is another. The human form may be capable of grace and exquisite beauty, but it is just as likely to tumble and grow ugly in a moment.
Shakespeare was a master at blending low comedy and its loftier cousins. Twelfth Night is an excellent example. Poor, dim Sir Andrew Aguecheek misinterprets Sir Toby Belch’s affection. Andrew believes Toby is a friend who would never harm him. Toby has no such moral compass. He mocks everyone and uses Andrew for his own entertainment, especially when Andrew boasts that he’s quite a dancer. Toby then advises Andrew not to walk from place to place, but dance even when he approaches the urinal. Taken with the idea, Andrew dances off stage to, we presume, a urinal.
Such absurb, farcical notions are often a part of low comedies. Farce also includes characters who lack fashion sense. Men with beer bellies in spandex swim briefs or grandmothers in frou-frou dresses make most of us smile.
Body and dress combined have created comedy, too. The Marx brothers wore clothing that didn’t fit well and was rarely appropriate for the setting or occasion. More often, they wore old-world clothing for every occasion. They then added to the comic affect by adopting exaggerated strides, flailing their arms, or making faces. The Three Stooges and Monty Python provided comedy with similar devices and similar effects.
All three comedy troupes, the Marx brothers, Three Stooges, and Monty Python, made frequent, sometimes disgusting use of slapstick, a particularly rowdy form of physical comedy, one prominent in cartoons. Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner cartoons illustrate slapstick very well.
Read any of the YouTube videos linked in this post. Twelfth Night is also available as a fine film.
Describe your favorite low comedy moment--the one that still makes you laugh.
Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach