Comedy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Comedy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Matthew Bevis

Language: English

Pages: 168

ISBN: 0199601712

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


To consider comedy in its many incarnations is to raise diverse but related questions: what, for instance, is humour, and how may it be used (or abused)? When do we laugh, and why? What is it that writers and speakers enjoy - and risk - when they tell a joke, indulge in bathos, talk nonsense, or encourage irony?

This Very Short Introduction explores comedy both as a literary genre, and as a range of non-literary phenomena, experiences and events. Matthew Bevis studies the classics of comic drama, prose fiction and poetry, alongside forms of pantomime, comic opera, silent cinema, popular music, Broadway shows, music-hall, stand-up and circus acts, rom-coms, sketch shows, sit-coms, caricatures, and cartoons.

Taking in scenes from Aristophanes to The Office, from the Roman Saturnalia to Groundhog Day, Bevis also considers comic theory from Aristotle to Freud and beyond, tracing how comic achievements have resisted as well as confirmed theory across the ages.

This book takes comedy seriously without taking it solemnly, and offers an engaging study of the comic spirit which lies at the heart of our shared social and cultural life.

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Character becomes comic as person is reduced to thing, and this thing-ness is recognized as something ossified, habitual, or inflexible, as ‘something mechanical encrusted on the living’. In this schema, for mechanical, read unconscious, and for living, read variable. According to Bergson, the truly comic figure is a kind of monomaniac, unaware that he is comic, and laughter at such figures is issued as a corrective in order to return them to their humanity. So comic character has a ridiculous

with you, Madame; you’ve won. | Go on and satirize me; have your fun.’ The oh-so-polished members of the anti-misanthropic brigade—those who praise politeness, discretion, ‘getting along’—are not just Alceste’s foil, but also his double, for they too affect to be something they are not, playing roles because they care so much about the views of the in-crowd. Etiquette covers for expediency. In Molière’s work, to be ‘with’ the laughers is not a wholly comforting experience; jokes rebound on the

Day is the reductio ad absurdum of the comic plot, although the absurdity becomes the vehicle for the film’s uncanny realism. In the bar Phil turns desperately to the man next to him and asks, ‘What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?’ The man replies: ‘That about sums it up for me.’ And yet, as so often with comic forms, the timekeepers in the background offer us not so much a summing-up, as a multiplication of

most important sentence in the play’). Unhappiness is often comical in Beckett’s world because of the way in which people stage their unhappiness as important, as though they assumed they had a right to happiness. Self-pity becomes a form of ludicrous self-righteousness, and despair a flair for masochism. Yet these connoisseurs of misery take on a battered nobility as they become aware of their plight and begin to play with it. Their jokes offer a way of living with unhappiness—and possibly

through an Analysis of Traditional Folly (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982). Religious perspectives Giorgio Agamben, ‘Comedy’, in The End of the Poem, tr. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999). Peter Berger, Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruter, 1997). Harvey Cox, The Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy (New York: Harper and Row, 1969). Northrop Frye, ‘The Argument

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