Ran across this wonderful article today. Thought you may enjoy it. Quite interesting perspective. Talks mostly about novels, but it pertains to theatre just as well.
Intro: The Greeks understood that comedy (the gods' view of life) is superior to tragedy (the merely human). But since the middle ages, western culture has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic. This is why fiction today is so full of anxiety and suffering. It's time writers got back to the serious business of making us laugh
OK, so I am supposed to be working on my sitcom but I can't stop thinking about this article.
What the author is saying in one sentence is this: Comedy is in every respect equal to tragedy in its ability to access the truth of the human experience but all the arts marginalize comedy.
This truly makes me believe that producers are doing themselves and their world no favours by rewarding the tragedians (or playwrights as they became known!) and marginalizing the comedians.
I think Groucho Marx had just as much to say as Michaelangelo, frankly.
Take it a step further - I have a prescriptive view of the arts. I think that people use the arts to answer the question "how should I live?". What we see on TV and at the movies informs us of what is, which morphs for all of us into what I should be like.
So this emphasis on tragedy is maybe in some ways partially responsible for the epidemic of depression.
Uh-oh. Do I sound weird? Are you going to suggest that I move to Montana?
But think about it: what wins competitions and what gets produced? It ain't the comedies, by and large. Boeing Boeing is the only contemporary exception that comes to mind.
Hmmm. What do you think?
Last edited on Fri May 25th, 2007 03:31 pm by Swann1719
I think Harpo had more to say than even Groucho!!!!
So glad you enjoyed it.
I think the trouble with comedy is all the author of the article talks about and more. The way we have distorted comedy (and even demeaned it) by delegating it to jokes and punch lines and fart sounds and vomiting is probably what hurts our contemporary concept of comedy as far as plays are concerned.
One time, as a young actor, I was doing a clown in Shakespeare. I thought I was being pretty funny in rehearsals. It actually was funny. But the director came up to me and said, "You can't teach taste." Turned my whole life around. One comment from a wonderful person at the right time. Some other director would have let me get away with that crap. As I say, it was funny. But I am soooooo glad he did not.
(Joe Orton certainly broke through the mold...eventually.)
Not that all that isn't valid, but when ONLY that is empaphasized it turns into fraternity house humor. Even Belushi's "Animal House" is much better than mere frat house humor! And the movie was about a Frat House!
The underlying story has to be greater than just the jokes tha make us laugh. There has to be some illumination of something in a comedy. Only jokes will not do that. But, when that is the case, often people ay "Well it wasn't funny enough!" So the writer is damned if he do and damned if she don't!
I think of "Meet The Parents." It was a lovely small, extremely low-budget movie that was produced in Chicago. Then the small movie got sold to a Hollywood studio. And, they did a fine job of making it an entertaining comic piece, no problem with the success of it. Very professionally done. But I felt it lost its simple purity that had such heart and soul in the original. The studio could have used all that professionalism - and DeNiro and Stiller - and continued in the tone of the orginal and done just as good a job. Even better! I have no idea if the original is available anywhere. But if you can get a copy, it is worth it.
Thanks for making my day on letting me know the payoff the article had for you. I just post 'em when I find 'em.
You wrote: "Take it a step further - I have a prescriptive view of the arts. I think that people use the arts to answer the question "how should I live?". What we see on TV and at the movies informs us of what is, which morphs for all of us into what I should be like. "
I would add to your point of "what I should be like." I would make an addendum to that as, "but what is impossible for any human being to ever be like."
For a clear, short analysis of your point, you may want to pick up John Gardiner's wonderful reflections, "On Moral Fiction." It might be an affirming inspiration for you. It is about storytelling in general. (Please do not confuse his use of "moral" with the current, pompous blasphemous use of that word.) He is the perfect cocktail mixture (with a dash of bitters) of iconoclast and classicist. Gardiner died a too young death in an accident riding his motorcycle.
It is as great a short book for storytelling as Robert Edmond Jones' short theater book based on lectures he gave called, "The Dramatic Imagination."
Dick Cavett, a former American talk show host, once had Gardiner on his interview show. When Gardiner was done - his mouth kept time to the lightning speed of his brain - Cavett was exhausted. He said (I am paraphrasing) "Whew! Well, thank you for talking about more important ideas in one hour on a talk show in the history of televsion."