Along with drama, horror and science fiction, comedy is one of the largest genres of the medium.
A comedy of manners film satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class, often represented by stock characters. The plot of the comedy is often concerned with an illicit love affair or some other scandal, but is generally less important than its witty and sometimes bawdy dialogue. This form of comedy has a long ancestry, dating back to Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare.
In a fish out of water comedy film the main character, or characters, finds himself in an alien environment and this drives most of the humor in the film. Such films can be portrayals of opposite gender lifestyle, such as in Tootsie (1982); adults swapping roles with a kid, as in Big (1988); a freedom-loving individual fitting into a structured environment, as in Police Academy (1984), and so forth.
A parody or spoof film is a comedy that satirizes other film genres or classic films. Such films employ sarcasm, stereotyping, mockery of scenes from other films, inconsequential violence, and the obviousness of meaning in a character's actions. Examples of this form include Blazing Saddles (1974), Airplane! (1980), and Young Frankenstein (1974).
The anarchic comedy film uses nonsensical, stream-of-consciousness humor which often lampoons some form of authority. Films of this nature stem from a theatrical history of anarchic comedy on the stage and in street performances. Well-known films of this sub-genre include National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
The black comedy is based around normally taboo subjects, including, death, murder, suicide and war. Examples include Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Ladykillers (1955), The Loved One (1965), Monty Python's the Meaning of Life (1983) and The War of the Roses (1989).
Gross-out films are a relatively recent development, and rely heavily on sexual or "toilet" humour. Example of these movies include American Pie (1999), There's Something About Mary (1998), and Dumb and Dumber (1994).
The romantic comedy sub-genre typically involves the development of a relationship between a man and a woman. The stereotyped plot line follows the "boy-gets-girl", "boy-loses-girl", "boy gets girl back again" sequence. Naturally there are innumerable variants to this plot, and much of the generally light-hearted comedy lies in the social interactions and sexual tensions between the pair. Examples of this style of film include Pretty Woman (1990), It's a Wonderful World (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), When Harry Met Sally... (1989), and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).
It was not uncommon for the early romantic comedy film to also be a screwball comedy film. This form of comedy film was particularly popular during the 1930s and 1940s. There is no consensus definition of this film style, and it is often loosely applied to slapstick or romantic comedy films. Typically it can include a romantic element, an interplay between people of different economic strata, quick and witty repartee, some form of role reversal, and a happy ending. Some examples of the screwball comedy are: It Happened One Night (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), and more recently What's Up, Doc? (1972).
- Social comedy film
- Silent comedy film
- Slapstick film
- Splatstick film
- Teen comedy film
- Tragicomedy and related Black comedy
The very first movies to be produced was Thomas Edison's kinetoscope of his assistant Fred Ott in Record of a Sneeze. This could also be considered the first to show a comedic element.
Comedic films began to appear in significant numbers during the era of silent films, prior to the 1930s. These were mainly focused on visual humor, including slapstick and burlesque. A very early comedy short was Watering the Gardener 1895 by the Lumiere Brothers. Prominent clown-style actors of the silent era include Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
A popular trend during the 1920s and afterward was comedy in the form of animated cartoons. Several popular characters of the period received the cartoon treatment. Among these were Felix the Cat, Krazy Kat, and Betty Boop. However the development of the cartoon medium was inhibited by the lack of sound and color.
Toward the end of the 1920s, the introduction of sound into movies made possible dramatic new film styles and the use of verbal humor. During the 1930s the silent film comedy was replaced by dialogue from film comedians such as the W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. A few studios still clung to the silent film medium, but within three years of 1928 almost all movies were making use of sound. The comedian Charlie Chaplin was one of the last hold-outs, and his films during the 1930s were devoid of dialogue, although they did employ sound effects.
The introduction of sound led to a consolidation of the studios, as the equipment required was too expensive for the smaller studios to afford. The MGM studio became particularly dominant during this period, and they were noted for their comedies among other genres.
Screwball comedies, such as produced by Frank Capra, exhibited a pleasing, idealised climate that portrayed reassuring social values and a certain optimism about everyday life. Movies still included slapstick humor and other physical comedy, but these were now frequently supplemental to the verbal interaction.
Another common comedic production from the 1930s was the short subject. The Three Stooges were particularly prolific in this form, and their studio Columbia produced 190 Three Stooges releases. These non-feature productions only went into decline in the 1950s when they were migrated to the television.
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