What is Comedy (genre)?
Image by RyanMcGuire at Pixabay
It’s been a dark few weeks here in not so sunny England. I might be mistaken but I do believe it has been raining for the better part of a billion years at this point in time. In these miserable days in the dreary amble towards what I pray will be a disappoint-less Summer, I have decided to give back to society in the form of knowledge.
It has been a depressing few years under the shadow of the virus of which we must not speak, whose leaky gut of endless woes continues to thrill us with its never ceasing tyranny. I thought this instalment in ‘The Breakdown’ should focus on something fun. What better than COMEDY?
Yes, that thing called humour that so many of us appear to have lost our sense of. You remember, back when we were allowed to laugh and things weren’t so serious all the time. So, what is this thing we call comedy and has it really died a death or it is waiting dormant ready to thrill and delight us once more?
What is the comedy genre?
Much like our previous subject — romance — comedy is a genre that both its own standalone concept, as well as a subset of other genres. For example, one of the most common iterations of comedy is the RomCom, which blends comedy into the romance genre.
Comedy has been used throughout history in order to examine the human condition, delight as well as poke fun at people and situations. Comedy takes many different forms, including slapstick, dark, satire, situational, surreal/skew-ball, highbrow, as well as others.
Comedy can be had for its own sake, to lighten a narrative, or as a mechanism to provide a moment of ‘relief’ within an emotionally fraught story. This is where the idea of comic relief comes from.
According to Literarydevices.net comedy is defined as:
…a literary work that is written to amuse or entertain a reader. In a comedy, characters can certainly suffer misfortune, but they are typically comedic situations with positive outcomes. Not all examples of comedy as a literary device are funny. However, its light-hearted treatment of plot and tone does allow a reader and/or audience to release emotion and tension as a satisfying escape from the mundanity of life or tragic circumstances, with the potential of gaining insight into humanity and the self.
History of the genre
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica comedy originated in Ancient Greece and was associated with rites performed for the god Dionysus. From here they entered the world of theatre and performance, usually was typically improvised. It was not initially taken seriously as an art form and was considered to be the folly of lesser poets.
Following along with this vein of thinking, in the plays of Shakespeare comedy was still seen as a direct opposite to tragedy. Whereas Shakespearean tragedies revolved around deception, greed and usually ended with the hero dying. Comedies, in contast, involved misunderstandings or unusual situations and resolved with a happy ending in which the heroes triumph.
Unfortunately, comedy is often still considered a lesser art form in many respects, even though it takes a lot of skill to produce good comedy. The art of comedy is very subjective, which is probably why there are so many different styles. No one type will appeal to all types and sensibilities.
Now that we understand more about what comedy is, let’s take a look at the common tropes to better help us understand how it is formulated.
Like all genres, comedy comes with its share of tropes that are identifying markers of the genre. Using the help of TVTropes.org I have compiled a shortlist of my most favourite tropes:
Adam West-ing: Celebrities play enhanced, often unlikeable versions of themselves. Example: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
Assumed / Fake Identity: Hero is mistaken for or pretends to be another person and must assume their identity with varying degrees of success. Example: White Chicks (2004)
Awkward / Geeky Hero: Underdog socially awkward geek tries to achieve something outside of their wheelhouse, or just survive life, while increasingly comedic odds are stacked against them.
Comedic misunderstandings: Hero gets caught in a situation where there is a misunderstanding and they have to find a way out of it without being found out.
Clumsy hero destroys something valuable: the hero destroys something of value and must either replace it or find a way to get away with the crime. Example: Bean (1997).
Demanding antagonist: the hero must survive the outlandish requests of a demanding protagonist that they can’t get away from, such as a boss, mother in law, team mate, etc. Example: Set It Up (2018)
Ridiculous mission: hero is set on a mission to achieve something ridiculous or must beat unbelievable odds to win, usually with their crew of zany idiots as help. Example: Dodgeball (2004)
Sexually frustrated virgin: Very cringe inducing story of the hero, who is usually geeky or lacking game, attempting to seduce someone much more attractive. Example: Superbad (2007)
Image by NoName_13 on Pixabay
Typical expectations of this genre
There doesn’t seem to be much good data for comedy books specifically, although a general consensus is that commercial and literary novels should sit between 80,000–110,000 words. It is likely that a comedy book would want to sit somewhere on the lower end of this word count as these books are more designed for entertainment purposes.
A reader looking to enjoy something easy and entertaining is likely the target audience here, although this may not be the case with dramedies, where the read might enjoy a darker tone with some lighter elements.
There is no real target audience for comedy, as it can be adapted to appeal to any person or any sensibility. It will likely rely on the sub-genre accompanying the comedy elements.
Is this genre currently in fashion?
According to Bubblecow.com comedy is not listed as one of the most popular genres as of 2023. However, I think this is because comedy isn’t usually seen as its own genre and more of a facet or style imbedded into another genre.
However, I firmly believe a good comedy story is always popular. It is likely that comedy itself is not a popular or bestselling genre due to how subjective humour is. The majority of people can recognise a horror as a horror, even if the nature of the story isn’t scary to them. However, it is easy for a person to miss a comedic scene that doesn’t meet their personal sensibilities.
It is probably still safe to write comedy as of 2023, but be prepared for the fact that it may not be a bestseller without being tied into another popular genre, such as Fantasy /Sci-fi or Crime.
I personally would be very happy to see a good comedy book sweeping the shelves of my local bookstore. The last few years have been very rough. We all could use a good laugh.