Comedy film

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A comedy film is a category of film in which the main emphasis is on humor. These films are designed to make the audience laugh through amusement and most often work by exaggerating characteristics for humorous effect.[1] Films in this style traditionally have a happy ending (black comedy being an exception). One of the oldest genres in film—and derived from the classical comedy in theatre—some of the earliest silent films were comedies, as slapstick comedy often relies on visual depictions, without requiring sound. When sound films became more prevalent during the 1920s, comedy films took another swing, as laughter could result from burlesque situations but also dialogue.

Comedy, compared with other film genres, puts much more focus on individual stars, with many former stand-up comics transitioning to the film industry due to their popularity. While many comic films are lighthearted stories with no intent other than to amuse, others contain political or social commentary (such as The King of Comedy and Wag the Dog).

The Screenwriters Taxonomy contends that film genres are fundamentally based upon a film's atmosphere, character and story, and therefore the labels "drama" and "comedy" are too broad to be considered a genre.[2]  Instead, the taxonomy contends that comedy films are a "Type" of film; listing at least a dozen different sub-types of comedy films.[3]


Silent film era[]

The first comedy film was L'Arroseur Arrosé (1895), directed and produced by Louis Lumière. The most noted comedy actors of the era were Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton.


Anarchic comedy[]

The anarchic comedy film, as its name suggests, is a random or stream-of-consciousness type of humour which often lampoons a form of authority.[4] The genre dates from the silent era, and the most famous examples of this type of film would be those produced by Monty Python.[5] Others include Duck Soup (1933) and National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).

Bathroom comedy (or gross out comedy)[]

Gross out films are a relatively recent development and rely heavily on vulgar, sexual or "toilet" humor. They often contain a healthy dose of profanity.[6] Examples include Porky's (1982), Dumb and Dumber (1994), There's Something About Mary (1998), and American Pie (1999).

Comedy of ideas[]

This sub-type uses comedy to explore serious ideas such as religion, sex or politics.  Often the characters represent particular divergent world views and are forced to interact for comedic effect and social commentary.[7]  Some examples include: Bob Roberts (1992) and MASH (1970).

Comedy of manners[]

A comedy of manners satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class, often represented by stock characters. Also, satirical comedy-drama & the plot is often concerned with an illicit love affair or some other scandal. However, the plot is generally less important for its comedic effect than its witty dialogue. This form of comedy has a long ancestry, dating back at least as far as Much Ado about Nothing created by William Shakespeare.[8] Examples for comedy of manners films include Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003).

Black comedy[]

The black comedy film deals with normally taboo subjects, including death, murder, crime, suicide, and war, in a satirical manner.[9] Examples include Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Ladykillers (1955), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), The Loved One (1965), MASH (1970), S.O.B. (1981), The King of Comedy (1983), Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983), Brazil (1985), After Hours (1985), The War of the Roses (1989), Heathers (1989), Wag the Dog (1997), Your Friends & Neighbors (1998), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Keeping Mum (2005), Thank You for Smoking (2005), Burn After Reading (2008), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), Jolly LLB (2013), Jolly LLB 2 (2017), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), AK vs AK (2020).


Farcical films exaggerate situations beyond the realm of possibility – thereby making them entertaining.[10]  Film examples include: In the Loop (2009) and Some Like it Hot (1959).


Mockumentary comedies use a fictional documentary style which includes interviews and "documentary" footage along regular scenes. Examples include: The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Waiting For Guffman (1996), Best In Show (2000), Borat (2006), and Reboot Camp (2020).

Observational humor[]

These films find humor in the common practices of everyday life.[11]  Some film examples of observational humor include: Carnage (2011) and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002).

Parody (or spoof)[]

A parody or spoof film satirizes other film genres or classic films. Such films mock-u-mentary, employ sarcasm, stereotyping, mockery of scenes from other films, and the obviousness of meaning in a character's actions.[12] Examples of this form include Mud and Sand (1922), Blazing Saddles (1974), Airplane! (1980), Young Frankenstein (1974), Spaceballs (1987), and Scary Movie (2000).

Sex comedy[]

Humor that is primarily derived from sexual situations and desire,[13] such as Choke (2008) and Knocked Up (2007).

Situational comedy[]

Humor that comes from knowing a stock group of characters (or character types) and then exposing them to different situations to create humorous and ironic juxtaposition;[14] case in point: Galaxy Quest (1999) and Madea's Big Happy Family (2011).

Straight comedy[]

This broad sub-type applies to films that do not attempt a specific approach to comedy but, rather, used comedy for comedic sake.[15]  Clueless (1995) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) are examples of straight comedy films.


Slapstick films involve exaggerated, boisterous action to create impossible and humorous situations. Because it relies predominately on visual depictions of events, it does not require sound. Accordingly, the subgenre was ideal for silent movies and was prevalent during that era.[1] Popular silent stars of the slapstick genre include Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle, and Harold Lloyd. Some of these stars, as well as acts such as Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges, also found success incorporating slapstick comedy into sound films. Modern examples of slapstick comedy include Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007) and The Three Stooges (2012).

Surreal comedy[]

Storytelling that includes behavior and storytelling techniques that are illogical; includes bizarre juxtapositions, absurd situations and unpredictable reactions to normal situation;[15] for instance:  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Swiss Army Man (2016).

Hybrid subgenres[]

According to the Screenwriters Taxonomy, all film descriptions should contain their type (comedy or drama) combined with one (or more) of the eleven super-genres.[3] This combination does not create a separate genre, but rather, provides a better understanding of the film.

Action comedy[]

Films in this genre/type blend comic antics and action where the stars combine one-liners with a thrilling plot and daring stunts. The genre became a specific draw in North America in the eighties when comedians such as Eddie Murphy started taking more action-oriented roles such as in 48 Hrs. (1982) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

Sub-genres of the action comedy (known as macro-genres in the Screenwriters Taxonomy) include:[3]

Martial arts films[]

Slapstick martial arts films became a mainstay of Hong Kong action cinema through the work of Jackie Chan among others, such as Who Am I? (1998). Kung Fu Panda is an action comedy that focuses on the martial art of kung fu.

Superhero films[]

Some action films focus on superheroes; for example The Incredibles, Hancock, Kick-Ass, and Mystery Men.

Another category of the action comedy (considered a Pathway in the Screenwriters Taxonomy[3]) include:

Buddy films[]

Films starring mismatched partners for comedic effect, such as in Midnight Run, Rush Hour, 21 Jump Street, Bad Boys, Starsky and Hutch, and Ted.

Comedy thriller[]

Comedy thriller is a genre/type that combines elements of humor and suspense. Films such as Silver Streak, Charade, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, In Bruges, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Grosse Point Blank, The Thin Man, The Big Fix, and The Lady Vanishes.

Comedy mystery[]

Comedy-mystery is a film genre combining elements of comedy and mystery fiction. Though the genre arguably peaked in the 1930s and 1940s, comedy-mystery films have been continually produced since.[16] Examples include the Pink Panther[17] and Scooby-Doo films.[18]

Crime comedy[]

A hybrid and mix of crime and comedy films. Examples of crime comedies include: Inspector Palmu's Mistake (1960), Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), Take the Money and Run (1969) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Fantasy comedy[]

Fantasy comedy films use magic, supernatural or mythological figures for comic purposes. Some fantasy comedy includes an element of parody, or satire, turning fantasy conventions on their head, such as the hero becoming a cowardly fool or the princess being a klutz. Examples of these films include Big, Being John Malkovich, Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Scared Stupid, Night at the Museum, Groundhog Day, Click, and Shrek.

Comedy horror[]

Comedy horror is a genre/type in which the usual dark themes and "scare tactics" attributed to horror films are treated with a humorous approach. These films either use goofy horror cliches, such as in Scream, Young Frankenstein, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors, The Haunted Mansion, and Scary Movie where campy styles are favored. Some are much more subtle and don't parody horror, such as An American Werewolf in London. Another style of comedy horror can also rely on over-the-top violence and gore such as in The Evil Dead (1981), The Return of the Living Dead (1985), Braindead (1992), and Club Dread (2004) – such films are sometimes known as splatstick, a portmanteau of the words splatter and slapstick. It would be reasonable to put Ghostbusters in this category.

Life (or: day-in-the-life) comedy[]

Day-in-the-life films takes small events in a person's life and raises their level of importance.  The "small things in life" feel as important to the protagonist (and the audience) as the climactic battle in an action film, or the final shootout in a western.[3]  Often, the protagonists deal with multiple, overlapping issues in the course of the film – just as we do in life.[3]  The day-in-the-life comedy often finds humor in commenting upon the absurdity or irony of daily life; for example The Terminal (2004) or Waitress (2007).  Character humor is also used extensively in day-in-the-life comedies, as can be seen in American Splendor (2003).

Romantic comedy[]

Romantic comedies are humorous films with central themes that reinforce our beliefs about love (e.g.: themes such as "love at first sight", "love conquers all", or "there is someone out there for everyone"); the story typically revolves around characters falling into (and out of, and back into) love.[19] Amélie (2001), Annie Hall (1977), Charade (1963), City Lights (1931), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), It (1927), The Lobster (2015), My Favorite Wife (1940), Pretty Woman (1990), Some Like It Hot (1959), There's Something About Mary (1998) and When Harry Met Sally... (1989) are examples of romantic comedies.

Screwball comedy[]

A subgenre of the romantic comedy, screwball comedies appear to focus on the story of a central male character until a strong female character takes center stage; at this point, the man's story becomes secondary to a new issue typically introduced by the woman; this story grows in significance and, as it does, the man's masculinity is challenged by the sharp-witted woman, who is often his love interest.[3]  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), The Philadelphia Story (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), and more recently, What's Up, Doc? (1972).

Science fiction comedy[]

Science fiction comedy films often exaggerate the elements of traditional science fiction films to comic effect. Examples include Back to the Future, Spaceballs, Ghostbusters, Evolution, Galaxy Quest, Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass, Innerspace, Iron Sky, Mars Attacks!, Men in Black, and The World's End.

Sports comedy[]

Sports comedy combines the genre of comedy with that of sports. Thematically, the story is often one of "Our Team" versus "Their Team"; their team will always try to win, and our team will show the world that they deserve recognition or redemption; the story does not always have to involve a team.[2]  The story could also be about an individual athlete or the story could focus on an individual playing on a team.  The comedic aspect of this super-genre often comes from physical humor (Happy Gilmore - 1996), character humor (Caddyshack - 1980), or the juxtaposition of bad athletes succeeding against the odds (The Bad News Bears - 1976).

War comedy[]

War films typically tells the story of a small group of isolated individuals who – one by one – get killed (literally or metaphorically) by an outside force until there is a final fight to the death; the idea of the protagonists facing death is a central expectation in a war film.[20] War comedies infuse this idea of confronting death with a morbid sense of humor.  In a war film even though the enemy may out-number, or out-power, the hero, we assume that the enemy can be defeated if only the hero can figure out how.[21]  Often, this strategic sensibility provides humorous opportunities in a war comedy. Examples include Good Morning, Vietnam; M*A*S*H; the Francis the Talking Mule series; and others.

Western comedy[]

Films in the western super-genre often take place in the American Southwest or in Mexico, with a large number of scenes occurring outside so we can soak in nature's rugged beauty.[2] Visceral expectations for the audience include fistfights, gunplay, and chase scenes. There is also the expectation of spectacular panoramic images of the countryside including sunsets, wide open landscape and endless deserts and sky.[3]  Western comedies often find their humor in specific characters (Three Amigos, 1986), in interpersonal relationships (Lone Ranger, 2013) or in creating a parody of the western (Rango, 2011).

By country[]

Watch Brideless Groom
Country Comedy film
 US American comedy films
 UK British comedy films
 FRA French comedy films
 IND Indian comedy films
 ITA Italian comedy films

See also[]


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b "Comedy Films". Retrieved 29 April 2002.
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b c Williams, Eric R. Screen adaptation : beyond the basics : techniques for adapting books, comics, and real-life stories into screenplays. Ayres, Tyler. New York. ISBN 978-1-315-66941-0. OCLC 986993829.
  3. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h Williams, Eric R. (2017). The screenwriters taxonomy : a roadmap to collaborative storytelling. New York, NY: Routledge Studies in Media Theory and Practice. ISBN 978-1-315-10864-3. OCLC 993983488.
  4. ^ "Absurd Comedy". Allmovies.
  5. ^ Sexton, Timothy. "Anarchic Comedy from the Silent Era to Monty Python". Yahoo! Movies.
  6. ^ Henderson, Jeffrey (1991). The maculate muse : obscene language in Attic comedy (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-802312-8. OCLC 252588785.
  7. ^ "Definition of Comedy of Ideas". Our Pastimes. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  8. ^ British dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan. Nettleton, George Henry, 1874-1959, Case, Arthur Ellicott, 1894-1946, Stone, George Winchester, 1907-2000. (Southern Illinois University Press ed.). Carbondale, [Illinois]. ISBN 0-8093-0743-X. OCLC 1924010.CS1 maint: others (link)
  9. ^ "Black humour". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  10. ^ "Farce | drama". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  11. ^ Grable, Tim (24 February 2017). "What is funny about Observational Humor? (Updated for 2019)". The Grable Group. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  12. ^ Mellon, Rory (2016). "A History of the Parody Movie". Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  13. ^ McDonald, Tamar Jeffers (2007). Romantic comedy : boy meets girl meets genre. London: Wallflower. ISBN 978-0-231-50338-9. OCLC 813844867.
  14. ^ Dancyger, Ken. (2013). Alternative scriptwriting : beyond the Hollywood formula. Rush, Jeff. (5th ed.). Burlington, MA: Focal Press. ISBN 978-1-136-05362-7. OCLC 828423649.
  15. ^ Jump up to: a b Bown, Lesley (2011). The secrets to writing great comedy. London: Hodder Education. ISBN 978-1-4441-2892-5. OCLC 751058407.
  16. ^ "Film History of the 1930s". Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 July 2020. Retrieved 5 July 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^
  19. ^ Williams, Eric R. (2019). Falling in Love with Romance Movies. Audible.
  20. ^ Williams, Eric R. (2017). Screen adaptation : beyond the basics : techniques for adapting books, comics, and real-life stories into screenplays. New York: Focal Press. ISBN 978-1-315-66941-0. OCLC 986993829.
  21. ^ Williams, Eric R. (2018). "How to View and Appreciate Great Movies (episode 5: Story Shape and Tension)". English. Retrieved 15 June 2020.


  • Thomas W. Bohn and Richard L. Stromgren, Light and Shadows: A History of Motion Pictures, 1975, Mayfield Publishing.
  • Horton, Andrew S. (1991). Comedy/Cinema/Theory. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-07040-0.
  • King, Geoff (2002). Film Comedy. Wallflower Press. ISBN 978-1-903364-36-9.
  • Rickman, Gregg (2004). The Film Comedy Reader. Limelight Editions. ISBN 978-0-87910-295-1.
  • Weitz, Eric (2009). The Cambridge Introduction to Comedy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-83260-1.
  • Williams, Eric R. (2017) The Screenwriters Taxonomy: A Roadmap to Creative Storytelling. New York, NY: Routledge Press, Studies in Media Theory and Practice. ISBN 978-1-315-10864-3.

External links[]

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