They say analysing comedy is like dissecting a frog, you might learn a thing or two about its anatomy, but you’ll have to kills it first. Comedy writers often take the risk murdering humour in order to understand how it is created. Comedy is more simple and effortless to feel, unlike its twin brother tragedy. Crying is a task, and it takes effort to control your tears. We do not like wearing our sad faces around. In fact we put on a lot of make up to hide our gloominess and we tuck-in all our sorrows away from the world. We even accessorize with logic and practicality to distract others from looking through us. Tragedy is that matured adult that we’d like to avoid and Comedy is more like that lost innocent childhood, we’d all like to go back to.
We all understand the importance of a good plot, funny scenes, and witty dialogues but there are few other layers within comedy that one must look into. There are a few other rules that define good comedy – conflict and irony.
All comedy is conflict. Irony is a type of conflict; the real situation is conflicting from what it ought to be. The degree of conflict between characters, situations or sometimes even the audience (seen in stand-up comedies) can determine the degree of laughter from the audience. Now let’s look at some of my favourite sitcoms. You will be surprised to learn, it not just the witty one-liners but the chemistry between the characters that gets people cracking.
In Sienfield, Jerry and George Constanza’s constipated irritation with each other and the rest of the characters. You wouldn’t be surprised if the characters slapped each other very often. Each of the characters were loud, obnoxious and filled with buffoonery. But it simply wouldn’t have worked if George and Jerry got along without any friction. And same holds true for other characters as well. In most of the scenes it felt like one of them is ready to burst out any moment. Because of the conflicting situations and conversations a show about absolutely ‘nothing’ is one of the most hilarious shows of all time.
On the side, we have yet another marvellous sitcom – Modern Family. It goes on one level higher. Apart from its cheeky fast paced humour here the characters cannot express themselves; they control their conflict because it’d hurt their spouse or family member’s emotions. The audience is fully aware of how annoyed Claire Dunphy is with her juvenile husband – Phil, but she controls herself from screaming out. Her silent gazes seem like she wants to breathe out fire on her husband. Well sometime she does burst out with anger but only when it’s too late. Similarly Jay finds his hot and spicy yet superstitions and loud wife Gloria extremely ridiculous and her son Manny is the oversensitive and over matured kid. The frustration of not being able to speak during the couch session gets you rolling in laughter.
The best example of a situational conflict is Arthur Fonzarelli from ‘Happy Days’. Apart being the epitome of coolness the Fonz could do the most unusual things at the snap of his fingers.
The most conflicting character amongst the main cast creates the most amount of laughter. Take for example, Joey and Chandler in ‘Friends’. They stood out as the best comic pair in a group of six. And the most legend -wait for it- dary Barny Stinson; it wouldn’t have been the sheer laugh riot that it is now without Barney. Not because he is unusual but because he is the most unusual within the gang.
The most conflicting or ironic setting of a sitcom was found in MASH – a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the American-Korean war. Quick witty dialogues were delivered with a straight face while the surgeons are operating in a make shift hospital. The episodes were bleeding with sarcasms, dry or black comedy. The one-lines flew around faster than the torpedoes in a war. And Alan Alda was brilliant in his craft than a brain surgeon.
They say it takes about 26 facial muscles to smile – though this is debated a lot over the net, we’ll just stick with this number for now – it takes your whole body to laugh. Because if you are watching world class sitcom on TV or a funny movie you are bound to exercise your gut muscles, move your hand in around like the house been set on fire and roll over the floor like your spouse pushed you from the sofa for not doing the dishes, again.
But comedy writing is not easy. It does not come naturally as laughing on others. A comedy writer needs to first understand the tragedies of life and then seek laughter in it. Everyday he peeks into others life, to find laughter. He searches on the net, watches online videos, talks to random people just out of curiosity. But in the end the part which touches him the most, is his own reality and somehow he turns it around for the outside world to create some laugh worthy comedy.
Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. Charlie Chaplin