I was expecting this to say something like, “Comedy is due to the unexpected – something we don’t expect happens and so we laugh”.
That is, I was expecting to be bored out of my mind. There is no point denying that you would laugh – Australia’s Funniest Home Videos has been going for age based primarily around people falling over.
There is a really interesting point at which he says that humour must appeal to reason, and not the emotions.
He makes this point by saying that a hunch-back can be funny – and this because we ‘non-hunchbacks’ can imitate a hunch-back’s stoop and walk, and again, notice there is a kind of stiff, mechanical, ‘human as machine’ feel to how a hunchback walks.
Now, this brings us to the difference between comedy and tragedy.
And this was the crowning moment of the essay for me. It is possible, and in fact likely, that a comedy will be named after a general noun – The Sleepwalker or The Bridegroom, where as a tragedy will be named after a proper noun – Hamlet, Othello...Comedy is about types, recognisable and easily identifiable types who act out their behaviours according to their type.Again, these types are mechanical and it is their machine like behaviours that we find ‘non-human’ and therefore funny.His humor does not translate well in other languages; his observations on German conservatism can be misinterpreted.Even his Bavarian dialect doesn’t connect in some parts of the German-speaking world.That is, I was expecting to be bored out of my mind.Then a lot of his examples were from plays I’ve never read – so it would be like someone talking about comedy with sole reference to Friends or Seinfeld – two shows I’ve never seen an entire episode of – this made following some of his points much harder than it ought to have been This is a really interesting read.Ironically, even though it is only the human we find funny, it is this particularly non-human aspect of the human that amuses us.Animals are only funny in so far as they remind us of humans. With tragedy we are always dealing with a very particular person. Even when the title of the play is quite general, The Death of a Salesman, say – the play can only really work as a tragedy in so far as the salesman, the main focus of the play, is not left as a caricature, but is given real depth of characterisation.He says they are in fact acting in a mechanical way.If they had been acting as a ‘human’ they would have side-stepped the thing that tripped them up and gone on their way.