Did you know? Physical Comedy is a Dying Artform
Comedy is dying right before our eyes!
February 13, 2023
Haha, comedy amirite? We need laughter and happiness to truly enjoy our lives. We must “Live. Laugh. Love” after all. One of those wouldn’t be possible without comedy. But, as we go further and further into the future, one must notice that some forms of comedy are fading away.
One of the most recognized forms of comedy is physical comedy, which is practically dead. Let’s pull back the drama a bit. Physical comedy isn’t actually “dead,” but it has definitely been fading from the mainstream. But why has physical comedy been labeled as a “dying art form?”
Physical Comedy at its Finest
Before we get into it, what is physical comedy? Well, my good friends, we are talking slapstick, clowns, mimes, stunts, or any type of physical input to generate humor. Maybe you can remember watching cartoons or older tv shows where a character would accidentally hit another one, or accidentally falls and trip.
A great example of this would be shows like Tom and Jerry, where both characters play stunts and slapstick humor without saying a single word. Movie examples include Home Alone (1990), The Mask (1994), and Nacho Libre (2006).
And who can forget clowns and mimes? Whether you’ve been entertained by a clown (*insert person’s name here*) or not you’ve most likely heard of them. They typically perform at birthday parties or events, blow balloons, smash pies into their faces, and more. Mimes are similar but they perform all their humor with their body and signals without the use of words or objects.
Now that you know what I mean by physical comedy, was it really THAT popular?
So when was physical comedy popular and beloved by all? Well according to Film Making Lifestyle, “Slapstick has been used in film and television for more than a century, but it was especially popular during the silent film era (1895).” You can probably recall seeing references in modern media where black and white movies are played without dialogue and sometimes not even a piano backtrack. “The Silent Film” era was when dialogue was shown in quotes on screen and the characters relied heavily on slapstick to produce a comedic effect.
Based on Theatre In Paris, Mimes were “hugely popular Commedia dell’arte genre that flourished in Europe from the 16th right up until the late 18th century. This distinctive brand of acrobatics, masked performance, and exaggerated comedy centered on a collection of fixed character types, playing out sketches and scenarios from daily life. A travelling troupe of street performers brought Commedia dell’arte with them to France in 1576, where the form proved even more popular than it had been in its native Italy.” So despite many believing mimes originating in France, they actually originated in Ancient Greece. Search it up!
Not to forget, clowns were popular and successful in the early 1900s after arriving from Europe. And in the “1950s and 1960s, the popularity of clowns grew because of television. Bozo the Clown appeared in a number of TV programs for children,” as mentioned by Voice of America. They were everywhere at one point: at circuses, on the tv, and even in your backyard during your birthday party (sometimes).
But if physical comedy was really popular, then why does no one look at it as “popular”?
Again, while physical comedy isn’t actually dead, it has fallen in terms of mainstream media. For obvious reasons, clowns fell from the throne of comedy. What once was the symbol of laughter and fun, turned into a horror element; just another Halloween costume. “David Carlyon, author, playwright and a former clown with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1970s, argues that the fear of clowns — known officially as coulrophobia — is a relatively new phenomenon, born from the counter-culture 1960s and emerging as a popular force in the 1980s.” as stated by The Salt Lake Tribune. Due to horror adaptations of clowns in TV and movies, more and more people saw clowns as something to be afraid of, resulting in the decline of clowns not only in birthday parties but in the overall media as well. It doesn’t help that people also push the “scary” or “killer clowns” image often.
Mimes weren’t as popular as clowns (at least here in America) causing them to also fall along. Not to mention, a good chunk of comedy evolved verbally. Mainstream media took in puns, jokes, sarcasm, and even “roasts’’/insults to make humor. Not all verbal humor is bad but it crushed mimes, I mean, they couldn’t speak up for themselves!
And slapstick/stunts? Yeah, while they look and are funny to us, we need to remember that someone does get injured and sometimes they can be serious or death-provoking injuries. As said by The New Yorker, “physical comedy depends on the proximity and possibility of death, which no longer seems acceptable to viewers who are completely aware of the prevalence of stunt doubles and digital effects, and who are repelled by the idea that a performer would actually face death for what is, after all, only a movie. In other words, physical comedy—the kind that made silent comedies famous—has been moralized out of existence.” We can’t deny that when we see a friend or family member fall and hit themselves, it may seem funny but we worry if they are okay; sometimes we don’t even see the humor, we just rush to tend to them.
Should We Carry on Physical Comedy?
While I personally believe that physical comedy should be kept around if it’s produced safely, it is best that it has to go. But no one should be sad, as it is still around. Still, the majority laughs at people who might fall or trip, spin or rip, get knocked out, and get hit on the lip. It just makes sense why it’s been going away.
But if we continue to show people and media producers that we like it, then surely it will continue to stay longer. Heck, it may even do a complete comeback. But until then, let’s enjoy physical comedy to its fullest. This is the A&E department reminding you to stay safe and to not slip on any banana peels.