What makes us laugh?
Maybe Abbott & Costello’s ‘Who’s on First?’, possibly the funniest routine in comedy history. Maybe your tastes are a little more modern, and you prefer someone like ventriloquist Jeff Dunham? But what are the mechanics of laughter?
If you want to make a comedy film, or be a sit-com writer, or possibly try your hand at stand-up how would you go about it? Gerald Mast has a literary discussion of what makes a good comedy film in the book Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies. It’s a little dated now (written in 1973), but it is the place to start for the history, criticism, theory, and practice of cinematic comedy. After reading Mast’s book you might want to follow it up by reading Howard Hawks: Interviews and Frank Capra: Interviews, since these two directors perfected the art of cinematic comedy. Howard Hawks’ screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby and Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night are the prototypes of almost all of the romantic comedies that follow. Reading interviews of these artists discussing the creative process of their craft is invaluable for any would-be comedy film director.
Stand-up has to be the one of the most difficult of all comedy art forms. Most people fear death more than public speaking so the idea of being up on stage and “dying” (theatrically speaking, of course) has to be one of the most frightening concepts imaginable. Should you be inclined to try, there is a marvelous little CD, Woody Allen on Comedy where Woody talks about the whole process. In addition, I am comic: an ode to the art & occupational hazards of stand-up comedy is a film documentary of life backstage. Then there are the books: Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with today’s top comedy writers, Make ‘em Laugh: the funny business of America, The Comedy Writing Workbook and the Eight Characters of comedy: A guide to sitcom acting and writing; all are excellent guides to creating comedy.
But if you just want to laugh, the Library has additional materials you may not know about. Non-fiction DVDs 792.23 is a collection of comedians, including Robin Williams, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff Foxworthy and Jeff Dunham and more. Don’t miss our Comedy CD collection hidden at the end of the music CDs 792.23. If you’re a classical music fan you must check out PDQ Bach, and don’t miss Victor Borge who is so funny, the military once used Victor Borge recordings to test draft evaders to determine if they were really deaf or just faking it (Listen here). You also don’t want to skip Jack Benny. His radio show is still fresh and funny today. (Check out this Jack Benny clip.)
“First the doctor told me the good news; I was going to have a disease named after me!” Steve Martin.