Volume 18, issue 2 / February 2014

Film Comedy: The Sequel

A little over a year ago (Volume 16, Issue 11-12) Offscreen presented a double issue on Film Comedy, one of he most popular genres of all-time. Regardless of how popular Comedy is, it is certainly not the ideal genre to use for a study on genre, simply because as far as genres go, it is the least definable by recurring icons, conventions, themes, and subject. Say Western, Musical or Science Fiction, and people will formulate an image in their mind. Say Comedy, and the image becomes too vast and blurry (silent comedy? screwball comedy? romantic comedy? black comedy? satire? parody? teen comedy? gross-out comedy? drawing room comedy?). The issue begins with Jeffery Klassen’s two-part overview of theoretical approaches to the phenomena of humour: “Humour – A Synthesis of Philosophical, Psychological, and Evolutionary Approaches.” The first part of the essay looks at the Classic Theories of Humour; while the second part looks at the biological and evolutionary roots of humour. Daniel Garrett’s analysis of the comedy Dirty Laundry takes a narrower approach and focuses on a rare breed of comedy that features a positive gay black male lead. Garrett champions the film arguing that it is populist and at times comically vulgar, yet does not pander to the usual over-extended gay sexual scenarios or clichés. Garrett contextualises Rockmond Dunbar’s performance as the gay black writer Patrick with other representations of black male characters, going as far back as Shirley Clarke’s 1967 Portrait of Jason. My own contribution to the special issue looks at the Canadian comedy troupe behind the hilarious “Trailer Park Boys”. Director Mike Clattenburg’s mock documentary slice of Canadiana first conquered television before taking his lovable sad sack community of losers to the big screen with their debut film, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (2006). The included essay looks at their follow-up, Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (2009). The use of a faux verite style in the Trailer Park Boys TV and films links up well with Klassen’s concluding essay, which looks at a pattern among recent popular documentaries that involves borrowing elements from the comedy genre. Although the documentary and comedy seem like they would make strange bedfellows, the great French philosopher and comic mind extraordinaire Henri Bergson claimed that above all else “the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly HUMAN” (p. 2). Another truism about comedy is that, regardless of how zany, surreal or absurd the comedy may be, it must reveal an element of truth. Without the truth factor, there will be no laughter. With such qualities –to touch upon the human and truth– you could be talking about the documentary. (Donato Totaro, ed)

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