The Pain and Pleasure of Physical Comedy
“Tragedy is when I cut my finger; is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” – Mel Brooks
What is it about people getting hurt that we find so funny?
The human body, whether grotesque or gorgeous, can be hilarious. Its capacity for stretching and squashing (not to mention expelling noise, smells and fluids) is so damn funny that even pain makes us laugh... As long as it’s not ours. Comedy achieves that by seeing our bodies as things that aren’t us; strange-looking appendages to our minds, hearts and souls... what might be called the foreign body.
To show this, we’ll look at TV and movie clips ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Monty Python to Melissa McCarthy, and trace physical comedy’s arc from the daring stunts of silent film to its current tropes of awkwardness and humiliation.By showing its relationship to both human appetite and our capacity for suffering, we’ll see how watching the pain of other people helps us giggle past the graveyard.