Comedy in my Opinion

What is Comedy?
Over the years, scholarship and research have always revolved around an existing phenomenon and I see nothing wrong with this. This is because we don’t seem to create anything by ourselves except to explain or make an attempt to explain what have been created. However, what has baffled me a lot is the way almost all of us have continued to describe “the elephant” the same way others have done so. I see this as academic superfluity. There are only three possibilities here: either we don’t know what we are trying explain or we don’t know how to explain what we know or both!

Let’s take a look at the concept of comedy.  We have always believed or made to believe that the intention of comedy is to make us laugh. In My Opinion, comedy is a dramatic presentation that appeals to us differently. It makes “those outside” (those who are not identified with the object of scorn) laugh; it makes “those inside” (those who are identified with the object of jest) cry and it makes the comedian afraid.

Comedy Makes “Those OutsideLaugh
But why do we laugh at the expense of somebody’s misfortune or sadness? The answer is simple: the comic character deserves his fate. We laugh because the misfortune of a comic character elicits in us joy and vindication.  By vindication, we tend to believe that we are better than the comic character.  The success of any comedy presentation depends on the ability of the comedian to make those who are not affected by the object of the jesting (those I choose to call the outsiders) laugh by presenting on stage characters that are inferior to them.

We see this happen regularly as we interact with people. This is why I believe that life itself is a comedy to those who are victors and tragedy to those who are victims. For instance, if I pass by a group of students and hear one of them say something like, “Yesterday I did not came to school”, I may laugh if I know that the grammatical construction of that statement is faulty. On the other hand, if I don’t know that the sentence is faulty grammatically; such statement will not appeal to my sense of humour. The same thing will happen if a comedian comes on stage and makes jest of ungrammatical or exotic diction of our former First Lady. It is only those that know better that will laugh. I do know that a few members of the audience who don’t know better may still laugh. In My Opinion, I believe they only laugh to conceal their ignorance of the subject of distortion.

Why Do We Laugh?
In My Opinion, we don’t always laugh at the foolishness of life. We laugh at what we know is different or distorted as long as we are not identified with the distortion—as long as we remain outsiders. This is because foolishness cannot be universalised. In other words, what is foolish in one clime may not be foolish in another clime. Take for example, if I eat pudding in a social gathering in Europe or America without cutlery, I may be an object of ridicule but the reverse will be the case if I were to do same in Africa. Eating out in public in Europe or America without the usual table manners or cutlery is a distortion of shared European or American culture which is only foolish to those that share or know such culture.  In fact, it will be foolish for me to eat foofoo and soup in my village in Africa using cutlery.

We also tend to laugh at other people’s ignorance. For example, if a comedian comes on stage and hides a ball somewhere behind the curtain in the presence of the audience and then asks some children to attempt to locate the ball, the tendency is that the audience will continue to laugh at the ignorance of the children each time they fail to locate the ball. If for any reason there is a member of the audience who does not know where the ball is hidden, such a person will rather be curious and anxious to see if the children will find the ball.

Comedy Makes “Those Inside” Cry
In My Opinion, we tend to laugh at distortions of life that we know as long as it does not affect us or as long as it makes us feel better. On the other hand, if it affects us, we will either laugh to protect our ego and cry later or blow our top immediately. This is why it is possible to see an object of distortion or those who are affected by the object of distortion laugh when we expect them to cry or show indignation at the comedian. They only laugh to cry later!

If a comedian makes a caricature of an unusual pot-bellied character, it is only members of the audience whose bellies are not so big that will laugh. Those with pot bellies may pretend to laugh when they are actually worried about their potbellies. Sometimes they may retort, “What is funny there?”

Comedy Makes Comedians Afraid
As I said earlier, comedy makes the comedian afraid. Most times, a comedian or comedy artist puts up a facade of tough and fearless demeanour when in actual fact they are trying to tame the frightened child in them. This is more severe when they choose to lampoon an important personality, public institution or the State. Although they tend to make people laugh for a “fee”, they don’t see their art as a laughing matter. Inwardly, they are afraid of the repercussion.

The Utilitarian Value of Comedy
Just like art itself, one may ask, “What is the utilitarian value of comedy?” For comedy to have value, certain principles must be followed by a comedian or comedy artist. The object of ridicule must first of all be established—is it a person, an institution, a culture or the State? Then the manner of ridicule must also be established—is it through language or costume or both? The last thing (but definitely not the least) to consider is the purpose of the jesting: is it to elicit laughter or cry. As I said earlier, the primary aim of comedy is to make the “insiders” cry and the “outsiders” laugh. By insiders, I mean those who are identified with the object of humour. Outsiders are those who are not identified with the object of humour. For example, if I poke fun at potbellies, my intention should be to make those who have potbellies cry and those with flat bellies laugh. If at the end of the comedy show, those with potbellies are seen roaring with laughter, the show has failed. If on the other hand, those with “normal” bellies don’t laugh at the caricature of potbellies, the show is equally a flop. Cry may not necessarily mean shedding tears—it means feeling unhappy or hurt.

Conversely, if I throw sarcasm at the State or public institution, I expect the Governor or the President to “look for me” or cause a change. However, if they hide under the pretext of freedom of speech and allow me to practise my art freely and at the same time maintain the status quo, I have failed. Therefore, a comedian or comedy artist who wants to succeed must ask himself, “What do I want to happen? Do I want the object of my derision to cry and change?” Let’s me illustrate this truth further. I once played with a three-year-old child and he beat me and I started to laugh. As he continued to beat me, I continued to laugh. The child gave up beating me and started to cry. At another time, the child tickled me and I showed no feeling of amusement and the child gave up tickling me and started to cry. “What really happened?” In the first instance, the child expected me to cry but I laughed and the child cried because he had failed. In the second scenario, the child expected me to laugh but I didn’t and the child cried because he had equally failed. The point is: when comedy achieves the opposite of the intended result, it has failed!