Wednesday, June 2, 2010


An author asked me to contemplate on that one. Here is what I sent him:
I produced many television comedies, and often we were a slave to the laughter of the audience. If they weren't laughing, something wasn't funny, so therefore the story wasn't working right somehow (or at least particular lines). And invariably the network executives, who generally had more respect for drama themselves, would feel emboldened enough to say "you call this funny". I am not sure if the reverse is true. Do they watch a rehearsal of say Gray's Anatomy and say "You call this sad?"
The question is much like "why aren't writers taken as seriously as directors"? It's all perception - as to whose job seems more difficult, more crucial, more important in human story telling. And the premise itself is a matter of definition. If the Academy Awards are a standard, then, yes, it appears dramas are given more respect, more gravitas. Who was more respected as a film maker and performer than Charlie Chaplin, for example; he is inarguably the king of film comedy, yet much of his glory comes as much from eating his shoes in the Klondike than his impeccable slapstick.
A psychologist once told me comedy can be defined as "manic denial" - we laugh at the big rich guy slipping on a banana peel as if to deny that authority, power, wealth, arrogance, whatever, and so therefore the embarrassing fall levels the playing field. And we laugh - worldwide (slapstick - pratfalls, torn pants, pies in the face - is no doubt the international comedy language). So when people say comedy generally lacks profundity, they are dead wrong and deserve a poke in the eye by Moe Howard.
Comedy by its nature seems "light" and "easy" in that it seems as if it merely has to mock convention or the human condition. Many things that have brought us to tears, and anger, in real life, are hysterical when we see them re-enacted by characters on TV, especially in comedies dealing with husband and wife relationships, dating relationships, child rearing... or dealing with ones boss or co-workers.
So the trick about this question (or the "mislead" as we say in the business) is similar to how questions on a poll are asked. Many people when asked their most memorable films or TV shows or moments therein may well be split 50-50 on comedy and drama. No one forgets the heartiest laughs - even within the most dramatic films Goodfellas, and Deliverance come to mind) because constant dread is not possible in entertainment. The "light" moments do that just that... lighten things up between murders or tears and emotional turmoil. Or tension and suspense that would otherwise be unbearable; notice how witty Bond is... and there was plenty to laugh at in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
I think again the answer to why drama is taken more seriously than comedy goes back to perception, and the fact that comic tastes are a very "niche" things. The fact is, any professional will tell you that it is far more difficult to write comedy, especially on a wide basis (since comic tastes differ far more than tastes for drama; films like Casablanca, are probably more universally liked than say a Jerry Lewis film or the brilliantly literate British dark comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets). And any actor or director will tell you that performing and directing comedy are far more difficult that straight drama any day. Indeed some of the finest actors did some of the finest comedy.
Perhaps your question, in the end, is really a faulty one, because "drama" and "comedy" could not be more different elements. People respect comedy as much or more than drama if they really thought about it, but while people can be uniform on what's a great drama - or what they are supposed to think is a great drama - comedy is highly personal, differing almost literally from person to person. Why is broccoli taken more seriously than m&ms? Well, you're supposed to, I guess. And "m&m's" is a dumb name, will make you fat and rot your teeth - however they delightfully comforting in sweet chocolatude.
But we can't live in a broccoli world, so perhaps m&ms are, in many ways, more crucial. But some people are allergic to chocolate. That's why there are thousands of candies, but pretty much one broccoli - or okay, you can mix it up with a carrot or a cauliflower.
The short answer is who the hell knows?


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DAMN said...

This is Titus(Fox sitcom from 2000) it shits on most drama
Christopher Titus's life was terrible(as in really really terrible...his mother was mentally ill,his father was a drunk and so much more) and he makes a comedy out of his life...cuz to him laughter is therapy(and his show was really funny too)

By comparison Drama is fucking can easily make-up a drama and whine about it...but it takes more guts to get over your hardships and laugh about them