The Art Of Comedy

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Wellll week 2 of my fall TV-palooza has nearly wound down, in fact I don't think I have any other new shows to watch at this point, but I'll probably hold off a day or two before posting my thoughts, because I still have a decision to make on one show.

Whilst shampooing my hair, I started to think about the sitcom, the comedy, the dramedy, whatever you want to call it, and how there are really four distinct styles out there right now...and that not all comedies appeal to all people. In fact, I rhapsodized the other day about why I wasn't watching Two Broke Girls: the particular style just wasn't for me, despite liking the cast and concept. So without further ado, I bring you the four pillars of the modern day comedy.

The 'Setpiece' Comedy - When most people picture comedies, this is what they picture. A finite number of what are clearly sets - familiar spots, missing a fourth wall, and almost comedically well lit with no attention to natural or ambient light. They are of course, the classic definition of a sitcom, but they're also feeling a little dated compared to the other three variations we'll look at today. They're also characterized by laugh tracks (or on occasion, live audiences), pausing to 'play' to the camera, and punchline jokes. Oh, and whenever they do let their actors out into the real world (like Friends' infamous London excursion), they look freakishly different.
Examples: Friends, Two Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men, Mike and Molly, Home Improvement, and pretty much every comedy made before the year 2000...

The 'Mockumentary' Comedy
This is a style that will probably feel dated (and maybe already is) when we look back in a few decades. Or years. Basically it involves lots of handheld camera work, confessional reality TV-style asides / commentary, and the sense there is another, non-story person in the room. There's also the breaking of the fourth wall, with characters looking into the camera at times. Now, The Office has taken this concept to the extreme. They fully acknowledge they are being filmed for *something*, they wear mics (as per Michael Scott's sweet, simple farewell) - the hook is, we don't know what that is. Other than the show we watch. Modern Family has done sort of a hybrid thing where it does do sidelong interviews, but most of the time they don't speak or react to the camera - it's a subtle difference, but a fresh take on the concept. There are also a handful of shows out there that borrow the cinematic style of a mockumentary (see: Arrested Development, Friday Night Lights) but aren't quite as committed to it as something like The Office.
Examples: The Office, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development.

The 'High Camp' Comedy
Camp isn't necessarily the fairest term to apply to the shows that fall into this variety of comedy, but it's the best I could come up with. Basically every comedy MTV has ever put out falls into this category. The characteristics? Lots of tweaky theme music underneath dialogue, with interjections of the protagonists' self-monologue voiceover. Characters that are more caricatures than anything, and ones that fit into neat little boxes at that. And extremes. Always lots of extremes. Hence the campiness. Now, I'd also throw Glee into this category. Although it's not one to use a single voiceover, it definitely fits the rest of this style of comedy in that it's a very high-spirited, joyful type of funny.
Examples: Awkward, Suburgatory, Glee, Malcolm in the Middle, The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Desperate Housewives.

The 'Modern' Sitcom
This is sort of an update of what the original sitcoms were / are. They basically heighten the melodrama of somewhat everyday life, so as not to be too campy, but grounded in some form of reality. They are shot using many of the same techniques as a dramatic program, but they just happen to be really funny instead. The sets are fully realized, the characters don't look into the camera, and there is a lack of accompanying score or voiceover. They are, quite simply, funny shows that just happen. It's interesting because there aren't too many examples of this out there at the moment, and yet I think it's where most comedies will go - the other three are 'concepts' that have been around for awhile now, and it's surprising that it's taken this long to come up with a new, relatively basic one.
Examples: New Girl, Up All Night, Raising Hope

Andddddddd a bonus...

The Dramedy
There are some shows that are really hard to classify. They're too self-aware to classify as strictly drama, but they're too emotional to fall firmly into the comedy category. They are, nine times out of ten, hour-long programs which makes us think they're dramas, but they're so laced with laughs it's really hard to distinguish, clearly, where they fall. They are, almost always, 'modern comedies' in nature. And for the record, I refuse to write down Gossip Girl here because it's not a comedy, it's a parody of itself.
Examples: Gilmore Girls, Sex and the City, The Riches, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Nurse Jackie

I should point out that you could argue with me and reclassify these shows I've outlined in a few different places. 'Sex and the City' could fall under High Camp, for example, with its puns and voiceovers and one-note characters. But generally speaking, I think the most successful comedies are the ones that bring a fresh new spin on an existing concept - whether it's a hybrid of multiple styles, or something we've never seen before, chances are, it'll stick.

I tend to gravitate towards the dramedy, modern sitcom, and mockumentary, based on my weekly TV viewing at the moment. I literally can't watch traditional sitcoms anymore, and the 'high camp' concept tends to skew a little younger - note that almost all of those shows are set in high schools. Take a look at your favourite shows, see what you dig, and hopefully it'll help you make smarter TV choices in the future.

- Britt's On


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