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ELEMENTS OF COMEDY

ELEMENTS

Comic Timing: Comic timing is use of rhythm and tempo to enhance comedy and humor. The
pacing of the delivery of a joke has a strong impact on its comic effect; the same is also true of
more physical comedy such as slapstick.

A beat is a pause taken for the purposes of comic timing, often to allow the audience time to
recognize the joke and react, or to heighten the suspense before delivery of the expected punch
line.

Sometimes those outside the comedy business assume that there must be some set period of
silent time "that's funny." Aside from a few comedic pauses intended only to heighten an already
established tension, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, pauses are one of the clues
we use to discern subtext or even unconscious content - that is, what the speaker is really
thinking about.

Jack Benny and Victor Borge are two comedians famed for using the extended beat, allowing the
pause to itself become a source of humor above the original joke. George Carlin and Rowan
Atkinson are two other stand-up comedians well known for superior timing.

Pregnant Pause: A pregnant pause is a technique of comic timing used to accentuate a comedy
element. Refined and perfected by Jack Benny, the pregnant pause has become a staple of stand-
up comedy

Examples: David Letterman: "Congratulations are in order for Woody Allen. He and Soon-Yi
have a brand-new baby daughter." (Pause) "It’s all part of Woody’s plan to grow his own
wives."

Slapstick: Comedy characterized by broad humor, absurd situations, and vigorous, often violent
action. It took its name from a paddlelike device, probably introduced by 16th-century commedia
dell'arte troupes that produced a resounding whack when one comic actor used it to strike
another. Slapstick comedy became popular in 19th-century music halls and vaudeville theatres
and was carried into the 20th century by silent-movie comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Harold
Lloyd, and Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops and later by Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers,
and the Three Stooges.

TYPES OF COMEDY

Black Humor:
In literature, drama, and film, grotesque or morbid humor used to express the absurdity,
insensitivity, paradox, and cruelty of the modern world. Ordinary characters or situations are
usually exaggerated far beyond the limits of normal satire or irony. Black humor uses devices
often associated with tragedy and is sometimes equated with tragic farce. For example, Stanley
Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963)
is a terrifying comic treatment of the circumstances surrounding the dropping of an atom bomb,
while Jules Feiffer's comedy Little Murders (1965) is a delineation of the horrors of modern
urban life, focusing particularly on random assassinations. The novels of such writers as Kurt
Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Joseph Heller, and Philip Roth contain elements of
black humor.

Satire:
Term applied to any work of literature or art whose objective is ridicule. It is more easily
recognized than defined. From ancient times satirists have shared a common aim: to expose
foolishness in all its guises—vanity, hypocrisy, pedantry, idolatry, bigotry, sentimentality—and to
effect reform through such exposure. The many diverse forms their statements have taken reflect
the origin of the word satire, which is derived from the Latin satura, meaning “dish of mixed
fruits,” hence a medley.

Term:
In literature, a work in which the style of an author is closely imitated for comic effect or in
ridicule. Differing from both burlesque (by the depth of its technical penetration) and travesty
(which treats dignified subjects in a trivial manner), parody mercilessly exposes the tricks of
manner and thought of its victim and therefore cannot be written without a thorough appreciation
of the work it ridicules. Examples date from as early as ancient Greece and occur in nearly all
literatures and all periods.

Irony:
Figure of speech in which what is stated is not what is meant. The user of irony assumes that his
reader or listener understands the concealed meaning of his statement. Perhaps the simplest form
of irony is rhetorical irony, when, for effect, a speaker says the direct opposite of what she
means. Thus, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, when Mark Antony refers in his funeral oration to
Brutus and his fellow assassins as “honorable men” he is really saying that they are totally
dishonorable and not to be trusted. Dramatic irony occurs in a play when the audience knows
facts of which the characters in the play are ignorant. The most sustained example of dramatic
irony is undoubtedly Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus searches to find the murderer of
the former king of Thebes, only to discover that it is himself, a fact the audience has known all
along.

irony
a situation in which something is expressed differently from or opposite of what is expected
slapstick
a from of comedy marked by chases, collisions, and practical jokes

bombast
pretentious speech

pun
a play on words or the humorous use of a word emphasizing a different meaning or
application

wit
answering swiftly and cleverly; the keen perception and clever expression of connections
between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure

malaprop
the ludicrous misuse of words that sound alike

hyperbole
boldly exaggerated statement that adds emphasis without intending to be literally true

parody
a humorous or satirical imitation of a person, event, or serious work of literature designed to
rididcule in nonsensical fashion or to criticize by clever duplication

farce
the exaggerated, over-the-top, far-fetched plot, scene, or situation
Lysistrata has planned a meeting between all of the women of Greece to discuss the plan
to end the Peloponnesian War. As Lysistrata waits for the women of Sparta, Thebes, and
other areas to meet her she curses the weakness of women. Lysistrata plans to ask the
women to refuse sex with their husbands until a treaty for peace has been signed.
Lysistrata has also made plans with the older women of Athens (the Chorus of Old
Women) to seize the Akropolis later that day. The women from the various regions finally
assemble and Lysistrata convinces them to swear an oath that they will withhold sex from
their husbands until both sides sign a treaty of peace. As the women sacrifice a bottle of
wine to the Gods in celebration of their oath, they hear the sounds of the older women
taking the Akropolis, the fortress that houses the treasury of Athens.

In Lysistratathere are two choruses—the Chorus of Old Men and the Chorus of Old
Women. A Koryphaios leads both choruses. The Chorus of Men is first to appear
on stage carrying wood and fire to the gates of the Akropolis. The Chorus of Men
is an old and bedraggled bunch of men who have great difficulty with the wood
and the great earthen pots of fire they carry. The men plan to smoke the women out
of the Akropolis. The Chorus of Old Women also approaches the Akropolis,
carrying jugs of water to put out the men's fires. The Chorus of Old Women is
victorious in the contest between the choruses and triumphantly pours the jugs of
water over the heads of the men. The Commissioner, an appointed magistrate,
comes to the Akropolis seeking funds for the naval ships. The Commissioner is
surprised to find the women at the Akropolis and orders his policemen to arrest
Lysistrata and the other women. In a humorous battle, that involves little physical
contact, the policemen are scared off. The Commissioner takes the opportunity to
tell the men of Athens that they have been too generous and allowed too much
freedom with the women of the city. As the policemen run off, the Commissioner
and Lysistrata are left to argue about the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata argues that
the War is a concern for women especially and she adds her two cents as to how
the city should be run, drawing an elaborate analogy to show that Athens should be
structured as a woman would spin wool. Lysistrata tells the Commissioner that war
is a concern of women because women have sacrificed greatly for it—women have
given their husbands and their sons to the effort. Lysistrata adds that it is now
difficult for a woman to find a husband. The women mockingly dress the
Commissioner as a woman.
The next day, or perhaps some considerable time afterwards, the sex-strike devised
at the beginning of the text, begins to take effect on the men. Lysistrata spots
Kinesias, husband of Myrrhine, approaching the Akropolis. Kinesias has a full
erection and is desperate for his wife. Myrrhine refuses to have intercourse with
Kinesias until peace exists between Athens and Sparta. Kinesias tells Myrrhine that
her child needs her, he needs her and he loves her and Myrrhine pretends to listen
to his frustrated pleas. Myrrhine hints that she might make love to Kinesias, but
delays by going repeatedly into the Akropolis to fetch things to make the couple
comfortable. As Kinesias promises to only think about a treaty of peace for Athens
and Sparta, Myrrhine disappears into the Akropolis and leaves her husband in great
pain.

A Spartan Herald approaches the Akropolis and he, like Kinesias, suffers an
erection. The Spartan describes the desperate situation of his countrymen and
pleads for a treaty. Delegations from both states then meet at the Akropolis to
discuss peace. At this point, all of the men have full erections. Lysistrata comes out
of the Akropolis with her naked handmaid, Peace. While the men are fully
distracted by Peace, Lysistrata lectures them on the need for reconciliation between
the states of Greece. Lysistrata reasons that because both Athens and Sparta are of
a common heritage and because they have previously helped one another and owe
a debt to one another, the two sides should not be fighting. Using Peace as a map of
Greece, the Spartan and Athenian leaders decide land rights that will end the war.
After both sides agree, Lysistrata gives the women back to the men and a great
celebration ensues. The play ends with a song sung in unison by the Chorus of Old
Men and the Chorus of Old Women while everyone dances.

CHARACTER LIST

Lysistrata - Lysistrata is an Athenian woman who is sick and tired of war and the
treatment of women in Athens. Lysistrata gathers the women of Sparta and Athens
together to solve these social ills and finds success and power in her quest.
Lysistrata is the least feminine of the women from either Athens or Sparta, and her
masculinity helps her gain respect among the men.
Kleonike - Kleonike is the next-door neighbor of Lysistrata and is the first to show
up at Lysistrata's meeting of women. Kleonike embraces her feminine side and is
delighted that Lysistrata's scheme for peace involves garments like negligees.
Myrrhine - If rank were imposed, Myrrhine would be the second strongest woman
in Lysistrata. Myrrhine is able to seduce her husband, Kinesias, but she refuses sex
with him just at the last minute.
Lampito - Lampito is representative of Spartan women. Lampito is a large, well-
built woman who American audiences might imagine with a thick Appalachian
accent (by Arrowsmith's translation, Sparta was the Greek equivalent of the
stereotypically South). Lampito brings the Spartan women into Lysistrata's plan.
Ismenia - Ismenia is a Boitian girl who has a nice body, keeps herself well tended,
and is quite possibly mute.
Korinthian Girl - This lady accompanies Ismenia and Lampito to Lysistrata's
meeting and is known for her vast posterior bodily feature.
Policewoman - The Policewoman kindly offers her shield up for the women to
make a sacrifice upon.
Koryphaios of Men - The Koryphaios of Men, a stubborn and rather grouchy
fellow, leads the Chorus of Old Men around Athens.
Chorus of Old Men - The Chorus of Old Men live up to their title; the chorus is
made up of twelve old men who teeter around Athens attempting to keep the
women in line. Although, unsuccessful in their civic duties, the Chorus of Old Men
strike up some fantastical misogynistic melodies and are a generally comedic
element of the play.
Read an in-depth analysis of Chorus of Old Men.
Koryphaios of Women - Like the Koryphaios of Men, the Koryphaios of Women
leads the Chorus of Old Women around. The Koryphaios of Women leads a
successful seizure of the Akropolis and outwits the men in every possible way.
Chorus of Old Women - The Chorus of Old Women seizes and then protects the
Akropolis from the Chorus of Old Men. The Chorus of Old Women, although frail,
fights to the last with the men and finds victory in the end.
Read an in-depth analysis of Chorus of Old Women.
Commissioner of Public Safety - The Commissioner of Public Safety is apparently
the head of security and law in Athens, but is completely overwhelmed by the
women and ends up being dressed as a woman himself. Lysistrata has a lengthy
conversation with the Commissioner about the future of Athens and peace in the
region, but the Commissioner is very slow to understand her logic.
Four Policemen - These Policemen are humiliated again and again by the women.
The women, brandishing nothing but lamps, chamber pots and other various
household utensils, scare these policemen away.
Kinesias - The needy, desperate clown that Myrrhine calls her husband. Kinesias
is the first man to be affected by the sex strike and comes to the Akropolis, fully
enflamed.
Read an in-depth analysis of Kinesias.
Peace - Lysistrata's handmaid. Peace is the unclothed beauty of a woman whom
Lysistrata displays and uses during her final plea for peace between Athens and
Sparta. Terribly aroused and uncomfortable, the men quickly discuss the terms of a
truce, all the while staring at Peace's body.