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"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."
"Everyone knows comedy is the lowest form of entertainment, next to animation."

There's an insidious school of thought circulating among the world's pop culture enthusiasts. It states that comedy is not and indeed cannot be True Art. Since true art is angsty and offensive, it logically follows that something lighthearted, created to inspire joy and laughter amongst the public, must not be true art, right? Sadly, many people seem to think so. For instance, can you remember the last time a film comedy won for Best Picture at the Academy Awards?[1] Exactly, and the numbers predict that it's not due to happen anytime soon. (The Golden Globe Awards have separate categories for comedies and dramas.)

This rule tends not to apply to minor technical awards: For instance, at the 1988 Oscars, the Disney / Amblin partly-animated fantasy-comedy film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? won three competitive Academy Awards, but these were for film editing, visual effects and sound effects. (A special award was given for the film's animation.)

Compare Animation Age Ghetto and Sci Fi Ghetto for similarly flawed ideas. For the fandom version, see Maturity Is Serious Business. Particularly good Satire and Black Comedy may be exempt.

A primary cause of Tom Hanks Syndrome.

Examples in Fiction:


Film

  • Entertainment magazine's review of Observeand Report praises the film over the similarly-themed Paul Blart: Mall Cop for one main oft-repeated reason: the former is direct, sad, and "brutal" whereas the latter is funny, and its praise for the performers is secondary.
  • Recently, Robert De Niro was asked in an interview for Parade Magazine why he occasionally does "stupid" comedies such as Meet the Parents. De Niro explained that comedy films are just as difficult to make as serious dramas.

Live Action TV

  • This is why some insist Monty Python's Flying Circus could not have been the silly, goofy comedy that the Pythons say it was. People think it has to have been successful because it was subversive.
    • John Cleese claims that someone once came up to him to ask whether the parrot sketch wasn't really about the Vietnam War.
    • Monty Python WAS subversive (Upper Class Twit, anyone? Not to mention the furor over Life of Brian), but didn't discriminate (see: "the Gumbys", recurring, Neandertal-like parodies of the English working class) and it wasn't the reason for their popularity. If Python was popular because of any subversion they did, it was their subversion of the conventions of comedy themselves.
  • Almost any time a sitcom starts to make an attempt at an Emmy nomination, the episode they make for consideration goes through Acute Onset Cerebus Syndrome. The laughs come fewer and farther between, a much more serious issue is addressed, and it can often be a Lower Deck Episode if a Supporting Actor being considered (the episodes of Roseanne when Jackie was a victim of domestic abuse stand out as this in syndication.)

Music

  • The song A Comedian at the Oscars performed by Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and John C. Reilly at the 79th annual Academy Awards is a biting satire of this idea. Ferrell and Black begin by pretending to challenge Oscar winners and nominees to a fight over the preferential treatment of dramatic actors before Reilly teaches them that they, too, can win awards if only they learn to accept absurdly tragic roles.

Western Animation

Exceptions to the rule:

  • Perhaps the best recent example is The Hangover, a comedy that's basically Refuge in Audacity and Crosses the Line Twice put on film - it won the Golden Globe for best picture in musical/comedy, the first non-animated "pure comedy" film to do so in over two decades.
  • Usually, if comedies win any major awards, it's for a supporting performance. Examples include Melvyn Douglas in Being There, John Gielgud in Arthur, Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda, Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, Jack Palance in City Slickers, and Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine. (In the first two cases, the lead actors also were nominated but didn't win.)
    • Want to have the best chance for winning an Oscar by appearing in a comedy? Appear in a Woody Allen film. Three actresses -- Dianne Wiest (twice, for Hannah And Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) and Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) -- have won Best Supporting Actress. Michael Caine won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Hannah and Her Sisters and Diane Keaton received Best Actress for playing the title character in Annie Hall.
  • It's worth noting that three of the last four comedies to win Best Picture -- The Apartment (1960), Annie Hall (1977), and Shakespeare in Love (1998) -- aren't regarded as pure comedies; they all contain significant dramatic elements, though when these occur in Annie Hall it's still played for laughs. The other winner, 1963's Tom Jones, is a pure comedy, or very close to it... albeit one that's adapted from a respected 18th-century British novel.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is mostly a comedy and is regarded as one of the best installments of the series. Of course, the whole series is already in the Sci Fi Ghetto.
  • Considering cartoon comedies, Tom and Jerry is a major exception. Such shorts as Quiet, Please! and Yankee Doodle Mouse got an Oscar for the Best Short Animated Film; although it's also worth noting that the number of shorts that won this award is the same that their amount that was only nominated. Before Tom and Jerry, cutesy fare like Silly Symphonies shorts tended to always win the award while zany comedies were overlooked.
  • Back to The Future got an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. It lost, of course, but for a sci-fi teen comedy that's practically a Best Picture win.
  • Judd Apatow subverts this in a big way. His first two films were vulgar sex comedies (The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up) that both wound up named among the best ten films of the year by the American Film Institute. His third, Funny People was markedly less of a comedy.
    • And then Bridesmaids (which he produced) got two Academy Award nominations (one for Melissa McCarthy's performance and another for the screenplay).
  • Theater is in many ways exempt, and Broadway comedies are not only successful, but are not infrequent Tony Award winners.
    • Broadway, however, formerly had a musical comedy ghetto. There was much controversy in 1931 when Of Thee I Sing became the first musical show to win the Pulitzer Prize; falling under the aforementioned exemption for satire seems to have helped it do so.
  • Charlie Chaplin devoted much of the latter part of his film career showing that his film comedies could do far more than provide a few laughs. As a result, he has been honored as one of the great filmmakers with sophisticated satires like Modern Times, The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux.
  • James Joyce's Ulysses, one of the most highly regarded novels of the 20th century, is essentially a comedy. (Joyce himself claimed there was "not one single serious line in it"). Of course, it does have True Art Is Incomprehensible on its side.
  • PG Wodehouse, whose novels are often critically acclaimed as being the product of both a great writer and a comic genius.

Notes

  1. Give up? It was Shakespeare in Love, in 1998
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