Culture Clash: Is Comedy an Art Form?

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Image provided by BBC Radio 4

Yes – Ross McCaffrey

Well, yes. I mean seriously, are you insane? Of course comedy should be treated as art. I could easily leave that short sentence words as a glaringly obvious piece of evidence and go about with my day, but apparently there’s such a thing as developing an argument.

Again, yes of course comedy should be treated as an art form. Repetition may be lazy at reinforcing a point, but I can’t express that enough. I personally think that if one were to deny this, they don’t know what art is. Comedy inspires, provokes, offends, communicates, entertains and questions, to name but a few of its functions.

Did I mention that it can actually change the world? Not by much, granted, but if it wasn’t for such acts as Lenny Bruce, Peter Cook and later George Carlin, the relaxation of censorship laws may not have had the same weight in their argument for them. Basically, imagine the overused and generally false ‘political correctness gone mad’ arguments, make them true and multiply them by a gajillion, and you have what these people were rebelling against. Swearing on stage in America could land you in prison. It happened to Carlin. Obviously they’re not wholly responsible, it was the sixties after all, but they and therefore comedy should definitely be given credit for these small artistic liberties.

Comedy originates from some of the most highbrow forms of theatre regarded today. Greek, if you were wondering. With this piece of information in mind, to claim that comedy is not a form of art is just plain lying. Just like any other form of art, comedy has genres, sub-genres; some works of comedy art are overtly political, whereas others are much more escapist/banal. Replace ‘comedy’ with ‘painting’, ‘theatre’, ‘cinema’ or anything else in the media you can think of. Do it, I dares ya. Nothing changes does it? Thought so.

A final point. Comedy is so inherent in our culture that to deny its gravitas as an art form that commands, and always receives, an emotional response is quite frankly an insult to the men and women who are so bloomin’ good at it and are lauded worldwide. Hell, the biggest arts festival in the WORLD, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is dominated by comedy.

Yes, there are some problems with comedy. Its practitioners are mainly male and white, partly due to the general hostility from mainstream audiences (not in any way fellow performers) to minority stand-ups who do not focus on their personal backgrounds, which in turn can force some brilliant acts into giving what is ‘expected’ of them in order to simply get their name out. This sucks, and it frustrates me as a lover of comedy. But if you can find me another art form that doesn’t have this equal or similar level of hierarchy, I’ll write you a set that no one will laugh at.

No – Steff Brawn 

I’d like to argue that comedy  need not be taken as a serious art form. To begin with, I’d like to point out how clever and tactical it is. Analysing everyday actions and happenings that we take for granted and barely notice most of the time is a very simple yet extremely effective way to make people laugh. Because we don’t notice how ridiculous our mannerisms can be and the hilarity within some of the routinely things that we do, it does in fact take some intellect from comedians to pick these things out and dramatise them on stage. Furthermore, because they choose to turn common behaviour into comedy, it has an effect not only whilst you’re watching but all the time! You’re always reminded of the jokes as you come across the things that you thought were oh so normal and realise they’re absolutely ridiculous and downright funny.

Another point would be that, with the exception of a couple, observational comedians don’t seem to to swear a lot. I personally admire that they don’t need swear words to further sensationalize their performance; their jokes are funny in their purest form. Comedians such as Frankie Boyle swear incessantly, but there’s no need if what you come up with is simply hilarious and is delivered clearly with personality and confidence. You will notice also that observational comedy relies a lot on stage presence and I prefer this to someone standing still and swearing every other word.

With regards to observational comedy being an art form, I’m not sure it should be looked at artistically. I can see why some people would see it as an art form because at the end of the day, it is a performance. However, art to me will always have a deeper resonance to it with something you need to emotionally or academically connect with. Comedy, particularly the observational genre, is very simple and doesn’t have much deep meaning behind it and so should be taken more passively. It is supposed to make you laugh after all, so if you take it too seriously you’re destroying its purpose. Additionally, art is usually specialised and can only be fully appreciated by certain types of people whereas observational comedy is accessible to everyone, as everyone experiences the things that are analysed at some point in their life.

Not only can everyone relate to the observations that are made, but because of the lack of political or satirical content, no one is really offended or put off by observational comedians. They are doing their job without causing any harm or getting themselves into trouble, which ironically wouldn’t be that funny. Moreover, younger people can appreciate the humour as the content isn’t too mature or complex, showing how it appeals to several audience segments.

So there you have it, observational comedy is the bees knees. It puts a sparkle into everyday life that we often think is cyclic and boring, reminding us that we can live in laughter alone.