Who hasn’t belly-laughed at some of the greatest physical comedians in history? The pratfalls of Chevy Chase, Molly Shannon and Chris Farley come to mind immediately. Physical antics are some of the oldest, funniest forms of comedy there are. But what makes physical comedy so successful? How have the most successful comedians parlayed their bodies into their comedy? Why do we find it so funny? Read an overview of just how and why physical comedy is so funny, and the next time you see a performance featuring this style, you’ll enjoy it all the more.
The Secret to Physical Comedy
Physical comedy goes beyond pratfalls. Physical comedy occurs any time a comedian or performer uses their body to sell a joke to an audience. This is one of the oldest forms of humor there is—whether it’s falling down, walking into a wall, or getting slapped across the face, we love to watch body language and physical antics, with many performers becoming experts in this very kind of humor.
Movement and Action
Physical comedy is based largely on action and movement. Body language is a core form of communication and expression and physical comics are masters of using their bodies to sell an idea or bit of humor. This action also portrays a degree of suffering in a humorous aspect which taps into the idea of schadenfreude, the psychological idea that we derive secret pleasure from the misfortune of others.
Successful Physical Comics
Some of the most successful physical comics come up with different and unique ways to express this comedic misfortune. Consider, for example, the Three Stooges, whose slapdash routines of smacking, poking, shoving and facial expressions never fail to elicit laughs many decades after first put on films.
Later comics such as Chevy Chase, Chris Farley and Molly Shannon onSaturday Night Live were masters of humor based on falling, manufactured accidents and body language. Their expert delivery usedschadenfreude as a punchline in countless jokes. Other comics famed for physical performance comedy include Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Dane Cook and Charlie Chaplin, among others.
Slapstick and Others
The most famous examples of these kinds of comedy include the slapstick—over-the-top falls and big disasters. There are, however, other kinds of physical comedy. Consider Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks and the comedy troupes that formed around them. These masters of facial expression and body language entertained countless number of people. The characters of Kramer on Seinfeld and Married with Children’s Al Bundy are known for their grand entrances, another form of physical comedy.
This form of comedy is time-honored and even dates back to classic Shakespearean and Greek comedies. If you would like to learn about how mastery of the physical translates to live performance, take a look at our Norcross performance camps, and contact us for more information today. We would love to have you on board!