Comedy Yin and Yang: John Cleese quote part 2.

I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog, but I’m very happy at the quality of commenters. Stephen Worth, and David Carlyon, author of Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You’ve Never Heard Of both chimed in on my John Cleese Quote post. The post began with this quote from British comedian John Cleese.

“Com­edy always works best when it is mean-spirited.”

My take on it was that Cleese was referring more to verbal comedy than to physical comedians. Stephen Worth pointed out Mr. Bean’s selfish behavior, and the rude style of W.C. Fields. He also mentioned:

Chuck Jones once said, “in order to be funny, you have to have some­thing you really hate.”

If you didn’t read David Carlyon’s comment, I recommend you do. He has considerable experience and education on the topic of live comedy. I appreciate the time he put in on the comment, and I took it seriously. A good blog is an interactive discussion, and I learn as much from it as anyone. I’m not afraid to say my original post was half-baked.

It may be that I fell into the “family friendly” entertainment trap. Or I may have mis-interpreted the term “mean spirited” to be something more like the medieval humor of cruelty, laughing at people who were physically impaired. I don’t like insult comics very much, and I might have been looking for an antidote.

Shortly after that post and the comments, I turned on a TV and found “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” just beginning. I soon remembered that every character in the movie is greedy and ready to run every other character off the road. It has a lot of physical acting in it, and it’s very very funny.

This has opened my eyes to the Yin and Yang of comedy. Would we know what revenge Popeye was capable of without the provocation of Bluto? The kindness of Stimpy is made obvious by contrast with the angry Ren. They are opposites, and that creates conflict, and comedy. They are an “odd couple”, Oscar Madison was often grumpy and unkind to Felix Ungar. It is the back and forth interaction that is entertaining. I think about my Loser Comedy post, which looked into the pathetic life of Wile E. Coyote. I see the relationship with the Roadrunner as unbalanced. Itchy and Scratchy are the extreme example of imbalance, a parody of mean spirited comedy.

Now I aspire to create a character who is a mischievous troublemaker, like Mickey Mouse was when he started.

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