Know Your Comedy: FARCE

One Froggy Evening.

If you work in entertainment, you almost certainly have heard the word “farce.” I have noticed that it tends to be used to describe most any comedic situation or story. In some ways, that is accurate. The word Farce is derived from the Latin “farcire” which means to stuff or fill. In the middle ages, farces were short comedies used to fill in between the dreadfully serious morality plays that the church required. Their sole purpose was to make people laugh.

But as time goes on words develop, and farce can refer to specific kinds of comedy. Fortunately for us, the simplest explanation of what constitutes farce comes from legendary animation director Chuck Jones.

“Comedy is unusual people in real situations; farce is real people in unusual situations.”  

Chuck Jones directed some of the greatest cartoons in history, and one of them is a perfect example of farce. The protagonist of One Froggy Evening is a random man working on a building site. There is nothing unusual about him at all. But he finds himself in the unusual situation of possessing a frog who, sometimes, will sing and dance. Hilarity ensues.

Most definitions of farce will include the phrase “Highly improbable situations” and that is what makes the difference. Any story that includes mistaken identities is absolutely a farce. Some stories feature identical twins who are mistaken for one another. Tex Avery directed Double Trouble, starring Droopy Dog. He is in the role of a manservant at a wealthy man’s mansion. He invites his identical twin brother Drippy to help out with his work. The rascally dog Spike talks Droopy into letting him into the mansion. Through a highly improbable series of events, Droopy and Drippy are never in the same room with Spike. Droopy tries to make Spike comfortable, but when he leaves, the trained boxer Drippy comes in and beats the hell out of him. In farce, the audience can see what is going on, while characters in the story, like Spike, are understandably confused. How they react to the confusing events is where the humor comes from. Often their choices that make things worse.

Droopy's Double Trouble

Classical stage farces use physical comedy as well as verbal comedy. They are also known for moving at a rapid pace. Both of these characteristics make animation the perfect medium for farce.

Let’s contrast this with the other half of Chuck’s quote, comedy is unusual people in real situations. A sportsman hunting a rabbit, is essentially a realistic situation. But when the sportsman is Elmer Fudd, and the rabbit is Bugs Bunny, it becomes a comedy. A good example in live action is Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean. His short films are about him going through normal activities, like taking an exam, going to the dentist, the beach, or to church. It’s his unusual behavior that generates the laughter. When Mr. Bean is in feature films, then the stories need to be developed more, and farcical elements get used to take him to places he might not normally go.

The bottom line is, farce comes more from the writer and the story, while comedy relies more on character and the actor.

If you enjoyed this post, I recommend you CLICK HERE to learn about “bathos”

But if you really want to learn about comedy in animation, click the image below.

Six Kinds of Immature Characters

Baby Brent on stage

In this post, you’ll learn six types of immature characters who are easy to find in animation. They tend to be one of two archetypes, the fool, or the trickster.

We are all capable of being fools. While there are characters that are just plain stupid, there are many more characters who are simply inexperienced in some way. Often, the secret to making someone look stupid or foolish is to just put them with others who know more. The most common way to do that is by having the character be less mature than those around him. We all go through the process of growing up, and understand the challenges, the failures, and hopefully, the success. Comedy thrives when the audience can relate to what the character is going through. And characters going through changes are what stories are usually about.

This post will be about adult characters. Oviously, children are immature by nature, so they are not included. Also, this is category of characters is overwhelmingly male. There is just one type where females are sometimes found. Perhaps if we get more women creators some new concepts for female characters like this will develop.

Man Child

This is an obvious one. The man child is the fully grown dude who still maintains childlike, or childish, behavior. Probaby the most extreme example is Baby Brent from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. He relies on his early success as a child model so much he still publicly appears in diapers.

Baby Brent "uh-oh"

Playing with toys is one way to tell a man child. In Kung Fu Panda, Po plays with toy models of the Furious Five, and engages in fantasies about being as great as they are.


Slackers are characters with no interest in being part of society, or commiting to relationships. They value their freedom above all else. The appeal here is wish fulfillment. Adults can imagine not having responsibilities, while children see them as heroes who avoided the fate of being a boring grown up. Animals work well for this, as they have a “wild” nature that gives them a reasonable excuse.

Baloo the Bear from Disney’s The Jungle Book is an endearing example.

Tramp, from Lady and the Tramp, is the footloose bachelor who fears having a collar.

The Defiant Ones

Defiant characters are like slackers in that they don’t want to have responsibilities. But they don’t just avoid the expectations of adulthood, they consciously oppose it. The shining example of this is the trickster Peter Pan. He has a full on philosophy about not growing up. He wants to remain where he can indulge in his fantasy play and always be in control.

Peter Pan hammock

Second, is Lampwick, from Pinocchio. Again, the key word is indulgence. When the adolescent boys go to Pleasure Island, they indulge in all the freedoms of adulthood, with smoking, drinking, gambling, etc but accept none of the cares. Technically, these two could be considered children, but they are on the cusp and in a position to chose, so I am adding them to the list.

Lampwick drinks beer

One a side note, notice that Lampwick’s sleeves are a bit short, and his trousers too. This is a common way to costume an immature character. Their bodies have outgrown their clothes, and it represents their physical changes contrasted with the clothing of their youth. They haven’t moved up yet. Pee Wee Herman’s outfit is a good example.

Earnest Young Man

We have seen three characters who avoid adulthood. But there are characters that aspire to be the best men they can be. They want to contribute to society and be respected. This has been a common character in live action films for many decades. Silent film star Harold Lloyd was known for this style of comedy. In animation, it’s common for these characters to be inventors. They have fresh and strange new ideas of what to invent, and their efforts initially don’t work, which makes them look awkward and foolish. In Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Flint Lockwood created the screwy machine that rained food down on his city, as well as spray on shoes.

Additionally, like adolescent boys, these characters not smooth with the ladies.

Two other animated examples are Flik, from A Bug’s Life. And Hiccup, from How to Train Your Dragon.

The Spoiled Adult

Spoiled children as still sometimes found in modern films, but the spoiled adult is somewhat uncommon. It’s kind of a variation on the Man Child. Back in the 1920’s Buster Keaton sometimes played a wealthy young man who was so pampered he barely knew how to take care of himself. There is one good example in animation. Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove.

Here is where we may find a female version. The Spoiled Princess. Any spoiled adult female could be disparagingly called a “princess”. Cinderella’s selfish step sisters qualify as spoiled adults.

The Momma’s Boy

Adult momma’s boys are funnier when they are older, as in middle age. As young men, it still seems a bit endearing to be attached to your mother. But as one progesses into life, it becomes increasingly ridiculous. The most prominent example is Principal Skinner from The Simpsons. In his position as principal, he is supposed to be the personification of adulthood, but his immature relationship with his mother belies all of that.

For more on characters, check out this other post. MOTHERLODE OF CHARACTER IDEAS.

There is an excellent book on this topic, but exclusively focused immature characters in live action movies. Click here to read more about I WON’T GROW UP!

Chase Tag Exercise for Animators

World Chase Tag being played

I recently discovered there is an adult competitive league for the child’s game of tag. It’s a one on one game played for 20 seconds on an obstacle course. It’s probably best to just roll the video.

Most animators are familiar with the sport of parkour, and this game obviously shares most of the same physical skills. I have seen many student videos that feature a character doing parkour, as a way to demonstrate body mechanics.

As an alternative exercise, may I suggest having two actors playing tag? I think this has some significant advantages over parkour.

  1. Parkour is a solo event, but in tag, the players have a relationship, they interact. You can add emotions to the performance.
  2. Tag includes a chase. Chases are a basic tool of physical comedy. Tom & Jerry, the RoadRunner, etc all include chases.
  3. The environment could be anywhere. As simple or complex as you want. Where would be an inappropriate place to play a game? You can even have props a character can move to obstruct the chasing player. Get creative.
  4. Chases can involve hiding, which allows for the possibility of surprise. Maybe the chased player ducks out sight, appearing in an unexpected place.
  5. It can have an ending, with a player being tagged, which can be dramatized in any way you can think of.

There was a feature film, “Tag”, made about a group of adult men who had been running the same game of tag since they were kids. Perhaps watch that for inspiration. Here are a couple of shots from that.

Tag movie image 1
Tag movie image 2

Think about it like a Jackie Chan fight scene. Jackie is often trying to avoid blows, so he bends and twists out of reach. He gets extremely clever in setting up scenes.

Jackie Chan hiding.

Everybody knows the game of tag, so they can relate to what they are seeing. If you simply have “tag” in the title, viewers can immediately know what’s going on, and you don’t need to waste any time. PLEASE let me know if you do an exercise like this, I will promote it for you!

Cantinflas part two.

Mario Moreno and Pepe.
Moreno at the premiere of his American film Pepe.

My previous post on Cantinflas was a collection of visual items and links I thought would be entertaining. Further reading has given me more things to say about Mario Moreno and his wonderful character. I want to share more about his life and work. It also helps me to assemble my notes for future reference.

Moreno was born on August 12, 1911 to a poor family. At fifteen, they sent him to an agricultural school, but after about nine months there he ran off to become an actor in a carpa, which is a traveling tent show. In the history of comedy, such itinerant troupes are the birthplace of many great performers. To keep his parents from finding him, he took the stage name “Cantinflas”

Initially, he performed a variety of parts. He was a dancer, he could be a comic bullfighter or a boxer who hams it up in the ring for laughs. These are all great experiences for developing the physical comedy component of his future characters. Comic bullfighting, by the way, is still a popular entertainment in Mexico. I found this very amusing video of a vintage example.

Cantinflas was equally well known for his verbal comedy, and there is a story about how that came to be. One evening, he was pressed into service as the master of ceremony for the show. He had never spoken for an audience before, and he was terribly nervous. When he did speak, what came out made no sense. He fumbled his words so badly, the audience found it funny. He had unintentionally created something special, and he developed his comedic style to take advantage of this happy accident. He used the tools of gibberish, double-speak, mispronunciation and wild exaggeration. He became so good, a word was created to describe it: Cantinflear.

I admit I had previously mistaken Cantinflas to be a rural peasant character. In my book, I discuss the archetype of the rustic, and his appearance fits the description. I have learned that he is part of the tradition of the pelado, which refers more to the urban poor. Specifically, Cantinflas is the primary example of what is called a peladito. Here is how Moreno himself describes the character…

“The peladito is the creature who came from the carpas with a face stained with flour or white paint, dressed in rags, the pants below the waist and covered with patches, the belt replaced by an old tie, the peaked cap representing a hat, the ruffled underwear that shows at any provocation, the torn shirt, and gabardine across his left shoulder.”

Cantinflas is often compared to another tramp, Charlie Chaplin. In fact, after he saw Cantinflas in his film Ni sangre ni arena, Chaplin is said to have called him “The best living comic in the world.” Like Chaplin’s Tramp, Cantinflas was an everyman, an underdog, struggling to survive in the world. Both men made films about circuses and politicians. Each was, however, customized for the culture he existed in. If you wanted to create a comic character in this vein, keep that in mind.

During the era of silent films, American movies worked just as well in Mexico as in any other country in the world. But when those stopped being produced, a new market for sound films in the Spanish language was created and filled by local talent. This was the beginning of the golden age of Mexican filmmaking. Because of this, Mario Moreno as able to become a superstar in Latin America and Spain. He has been honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Cantinflas star on walk of fame.

Success didn’t cause Moreno to forget where he came from. He was quite philanthropic and supported charities for the poor. He was also president of the Mexican actors guild, and first secretary-general of the Independent Film Workers union. He continued to support the working man.

For further reading, I recommend this blog post.

Click THIS LINK to learn about this Google Doodle.


cantinflas caricatures

When I saw Pixar’s Coco, I kept my eyes open, hoping to find the great Mexican comedian Cantinflas. I did spot him very briefly.  I had hoped for more, but perhaps they couldn’t find a part for him as they did for Frida Khalo.  He is also in this promotional image.

Cantinflas was the creation of Mario Moreno, and August 12 is his birthday. Moreno was a dancer and actor who became supremely successful in Mexico but found only minor success in the US. I first knew Cantinflas from the 1956 film, Around the World in 80 Days. Moreno played Passepartout, the manservant to Phileas Fogg. In my opinion, he steals the show. Particularly in his bullfighting scene. Years ago I wrote a post about it on John Towsen’s blog “All Fall Down.” You can read it HERE.

Back in 2014 a biopic was released, and I posted the trailer for it HERE. I went out to see the first night and learned a great deal. He was a good man who cared about the people he worked with. I recommend searching for it streaming online.

As I stated, Mario was a dancer, and I should share at least one sample of his moves. I chose this next piece for its high production quality. I love this clip. I will point out two things about their costumes.

  1. His low belted pants and short jacket emphasize his hip motion during the dance.
  2. She is literally wearing Jessica Rabbits gown.

There was an animated TV show made from his character. The Cantinflas Show was an educational cartoon produced in Mexico in 1972. In 1982 Hanna Barbera recreated the show, with Moreno voicing the character in Spanish.  The HB version was called Amigo and Friends.  I find his caricature very appealing.


Moreno was a handsome man, with a friendly face.

Cantinflas portrait

While searching for images to use for this post, I found a great many caricatures of Cantinflas. Here are some that struck me as interesting. If anyone knows who created some of these, please let me know.


I believe this next one is from David Garcia Vivancos


Perhaps someone could enlighten me about the  “Medell” in this next image.


This next image is by Bruno Hamzagic 

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