Rickey Gervais on how Laurel and Hardy have influenced him.

Ricky Gervais on the radio describing what he learned from Laurel and Hardy, and how he uses it in his work.

The Six Varieties of Physical Comedy

M. Wilson Disher wrote “Clowns and Pantomimes” which was published in 1925. He lays out six varieties of physical comedy. These are:

FALLS, BLOWS, SURPRISE, KNAVERY, MIMICRY, and STUPIDITY

FALLS. Easily the first one to come to mind. Gravity reminds us we are not special. The more important or serious the person is, the funnier it is when they fall. There are many combinations of people and ways of falling. It’s really about the set up, and also about having a reasonable belief that the person isn’t seriously injured. It’s about making them look foolish.

BLOWS This is the bread and butter of the Three Stooges. It’s also the category that pie fights fall into.

SURPRISE One reason Buster Keaton was considered a great film maker was his ability to set up surprises. You are all set to see one thing, then he gives you another. There are two good surprises in this clip from his short film “One Week.”

KNAVERY is the sneaky stealing of things. The sly trickster is appealing. He is the partner of stupidity. I immediately thought of Harpo Marx.

MIMICRY. You probably noticed the brief moment of mimicry in the previous clip. When someone pretends to be some one or something else, it is funny. Dressing in drag is a form of mimicry. The greater the skill, the greater the comedy. Jim Carrey has great skill and he pushes the exaggeration as far as he can.

STUPIDITY. Here’s the problem with demonstrations of stupidity: The professionals have been pushed out of the market by the amateurs. I’m talking about “fail” videos. Damn if there aren’t lots of cameras trained on lots of stupid people. But we want to see how the professionals act stupid. The comedy of mistakes. It’s about seeing things wrong, being confused, but it’s also seeing things in a different way. The stupid character misinterprets directions and repeatedly makes the same mistake over again. Stan Laurel was one of the great stupid comedians.

All the Laurel and Hardy you could want

Laurel and Hardy created an amazing body of work, and if you want to enjoy your fill of it, you will want to buy the 21 disk box set from AMAZON.CO.UK
Currently priced at 42 GBP, that equals about $70, which is less than $3.50 per disc. It is an extraordinary value. HOWEVER, the discs are region 2, and will not play on most players sold in North America. No problem. Go to Amazon and search for “region free dvd player” You can probably pick one up for under $40. Check out the comments sections for tips on how to unlock the region. Apple computers will allow you to switch the region setting, a limited number of times. I have two iMac computers, one of which is dedicated to playing region 2 discs. Either solution will allow you to buy other sets not available in the U.S. Comedians like The Goodies, Will Hay or Norman Wisdom

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