I just ran across this quote from John Cleese.
“Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited.”
At first it took me by surprise, but I think he is really speaking of verbal comedy. That is the realm of the insult comic, the stand up comedian, and the celebrity roast. Mean spirited comedy involves taking someone on in a challenging way, walking a very fine edge to still keep it funny. We find that a little more thrilling. If a stand up comedian takes down a heckler with a fierce retort, it’s a victory we can all enjoy.
Physical comedians tend to be more playful. They want to keep the game going, not destroy the competition. The Three Stooges are violent, but not really mean. They are clearly faking the emotions.
Part of my goal with this blog is to separate the methods of physical comedy from verbal comedy, and I would be glad to have input from anyone on how the two are distinguished from one another.