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.

10 Types of Comedic Entrances

I have a previous post about character entrances, but I have put a lot more thought into it.  The result is my first Comedy for Animators video.  10 types of comedic entrances looks at various funny ways characters can enter a scene.  I have found at least two examples from both animation and live action films to demonstrate each one.

The term “entrances” covers a few things.  It can be a character walking into a scene.  It can be the very first scene where a character is shown to already be.  It can be a scene about a character entering another place.  A character can be revealed when something in the scene changes.  Basically, it is the shot where you, or someone in the story, first sees the character and the effect it has in the telling of the story.

The ten different types of comedic entrances are:

1:  The big entrance.  This is an attention grabbing entrance.  It should emphasize the character’s style and have an effect on the other characters in the scene.

2. The downtempo entrance.  If the character has a low energy style, you may want to create a story that begins with a high energy. By clashing with the situation, the character will stand out as unusual. A low energy character in a low energy place would be inherently uninteresting from a physical comedy point of view.

3.  The surprise entrance.  The character is hidden in some unexpected place.

4.  The misleading entrance.  The character enters the scene in some way that leads the audience to make assumptions.  Then the reality proves to be very different.  Such characters usually go on to prove they are not what they seem to be.

5.  Bad timing.  The character enters at a really bad moment.  Prior to the character entering, the situation is set up for them to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

6.  Exit as entrance.  We first see a character as they are being kicked out of some other place.  Often, they are literally flying out the door

7.  The disguised entrance.  The character enters the scene in some disguise that is comical in itself.

8.  The subverted entrance.  This is a scene about a character entering, but the entrance does not go as planned.  It can be seen from the entering character’s point of view.

9.  The strange, surreal doorway.  A character simply walks into the scene, but it is through some very strange doorway.

10.  The forced entrance.  The character is forcibly brought into the scene or story.

And there you have it.  If anyone can identify a type of entrance that I have overlooked, I would be very happy to hear about it in the comments.

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