Characteristics of Comedy Films

By Jo Walmsley-Lockhart ; Updated September 15, 2017
Slapstick comedy relies heavily on visual action.

The comedy genre has elicited laughs from audiences since the early 1900s and the inception of moving pictures. Comedy films lighten moods and allow audiences to escape from reality and lose themselves in humor. The format of the comedy genre is either comedian-led or a humorous narrative. A variety of subgenres exist within the comedy genre, all of which make people laugh, but each includes different characteristics modifying the overall tone of the film.

Slapstick

Slapstick’s origins are firmly rooted in the silent movies of the early 20th century. This type of comedy relies heavily on exaggerated visual action and uses harmless violence to bring forth laughter. Timing and polished performance skills are essential to effective slapstick. The name slapstick comes from the wooden sticks that clowns slapped together to induce laughter and applause. Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello and Harold Lloyd typify slapstick comedy.

Screwball Comedy

The mid-1930s saw the advent of screwball comedies. This subgenre typically features satirical views of society combined with madcap, energetic action accurately timed. The mixture of sophisticated and off-the-wall characterizes screwball comedy. Screwball comedies poke fun at society and use sarcasm to explore romantic conflicts whereby the usually upper class male suffers disorder and chaos in his life at the hands of a socially mismatched female. The resolution involves a happy settlement of differences between the protagonist male and the antagonistic female characters. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn play their screwball comedy roles to perfection in "Bringing Up Baby."

RomCom

Romantic comedy (RomCom) remains ever popular at the box office. The American Film Institute (AFI) describes romantic comedies as “a genre in which the development of romance leads to comic situations.” Romantic comedy tells of the problematic, ecstatic relationships between a man and a woman in love, and shows the audience in the most enchanting and humorous way, that love conquers all. “There’s Something About Mary" and "Meet the Parents" epitomize the RomCom.

Black Comedy

Black comedy takes a dark subject such as death or war and presents it in a humorous way. Black comedies tell sardonic stories about issues that usually make people feel uncomfortable. "MASH" and "Kind Hearts and Coronets" exemplify dark humor.

About the Author

Jo Walmsley-Lockhart began writing professionally in 2010, with work appearing on eHow. She also teaches English, drama and literature. Jo Walmsley-Lockhart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Teesside University and a postgraduate certificate in English education from Durham University.