Comedies Are Serious Plays Too
Anthony J. Piccione
OnStage Connecticut Columnist
“Comedic plays” vs “Serious plays”
This false distinction between these two genres – as opposed to “comedy” vs “drama” or “comedy” vs “tragedy” – is one that I’ve heard far too many times during all the years I’ve spent in theatre.
I’m sure many people will point out how dramas have to be played by actors who have no intention of making the audience laugh out loud in their seats, and thus will use that as their rationale for using this description. Indeed, I will acknowledge that this is likely what most of the people who use this distinction refer to when they use it.
However, I believe that to say a certain play or character should be performed in a more serious tone is different from saying that a play is or is not a serious work of art. Regardless of whether or not this was the intention of any particular person that has made this false distinction, the implication seems to be that dramatic plays are more serious works of art that comedic plays.
This is exactly why I felt it was so important to point out this false distinction, and why it should no longer be made by any of us in the theatre community, or elsewhere. Personally, when I think about what it means for theatre to be “serious” or not, I think explicitly in terms of whether or not it is credible as a work of art, and I suspect there are plenty of others who also feel this way.
Personally, I will admit that I have a very broad definition of “art”. To me, art is anything newly crafted by any human being that involves any sort of originality or creativity. However, there is a certain craft to making theatergoers laugh that is important to understand, in order to write a great comedic play. When it comes to creating great comedy, there is arguably much less flexibility, in terms of what you can and cannot write. With comedic plays, the audience’s reaction (or lack thereof) always determines its success or failure, so the playwright always needs to take into consideration what theatergoers would consider to be funny. This isn’t necessarily the case with non-comedic plays, when there is arguably more flexibility, in terms of what constitutes a play’s success or failure.
This doesn’t just apply to theatre. When it comes to film and television, as well, it seems that artists who deliver great comedy to their audiences do not get nearly as much credit as they deserve for making people laugh. Especially in film, it seems much of the accolades each year – at least, from professional critics – go to the dramatic – or the so-called “serious” scripts – that are produced each year, although this is also true to an extent in other artistic mediums, as well.
These same people seem to overlook the important role that comedy has in our society. Unless you are an absolutely humorless person, we all turn to some form of comedy – in theatre, film and elsewhere – to make us feel better after a rough day, give us a distraction from all the negative things going on around us, and also perhaps to help us make sense of those same negative things. The truth is that comedy is easily one of the most vital art forms that exist today.
Knowing all of this, it is worth asking: why would someone still make such a false distinction between comedic theatre and “serious” theatre, when comedy is – as funny as it may be – a very serious art form?
So the next time you hear someone refer to a dramatic play as being a more “serious” play, don’t hesitate to ask them what exactly they mean by that. If “serious” means “drama” to them, they ought to reconsider the artistic merits of those who put so much time and effort into creating great theatre that makes us laugh, as well as the importance of the role that these shows play in our community. Hopefully, as the years go by, I’ll start to hear less people use this false distinction, thus making this a non-issue. Lately, however, my own personal experiences tell me that this is something worth thinking about, when talking about the distinction between these two genres.
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).