The relationship between comedy and that which is comic (Lilja Valtonen)

Rob King presents a distinction between ‘comedy’ and that which is ‘comic’ in ‘Laughter in an Ungoverned Sphere’. Comedy, as King elucidates, is “limited to spheres of representation and intent”[1], whereas what is comic is anything that induces laughter, regardless of intention.[2] For instance, if a comedian intends to be funny but his jokes fall flat, he fails to be comic, whilst something that is unintentionally or unconventionally humorous can be considered ‘comic’ so long as it makes people laugh, according to King.

Take for example the 2008 viral video entitled ‘David After Dentist’. It is not scripted, nor is the intent (of the child at least) to be humorous, but it certainly elicited such a response from the hundreds of millions of online fans the video garnered, as well as David’s father, who filmed the video. In it, David, a 7-year-old boy, has just come out of a dentist’s appointment and is still under the influence of the anaesthetic. He is dazed and confused, feeling disoriented, and is very expressive about this. “Is this real life?… Will it be forever?” David enquires. His father, clearly entertained by the endearing monologue, offers a few remarks to put David’s mind at ease. It is not clear why we are prompted to laugh at David’s reaction to the anaesthetic, but we do so anyway.

King likens modern viral videos to the short, slice-of-life films made in the 1890’s by the likes of the Lumières, Thomas Edison, and so forth. Viral videos, often in the format of “found-footage or actuality-styled material”,[3] are aided by technological properties that can influence an entire medium’s accessibility and popularity. Both the viral video and the early cinema short can be ‘comic’, i.e. provoke laughter, in their portrayal of actual events that unfold in everyday life.

[1] Rob King, “Laughter in an Ungoverned Sphere: Actuality Humor in Early Cinema and Web 2.0” in New silent cinema, ed. Paul Flaig and Katherine Groo (New York: Routledge, 2015), 296.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 297.

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