OPINION: The State of Comedy
The splendor of British comedy, the decline of American comedy, and a new hope for its future.
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Comedy is a likeness of an action that is laughable, complete and of some magnitude, in sweetened speech, acted out, moving us to mirth and hope so as to purify these and expel melancholy. ~Doctor Duane Berquist.
The human person, at its origin, was naturally oriented towards two goals: survival and reproduction. Everything man did was done to fulfill one of these goals. But somehow, man found a third goal: entertainment. Entertainment has since been a prime goal of every human person, sometimes to an unhealthy extent as seen in modern culture. One of the greatest and most enjoyable forms of entertainment is comedy. Whether slapstick, stand-up, or sketch comedy, it nearly always pleases the audience. The most popular and most profitable of these, sketch comedy, is enjoyed worldwide, and the groups who put it on tend to differ greatly. Some of these groups are beneficial and moral to some extent, while others seek to appeal to the most base level of humor. A comparison of several different comedy groups from different backgrounds can be made to show the contrast.
Saturday Night Live (henceforth referred to as SNL) is a weekly comedy show that has aired on NBC since 1975. As a weekly show, it stays up to date on current events and frequently makes sketches about the week’s activities. These often include politics, racial events, religious themes, movie or television parodies, and celebrity blunders. Oftentimes, however, SNL makes sketches or jokes that contain highly sexual themes and explicit language. While funny in the heat of the moment (or often, more cringeworthy than funny,) the impure jokes made on the show are blatant and unnecessary uses of vulgarity. This is in high contrast to an older, more sophisticated form of comedy most often found in the U.K., particularly in the mid 60’s through the early 2000’s. This was the period of Monty Python and the height of British comedy.
Monty Python is perhaps the greatest comedy group of all time. With more lifetime popularity than any other comedy group has ever amassed, the group led by iconic comedians such as John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Michael Palin, to name a few, wrote and performed witty, ingenious, and satirical sketches and films. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was the troupe’s TV show, and between its four seasons they produced films. The most memorable of these was Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a religious satire about the journey of King Arthur and his Knights of the Roun
d Table across the countryside of Britain on horses, or at least coconuts that sounded like horses when clapped together. Despite the occasional religious joke, none of them were malicious. The style of Python continued to develop, only really taking a dive for their final film: The Meaning of Life. As the last of their films, and one of their last productions ever, The Meaning of Life signified a change in the appropriateness of their style. Granted, many sketches from the past had used sexual or vulgar themes, but the vulgarity has been relatively sparse and the humor was all done intellectually rather than to appeal to the base nature of the viewer. They were not of the sort of SNL. Monty Python broke up in 2014, and multiple members continue to do comedy today.
The contrast between American and British comedy is as big as the difference between black and white. While American comedy tries to appeal to the base nature of comedy by dropping trigger words that have been trained into the minds of the viewers to be seen as funny, British comedy appealed to the intellect, requiring the viewer to have some knowledge of the brilliant coincidence that is comedy in order to find the situation or phrase laughable. Unfortunately, British comedy, as well as most of the world, has been “Americanized” in this aspect. British comedy has sunk, and American comedy continues to thrive on the minds of those lacking the sense of real humor. However, there are groups of people who value real comedy, both slapstick and intellectual, who are striving to bring clean, holy comedy back to the modern world. Enter Studio C, the new (Shoulder) angels of American comedy.
Despite being a relatively younger comedy group than the others mentioned, Studio C has captured thousands of viewers with their hilariously clean, weekly comedy show. They keep a regularly updated YouTube channel with their latest sketches posted several times a week, much to the appeal of their 1.3 million subscribers. Whether they are joking about pop culture, life phases, or holidays, Studio C is always sure to deliver a piece of divine comedy for all to enjoy. The group rose from the ashes of a group known as Divine Comedy, which featured much of the cast of Studio C. The group airs on BYUTV, a Mormon station based out of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The goal of Studio C has been to provide clean family comedy in the day where most comedy is inappropriate for most, if not all, ages. This they have accomplished very well, and continue to do on their show.
Comedy has had its highs and lows throughout the last several years, and despite its current low, there are people working to make comedy pure and sacred again. From people such as Studio C, there is a new hope for comedy.