The Comedy Genre: Themes and History Explained

Comedy Genre

History of the Comedy Genre

The short L’Arroseur Arrosé (or The Sprinkler Sprinkled) from 1895 is often cited as the earliest surviving comedy film. This one-minute tableau directed by one of the Lumière Brothers sees a gardener that gets pranked by a mischievous boy into spraying water in his own face. The image of the gardener getting hit by the stream is etched into cultural memory and has been copied and parodied countless times.

There are even older short films that have comedic elements, but this can be seen as the very first pure comedy film. After the establishment of Hollywood, several comedic stars of silent film emerged, including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel & Hardy.

When sound was not available as a tool for filmmaking, these performers used their bodies and faces to get a laugh from their audiences. Charlie Chaplin made his Hollywood debut in 1914, and by 1916 he was a global phenomenon, largely because of his tramp character. This figure with shoddy clothes, a bowl hat, a cane, and a short moustache always seemed to end up in trouble with figures of authority, but through his ingenuity, he got out of many hairy situations.

Chaplin’s work from the silent era can best be epitomised by The Immigrant (1917) and The Gold Rush (1925), two films where the Tramp tries to find his fortune but finds love instead. Chaplin’s work in the 1910s and 1920s is still funny to modern audiences and there are some true gems in the many films he made.

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