Comedy: A Very Short Introduction by Matthew Bevis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This introductory guide examines comedy in a broad fashion, covering literary, historical, philosophical, and – to a limited degree – its psychological dimensions. The book investigates the shifting meaning of the word “comedy” and the changes in media and mechanisms through which it’s been conveyed. So, if you’re concerned (or hoping) that this book is simply an accounting of comedy as the literary genre counter to tragedy, that’s not the case. It discusses not only literature and drama, but also standup comedy and other devices by which humor is conveyed, and it uses “The Simpsons” as well as “Candide” and “Don Quixote” as examples to get points across.
This VSI guide does have a little bit of overlap with the “Humour: VSI,” but where that book focuses heavily on the theory of what makes something humorous, this book addresses that subject in a much more superficial way. On the other hand, this book spends more time looking at comedy from ancient times onward and how its ways have changed since the age of the classics. This guide also peers more beyond the cognitive and philosophical aspects of humor to how elements such as physicality, persona, and even death play into comedy.
It is a scholarly introduction, so one shouldn’t expect a laugh riot, but it is a more entertaining read than if it only looked at comedy as the literary mode opposed to tragedy. If you wish to develop further insight into the many facets of comedy, it’s worth checking out.
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