The Serious Comedy & The Reverse


Order 'All along my characters [in AS IS] cracked jokes, which I tried to suppress. People were in the process of expiring, and here I was laughing. I mean, this was supposed to be a serious play. . . . I was having dinner with my friend who was a hospice worker at St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village, in the heart of New York's gay community, when it finally dawned on me that maybe humor was a key to my play. She said, We tell a lot of jokes in my line of work. . . . I permitted the play to be funny.'

-- William Hoffman

Old Bert Brecht got this ball rolling when he rattled more than a few stodgy cages with his brilliant conclusion that . . .

Order All Theatre Educates. Good Theatre Entertains

This hybrid is what practically everybody's writing now. And the approach produces several pounds of guilt in writers just getting into this business. But audiences like it.

Humor is a great way to heighten the impact of serious issues. Even life-and-death issues. Laughter has gotten a bad rap from too many years of sit-coms on the tube. That's probably where the guilt comes from: Laughter = Being Frivolous. But it certainly doesn't in the theatre.

In the good old days, everything was much simpler for Playwrights. You wrote a Farce if people ran into doors, a Comedy if they waved handkerchiefs, a Drama if somebody unimportant died, and a Tragedy if royalty crashed. The idea of mixing comedy with serious subject matter was beyond comprehension if it went beyond the gravedigger chucking skulls for a few minutes in HAMLET. It's a lot more interesting now.

This sort of thing used to be justified by folks who never had to hold an audience as "Comic Relief." After all, Old Bill wouldn't stoop to cheapening HAMLET by . . .

Contemporary playwrights have just taken this mixing of styles a thousand miles further down the road. It's the way of the world and how they hear the world. So what they write are two ends of the same keyboard . . .

The key to this: write your play exactly the way you hear it in your head. And remember that Laughter does not equal Being Frivolous.

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