Of all film genres, no other one quite matches that of the comedy in terms of differences, styles and variety (and subgenres).
The language (and the math) of comedy is something that does not always translate (or calculate) for everyone. Think about it –have you ever watched a film that you did not find funny, yet the person you were with, couldn’t stop laughing? Have you ever been in a reverse situation where you found yourself laughing hysterically at comedic situation, and others just shook their heads because they didn’t “get it.” That is because we are all wired differently in terms of comedic-interpretation. We all have bias (or baggage) as it relates to what is, or what isn’t funny.
Some are completely turned away from “vulgar or potty” humor while others can’t get enough of it. There are those of us who may be drawn to a comedy that takes on death, war, or murder, yet some would say those types of subjects are off-limits for comedy. But who’s right? What’s funny? The short answer is that it all depends of the individual; it depends on perspectives of interpretation. To me, that is the fascinating thing about comedy – it can speak to an assortment of people – in so many diverse ways. There is no universal translator for the understanding of humor, and that’s one of the reasons researchers are drawn to the study of comedy. Many are looking for the Lost Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail of laughter… but they will never find it. Because it doesn’t exist in one place; it is not exclusive.
In the film world, comedy is also the least financially successful genre on the international market, and that makes sense if you really think about it. If comedy is not completely understood in one culture, how can filmmakers expect it to be interpreted correctly throughout the entire world? It can’t, and filmmakers know it. That is why comedy costs so little to make (comparatively speaking), and it is created with a very specific audience (and location in mind), and it not typically considered for wide international geographic distribution (or success). There are some exceptions to the rule: slapstick and fish out of water comedies can cross cultures if they are designed properly. But a comedy about an American redneck working in a pickle factory in Casar, North Carolina may be completely lost in translation if it were to be released in Tunisia. Why? Because, it has no cultural bearing (or translation), and the southern-specific comedy references would be incredibly difficult for those in Tunisia to comprehend, especially if those in California don’t even get it.
Think about what you find funny and why. Sometimes when we examine what makes us laugh or smile; we actually begin to learn much more about ourselves. For some, engaging in comedic situations is a way of escape, or a coping mechanism. For others, being drawn to laughter, and situations that induce it, is all about the positive energy provided by the experience. Then, on the other hand, some just want to laugh for the pure joy of it.
For whatever reason you’re drawn to a specific type of comedy, I encourage you to explore those comedy film-types that may be outside of your comfort zone. Seek to discover (and appreciate) why comedy is not universal … and try to be OK with that fact. In taking on this journey, you may find that your comedy boundaries will expand (and so will your sense of humor).