Comedy vs. Dramaon July 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm
I was recently in a theater watching a trailer for Hercules. And I’ll admit it, I was not so secretly pumping my fists into the air when The Rock clubbed that giant boar on the head. The friends I was watching this with were rolling their eyes dubiously because it’s admittedly not realistic and it’s also stupid. But it’s their loss because the bio mass of teenagers in the theater were also pumping their fists into the air. As someone who had a difficult time connecting with people as an adolescent, I can see now why people want to join churches or cheer on a sports team. Put simply, it’s just very pleasurable. Not only did I mind meld with 1000 screaming morons in that theater, it occurred to me later there’s a chain of humans stretching back to ancient Greece all jumping up and down in their togas at the thought some really strong dude clubbing a boar. As some smart dude once said, every human is an island, but stories are like bridges that connect our minds to eachother’s. Well if that’s so, then this has got to be a really long bridge. Stories are really powerful in a way that say pottery is not. I feel I can appreciate some ancient roman vase but it just doesn’t get me on that gut level. Romeo and Juliet on the other hand is still packing the movie theaters and I can pretty easily picture myself in the mind of some dude at the Globe in 1500’s egging Leonardo DeCaprio to beat the shit out of John Leguizamo (although those actors might not have been alive back then in my opinion). By contrast, I’d probably jump into moving traffic in order to avoid watching 5 minutes of Laugh-In.
Humor seems like one of the more ephemeral forms of entertainment. Like most people, I think Chris Rock is hilarious. But then you hear him talk about Bill Cosby like he was the second coming. And then you hear Bill Cosby talk about Lenny Bruce like he was the first second coming which is all well and good until you listen to Bill Cosby’s and Lenny Bruce’s routines. It’s almost as if the further back in time you go, the less funny people are, until anything that could possibly make me laugh is just a dim ember in a vast sea of nothingness. I can’t even imagine how unfunny ancient Greek people were. But of course that’s stupid. Humanity has always been funny. They just seem less funny to me because humor is so specific to an era and culture.
So you would expect old episodes of Hawaii Five-O or Dragnet to really stand the test of time. But they don’t! If I were to make a list of my 10 favorite TV dramas, well over half of them would have come out in the last 10 or 20 years. By contrast, the greatest sitcoms span the decades. In my opinion a large part of this is due to that fact that until recently, dramas were confined to this really short 1 hour format. Alternatively, my favorite TV shows today have extended the unit length to a season. As a TV lover, it’s hard to describe how exciting this trend has been for me. I basically feel like someone just invented the novel about 15 years ago.
The traditional view of comedy is that you want to get in and get out before you wear out your welcome. As some other smart dude said brevity is the soul of wit. It’s been taken to the extreme with Twitter, which I feel has become a really fun place to read short snarky jokes on the events of the day. But whenever someone tries to hash out a nuanced debate on American Foreign Policy, it seems like the wrong format to me. It’s like they never heard of Facebook. This trend continues in comics. For every Rex Morgan MD, there’s 100 Ziggys. I’m not even sure who reads Rex Morgan MD. I never met anyone who did. Furthermore, I feel once graphic novels were invented, not only were they better than Rex Morgan MD, they honestly blew Ziggy out of the water too.
But here’s the thing. I love comedy! My favorite cartoonist is Peter Bagge. My favorite movie is Groundhog Day. My favorite poet is Shel Silverstein. My favorite anything of any medium is generally humorous. But I also don’t really like the strip format. 3 postage stamp size panels a week stretched over several decades seems like such a completely ineffective way to tell a story. It’s almost impossible for anyone to get invested in the characters much less keep track of the story, which is why it’s so impressive when someone like Bill Waterson accomplishes this feat. For the other 99% of strip cartoonists, the point of their existence just seems to make some little trifle for people to laugh at before they head off to work at the sewage plant. Getting back to me and my own work, there’s an obvious solution, which is to make a combination humorous/dramatic graphic novel. If I were to list my favorite TV shows, even more than comedies or dramas, the list would be full of dramedies like Breaking Bad, Freaks and Geeks, or Northern Exposure. And of course going back to cinema, the movies Charlie Chaplin made were essentially dramedies and remain to this day a lot more watchable than other silent movies of the era (ie. all of them). I’m hoping the dramatic/comedic graphic novel takes off as a format too. I can even see it sticking around for a few hundred years.