A Serious Post About Comedy

Firstly, I would like to apologise to all the comedies I ought to have mentioned in this week’s podcast, including Some Like it Hot, To be or not to be (the 1942 original), and The Man With Two Brains (still the funniest film Steve Martin ever made). Perhaps we should have a minute of silence for these films. Actually let’s not. Just read the rest of this blog post and observe a minute’s silence in your own time, afterwards.


One film I did mention in this week’s Tangent Tree podcast is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It is the funniest film I have ever seen, and a landmark of sublime silliness. However, it does have the barest hint a serious message.


No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses, even though the Pythons themselves would doubtless refute this, saying the film is intended as nothing more than zany, madcap humour. It is that. Indeed, I am sure that the Pythons had no intention whatsoever of consciously injecting a serious message. Nothing is worse than a film with an intentional “message”. They always come off as preachy, regardless of genre (even the comedies).


However, I also believe that what is important to people is inherent in their artistic endeavours, including comedians. Inherent in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an incredulous dismay at mankind’s propensity for violence, especially when flimsily justified by religion. Arthur and his knights are a bloody liability wherever they go, wreaking destruction and carnage in an utterly careless, albeit hilarious way. Sir Lancelot’s bloody wedding massacre is a good example. Yes this is played for laughs, but it is all the more potent for it. Also, I love the surreal moment in the finale, when the police finally catch up with Arthur and his gang of violent nitwits and quite rightly place them all under arrest.


There are other good examples of this principle I could cite, from other comedies. For instance, the monumentally ludicrous finale of The Naked Gun features a romantic speech by Leslie Neilson that moves the crowd to tears. It’s a completely ridiculous scene, but certain hilarious images – a Jew and Arab embracing afterwards, for instance – have an undercurrent that whispers, quietly, wouldn’t it be great if the world really was like this?

samantha stephen