Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Character-dependent comedy

Little over a week ago, I posted some editors’ comments on a single story. I wanted to dig a bit deeper into one specific point that one of the panelist’s made:
If she [the character] doesn't take herself seriously, the audience can't take her seriously.  Ironic in comedy, I know... but nonetheless true.
False! (as were a many other things this panelist said) Some characters are purposely made to be silly, because we’re supposed to laugh at them. This is what we call character-dependent comedy, which is not quite as well-known as situational comedy or sitcom.

So I’d like to explain character-dependent comedy, then hopefully editors won’t make such idiotic assertions.

To start, as the name implies, the comedy depends on the characters, compared to sitcom where the comedy depends on the situation. The character will usually have an exaggerated personality trait (or traits); maybe they’re ultra-vain, or a perfectionist, or just plain crazy. Whatever the trait, this will likely be a source of conflict, either for themselves or those around them. Think of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, his egotism and condescending manner tends to get on everyone’s nerves.

Hyacinth from Keeping Up Appearances is another example of the exaggerated personality, specifically, superiority-complex. Let’s just say, she doesn’t mind asserting herself where she doesn’t belong.

The character also gets him/herself into trouble. Mr. Bean is notoriously known for his crazy antics, all of which are his fault. However, we love him for it.       

(You’re probably noticing that I have a taste for British comedies.)

As for the question of believability—can you take any of these characters seriously?—that’s not as much of an issue when your characters’ behavior is outside the norm. The point of the character is to be silly and outrageous. Duh. It’s not like sitcoms where the situation is outrageous, and the characters either suffer through it or figure a way out.

So a quick comparison/summary of character-dependent vs. sitcom:

-Exaggerated personality trait(s); not entirely relatable
-Source of their own problems; bane of other characters
-Get themselves into situations

-Relatively normal character(s); relatable
-Outside sources for their problems
-Thrown into situations

It’s a focal thing. Ask yourself: Am I laughing at the character or the situation they're in? And like anything else, not everyone will “get” that you’re supposed to laugh at the character; they may just view the character as an idiot, or unbelievable. I suspect that the panelist isn’t a fan of Mr. Bean. Which is the shame, ‘cause he’s missing out.

Okay, one more example, but this one's too funny to not post.


  1. Comedy comes in all forms and with satire, it can be a mixture of situation and character. Politicians can be so extreme as can the situations they create.

  2. BEAN! The best part of the Olympics -- well, the opening ceremonies anyway. I enjoy laughing at characters in fiction and in real life; people who take themselves seriously are seriously boring.