There are few film genres as popular as comedy. Since the very beginnings of cinema in the silent era, people have gone to the cinema to be entertained, to laugh and to forget the worries that may arise in their daily lives.
While some of the conventions of the genre have changed and evolved over the years, there are still a number of particular comedy movie cliches that continue to be laughable, even though they’re so well established that they become a little predictable.
A life-changing event
Most comedies have, at some point in their plot, a life-changing event that sets the whole story in motion. Parents can switch bodies with their children, someone wins the lottery, or someone suddenly inherits the throne of a kingdom they never knew existed. Either way, this shot triggers plenty of laughs to come, as the protagonist has to deal with his rapidly changing circumstances and all the chaos it inevitably brings to his life, not all of which are actually positive.
The person standing behind the gag
There are a lot of things that make this particular shot quite humorous. Obviously, there’s the setup, in which a character says something negative about someone else who the viewer quickly knows is standing right behind them. Then there’s the reward, in which the person who says the wrong thing recognizes, usually from another person’s face, that they’re about to get in trouble. When the punchline actually happens, it always gets a laugh, usually because it’s so true to lived experience.
The unattractive person must become attractive
This cliché is one with a long history in Hollywood, and it’s increasingly applied to both men and women. In it, someone who is obviously unattractive suddenly becomes very attractive to others, usually through some form of makeover.
When this cliche is used effectively, it can be both amusing and very scathingly critical of the culture that produces such unrealistic and sometimes damaging expectations of physical appearance. Plus, it usually shows how deceiving looks can be.
The rule of opposites
This cliche is especially common in romantic comedies, in which two people are stark opposites but nonetheless find themselves attracted to each other. However, he can also appear in comedies in which two protagonists, usually either fellow professionals (e.g., the buddy cop movie, like 21 jump street), or roommates (including The odd couple) are forced to do something together, and their vastly different attitudes and behaviors constantly clash. When done right, this shot can demonstrate how complementary even the most diametrically opposed people can be.
The outcast sidekick
There are many sidekicks in Hollywood history, and some of the best are those who are social outcasts. These are people who, for one reason or another, struggle to achieve the same measure of popularity as the main character. This shot is almost invariably humorous because it usually features a well-known actor – even if it’s just a character actor – and their usually off-putting or weird mannerisms juxtapose so well with the lead roles ( Zach Galifianakis in The hangover is an example).
Jerk with Jerk Friends
The jerk character is a staple of many comedy movies of all kinds, and this character never ceases to provide laughter, usually at his own expense. Admittedly, these characters are almost always irritating, as are their friends.
However, what makes them so funny is that they often become the butt of the joke, in the process subjected to the same kind of ridicule they are so willing to dish out to others. Humor therefore comes from the skilful inversion of the established order of things.
The adult child
The adult who really acts like a child is another comedy film staple, and while it’s historically been limited to males, a number of women have also appeared in this type of role (including in film Bridesmaids, one of the best comedies of the 2010s). The humor, as often in comedies, proceeds from an inversion of what is supposed to be the normal state of things. In particular, it’s always fun to see someone so uniquely ill-equipped to handle reality trying to deal with the many frustrations that life entails.
The adorable Dweeb
There are few comedy characters as iconic or as enduring as the lovable dweeb (a character that Steve Carrell, in some of his best roles, honed). They’re the type of person who is very goofy and maybe even nerdy, but somehow they still manage to cast a spell of their own. In particular, this character, while obviously providing a lot of comic relief, generally shows that he has a heart of gold and that there are genuinely good people in the world.
The gag “in English”
Many comedy movies have at least one character who is, or at least thinks they are, smarter than everyone else. This character almost always gives a very complicated explanation for something, followed by a character asking that they repeat it “in English”. It’s a gag that never fails to bring laughs largely because it pokes fun at the kind of people who think they know it all and are determined to pass that knowledge on to others, whether they want to receive it or not.
Healthy eaters are bad
While almost every comedy movie has an intelligent person, there is also almost always someone who is a “healthy” eater and, at the same time, despises those who are not. This character must, of course, be bad, and they’re usually the butt of the joke, too. What makes this gag so enduringly funny is that, like the best comedies, it upends the traditional social order and shows that those who think they are better than everyone else will eventually get what happens to them.
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