Comedic actor Buster Keaton (left) struggling with a wrecked Model T car in The Blacksmith, a 1922 short comedy film

Comedy film is a film genre that emphasizes humor. These films are designed to amuse audiences and make them laugh.[1] Films in this genre typically have a happy ending, with dark comedy being an exception to this rule. Comedy is one of the oldest genres in film, and it is derived from classical comedy in theatre. Some of the earliest silent films were slapstick comedies, which often relied on visual depictions, such as sight gags and pratfalls, so they could be enjoyed without requiring sound. To provide drama and excitement to silent movies, live music was played in sync with the action on the screen, on pianos, organs, and other instruments.[2] When sound films became more prevalent during the 1920s, comedy films grew in popularity, as laughter could result from both burlesque situations but also from humorous dialogue.

Comedy, compared with other film genres, places more focus on individual star actors, with many former stand-up comics transitioning to the film industry due to their popularity.[3]

In The Screenwriters Taxonomy (2017), Eric R. Williams contends that film genres are fundamentally based upon a film's atmosphere, character, and story, and therefore, the labels "drama" and "comedy" are too broad to be considered a genre.[4] Instead, his taxonomy argues that comedy is a type of film that contains at least a dozen different sub-types.[5] A number of hybrid genres have emerged, such as action comedy and romantic comedy.


Silent film era

The film poster for the first comedy film, L'Arroseur Arrosé (1895)

The first comedy film was L'Arroseur Arrosé (1895), directed and produced by film pioneer Louis Lumière. Less than a minute long, it shows a boy playing a prank on a gardener. The most notable comedy actors of the silent film era (1895–1927) were Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton, though they were able to make the transition into “talkies” after the 1920s.

Social commentary in comedy

Filmmakers in the 1960s finessed the use of comedy film to make social statements by building their narratives around sensitive cultural, political or social issues. Such films include Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Love the Bomb, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and The Graduate.[6]

Camp and bawdy comedy

In America, the sexual revolution drove an appetite for comedies that celebrated and parodied changing social morals, including Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and Fanny Hill.[6] In Britain, a camp sensibility lay behind the successful Carry On films, while in America subversive independent filmmaker John Waters made camp films for college audiences with his drag queen friends that eventually found a mainstream audience.[7] The success of the American television show Saturday Night Live drove decades of cinema with racier content allowed on television drawing on the program's stars and characters, with bigger successes including Wayne's World, Mean Girls, Ghostbusters and Animal House.[6]

Present era

Parody and joke-based films continue to find audiences.[6]


While comedic films are among the most popular with audiences at the box office, there is an 'historical bias against a close and serious consideration of comedy' when it comes to critical reception and conferring of awards, such as at the Academy Awards.[3] Film writer Cailian Savage observes "Comedies have won Oscars, although they’ve usually been comedy-dramas, involved very depressing scenes, or appealed to stone-hearted drama lovers in some other way, such as Shakespeare in Love." [4]


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Hybrid subgenres

According to Williams' taxonomy, all film descriptions should contain their type (comedy or drama) combined with one (or more) subgenres.[5] This combination does not create a separate genre, but rather, provides a better understanding of the film.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Comedy Films". Retrieved 29 April 2002.
  2. ^ Tucker, Bruce (13 December 2021). "The History of Silent Movies in the Theater". Octane Seating. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
  3. ^ Vitale, Micaela Pérez (17 January 2022). "Stand-Up Comedians Who Became Great Actors". MovieWeb. Retrieved 13 October 2022.
  4. ^ a b c Williams, Eric R. Screen adaptation: beyond the basics: techniques for adapting books, comics, and real-life stories into screenplays. Ayres, Tyler. New York. ISBN 978-1-315-66941-0. OCLC 986993829.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Williams, Eric R. (2017). The Screenwriters Taxonomy: A Roadmap to Collaborative Storytelling. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-315-10864-3. OCLC 993983488.
  6. ^ a b c d Staff (16 April 2014). "Laughs Of The Decades: A History Of Comedy In Film". Indiana University Bloomington Library. Retrieved 5 February 2024.
  7. ^ Marchese, David (18 March 2022). "John Waters Is Ready to Defend the Worst People in the World". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2024.
  8. ^ "Absurd Comedy". Allmovies.
  9. ^ Sexton, Timothy. "Anarchic Comedy from the Silent Era to Monty Python". Yahoo! Movies.
  10. ^ Henderson, Jeffrey (1991). The maculate muse : obscene language in Attic comedy (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-802312-8. OCLC 252588785.
  11. ^ "Black humour". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  12. ^ "Definition of Comedy of Ideas". Our Pastimes. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  13. ^ British dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan. Nettleton, George Henry, 1874-1959, Case, Arthur Ellicott, 1894-1946, Stone, George Winchester, 1907-2000. (Southern Illinois University Press ed.). Carbondale, [Illinois]. 1975. ISBN 0-8093-0743-X. OCLC 1924010.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  14. ^ "Farce | drama". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  15. ^ Grable, Tim (24 February 2017). "What is funny about Observational Humor? (Updated for 2019)". The Grable Group. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  16. ^ Mellon, Rory (2016). "A History of the Parody Movie". Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  17. ^ McDonald, Tamar Jeffers (2007). Romantic comedy: boy meets girl meets genre. London: Wallflower. ISBN 978-0-231-50338-9. OCLC 813844867.
  18. ^ Dancyger, Ken. (2013). Alternative scriptwriting: beyond the Hollywood formula. Rush, Jeff. (5th ed.). Burlington, MA: Focal Press. ISBN 978-1-136-05362-7. OCLC 828423649.
  19. ^ a b Bown, Lesley (2011). The secrets to writing great comedy. London: Hodder Education. ISBN 978-1-4441-2892-5. OCLC 751058407.
  20. ^ "Film History of the 1930s". Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  21. ^ "The Pink Panther: Inspector Clouseau arrives! - the Navhind Times". Archived from the original on 6 July 2020. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  22. ^ Williams, Eric R. (2019). Falling in Love with Romance Movies. Audible.
  23. ^ Williams, Eric R. (2017). Screen adaptation: beyond the basics: techniques for adapting books, comics, and real-life stories into screenplays. New York: Focal Press. ISBN 978-1-315-66941-0. OCLC 986993829.
  24. ^ Williams, Eric R. (2018). "How to View and Appreciate Great Movies (episode 5: Story Shape and Tension)". English. Retrieved 15 June 2020.