Can Comedy Be High Art?

When you want to see art, that contemporary expression of the human essence, do you find some stand-up comedy in an events bulletin or do you head for a gallery? I am as guilty as most people when it comes to considering comedy as Art’s red headed stepchild. But why? Why aren’t we permitted to laugh when we tour the halls of an art museum? More accurately, why isn’t there anything on the walls to make us laugh? Are things all that bad?

Somewhere along the line, morose contemplation became equivalent with canonical art - but now that the summer blockbuster season has arrived, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the film. But be warned: high octane scenes of destruction and death may be bad for your health. A study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in which subjects were shown both dramatic and comedic films suggests that comedy, i.e. laughter, boosts blood flow.


That fine line between comedy and high art, where the more weighty qualities of life can be meditated on, is straddled by one of this summer’s films. “Funny People”, written and directed by Judd Apatow, is about a comedian with cancer. Apatow previously directed “The 40 Year-Old Virgin”, and joins a long line of comedians whose laughter is inspired by the more coarse side of life.

Chaplin didn’t like being thought of as a clown; in “Stardust Memories” Woody Allen laments his comedic reputation; Big Think’s own Ricky Gervais thinks comedy is about more empathy than delivering killer punch lines. So the next time you feel like considering “What it’s all about”, don’t forget that laughter is just as natural a response as crying. And if you choose to laugh a little now and then, you might just live to laugh another day, or cry—whichever you prefer.

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