There's an insidious school of thought circulating among the world's pop-culture enthusiasts and critics. It states that comedy is not and indeed cannot
be True Art
. Since true art is angsty
and offensive, it logically follows that something lighthearted, created to inspire joy and laughter amongst the public, must not be true art, right? Sadly, many people seem to think so. For instance, can you remember the last time a comedy film won the Academy Award for Best Picture
Exactly, and the numbers predict that it's not due to happen anytime soon. Perhaps for this reason, the Golden Globe Awards have separate categories for comedies and dramas.
This rule tends not to apply to minor technical awards: For instance, at the 1988 Oscars, the Disney/Amblin partly-animated fantasy-comedy
film Who Framed Roger Rabbit
won three competitive Academy Awards, but these were for film editing, visual effects and sound effects. (A special award was given for the film's animation.)
Compare Animation Age Ghetto
and Sci Fi Ghetto
for similarly flawed ideas. For the fandom version, see Maturity Is Serious Business
. Particularly good satire
and Black Comedy may
be exempt such as with Life Is Beautiful
, an ostensible comedy set during the Holocaust which got director/star Roberto Benigni
the Best Foreign Language and Best Actor Oscars in 1998.
Note that this rule applies primarily to film. Television is normally exempt as the Emmy Awards have separate categories for comedy. In theater, comedies often do well at the Tonys, such as when Book Of Mormon
cleaned house in 2011, winning nine awards including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Actress (Nikki M. James).
A primary cause of Tom Hanks Syndrome
, where a comedic actor who wants to be Taken Seriously will switch to drama.
- Entertainment magazine's review of Observe and Report praises the film over the similarly-themed Paul Blart: Mall Cop for one main oft-repeated reason: the former is direct, sad, and "brutal" whereas the latter is funny, and its praise for the performers is secondary.
- Robert De Niro was asked in an interview for Parade why he occasionally does "stupid" comedies such as Meet the Parents. De Niro explained that comedy films are just as difficult to make as serious dramas.
- Many film comedians have never or hardly won an Academy Award during the height of their careers: Laurel and Hardy received one Oscar for their short "The Music Box". Comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Groucho Marx all received one single Academy Award (for their entire career and achievements) when they had already retired from performing in films. And they were the lucky ones! Other greats like Harold Lloyd, W.C. Fields, The Three Stooges, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Oliver Hardy, Fatty Arbuckle, Harry Langdon all died without ever receiving anything.
- None of Monty Python's films won a significant award, though Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (It ultimately received the Special Jury Prize instead.)
- Burt Reynolds (who is usually a drama actor) was reportedly very disgusted that he lost an Oscar to Robin Williams (known primarily for comedy) for his role in Good Will Hunting.
- Chevy Chase once hosted the Oscars, and read out rules for it (You'd win "if you're old and haven't had one yet"), but added a Take That at the end, saying that this (put on a prosthetic nose) was simply not allowed. He was criticizing (along with others) Steve Martin's omission for Best Actor for Roxanne.
- Show People: In-Universe, aspiring actress Peggy Pepper believes comedy should be in a ghetto. She thinks only drama is true art, and she is mortified when by a trick of fate she winds up as a movie star in slapstick comedy.
- Almost any time a sitcom starts to make an attempt at an Emmy nomination, the episode they make for consideration is almost always a Very Special Episode. The laughs come fewer and farther between, a much more serious issue is addressed, and it can often be a Lower Deck Episode if a Supporting Actor award is being considered (the episodes of Roseanne when Jackie was a victim of domestic abuse stand out as this in syndication).
- Doctor Who Big Name Fans are known for automatically rating horror serials above comedy, which is part of the reason for the longstanding bad reputations of stories like "The Gunfighters" and "City of Death" (both of which, especially the latter, were Vindicated by History once they became widely available to view again), as well as being part of the reason why the Lighter and Softer Graham Williams era (which replaced an era of the darkest horror and goriest thrillers the show ever achieved) is considered a Dork Age by some parts of fandom. "The Space Museum" suffers especially from this, as people tend to praise its creepy and atmospheric Just One Second Out of Sync first episode and attack the three comedy episodes that come after. Revival series episodes that tend to be criticised entirely for being comedy are the "Aliens of London" two-parter (which had Toilet Humor) and "Love and Monsters" (which had a Squicky sex joke and Peter Kay in a ridiculous rubber suit). On the other hand, this trope ended up working in the show's favour in a big way - the writers during the Graham Williams era realised that if they were stuck writing a cheap Executive Meddling-mandated children's comedy to appease Moral Guardians protesting about the horror, no-one would care if they stuffed it full of sophisticated Parental Bonus satire, brilliantly intelligent dialogue and some of the blackest of Black Comedy, and so they did - overtly political stories like "The Sunmakers" and "The Invasion of Time" being fan favourites.
- The reaction from the fandom around the time that comedienne Catherine Tate was being cast as the next companion was very negative, with some people insisting that she couldn't possibly act well enough to pull off the Angst bits. However, she really could - she's now considered to be one of the best performed companions in the show's history, as comic acting is just as difficult as serious acting and the skills aren't too dissimilar. This situation unconsciously echoed fan concerns about well-loved comic actor Jon Pertwee being cast as the Doctor in 1970, which confused a lot of people when he performed the Third Doctor as probably the most serious and dignified Doctor of them all.
- The song A Comedian at the Oscars performed by Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly at the 79th Academy Awards is a biting satire of this idea. Ferrell and Black begin by pretending to challenge Oscar winners and nominees to a fight over the preferential treatment of dramatic actors before Reilly teaches them that they, too, can win awards if only they learn to accept absurdly tragic roles.
- During his life, Erik Satie was seen as a musical lightweight who composed silly little tunes with often comedic titles and littered his scores with sarcastic remarks. His legacy as a historically important musical innovator only came decades later after his death.
- Despite the enormous technical complexities of his music, Spike Jones was likewise never taken seriously by his contemporaries.
- The Bonzo Dog Band were mostly seen as a novelty act throughout their career because of their silly antics and Stylistic Suck playing. They are often overlooked when discussing the great bands of The Sixties. Nevertheless both The Beatles and Monty Python have named them as a huge inspiration.
- Frank Zappa also received more recognition as a innovative composer near the end of his life and mostly after death. The fact that he sabotaged the serious attention that any of his music could have received by injecting comedy into his compositions didn't help matters along. Nor the fact that his sense of humor did not discriminate between satirical wit and lowbrow bawdy jokes.
- While nothing to do with films per se, this trope does come up with regards to wrestlers that have comedy gimmicks. A lot of wrestling purists absolutely despise wrestlers that have gimmicks designed to entertain the fans and make them laugh, especially if their fans are primarily children. Some fans that value only the athleticism in wrestling seem to assume that more gimmick-centred wrestlers are somehow "cheating" and aren't real wrestlers when most successful wrestlers are successful because they can wrestle, with a gimmick just helping people identify and remember them more easily.
- Wrestlers with comedy gimmicks are more likely to become The Scrappy to internet fans, especially if they get cheered by the audience. Examples are Santino Marella, Brodus Clay, Scotty 2 Hotty, Doink the Clown etc.
- You'll almost never get a wrestler with a comedy gimmick as a world champion in any major promotion. If a wrestler wishes to become a main eventer in any shape or form then they're going to have to be taken seriously. John Cena is probably the closest to a comedic main eventer WWE has had in the modern era, besides perhaps The Rock, who despite making people laugh supposedly did not count, though his comedy came more from insulting his opponents in clever ways he also had the occasional silly spot and he had a tendency to oversell. TNA came somewhat close with Christian Cage, Eric Young.
- Eddie Guerrero got away with it and is a notable aversion, possibly because his comedic cheating ways had become so endeared by fans.
- Lay Cool are female aversions. The two were essentially exaggerated versions of the Alpha Bitch Valley Girl and yet managed to dominate the women's division for over a year.
- In the first half of the 20th century, theatre critics tended to regard Broadway musical comedies, whatever their merits, as not really suitable for sober dramatic criticism, a few stiff drinks being needed for their proper appreciation. The musical comedy ghetto started to break down with the critical acclaim for Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1940s shows and had largely disappeared by the 1960s (though the critically praised musicals of the latter decade often weren't comedies). There was much controversy in 1931 when Of Thee I Sing became the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize; falling under the exemption for satire seems to have helped it do so.
- Thespis, the first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, ends with a Take That at the notion that tragedy is the higher art, suggesting that it is unwanted by the public. The angry Jupiter sends the Thespians away with this punishment:
Away to earth, contemptible comedians,
And hear our curse
, before we set you free;
You shall all be eminent tragedians,
Whom no one ever goes to see!
- Members of Zero Punctuation’s hatedom/-dumb often claim that because the series is "only" a comedy, the viewpoints expressed within cannot be taken as actual critical analysis and Yahtzee is not a "real reviewer".
- Fans of Yahtzee often express virtually the same opinion: That because he's principally an entertainer, the content of his reviews cannot be criticized because he's "joking".
- This extends to most of the Escapist website, really. They don't hire consumer reporters, they hire critics.
- Very prominent throughout the history of animation. For example, with regards to Looney Tunes, Tex Avery was only nominated twice for the Best Animated Short Oscar without winning, while Bob Clampett was never even nominated at all. Likewise, Chuck Jones received nominations for his later "True Art" shorts, but not for "The Dover Boys", "One Froggy Evening", or "Duck Amuck".
- Averted at least once by Friz Freleng. His cartoon "Knighty Knight Bugs" was the only Bugs Bunny cartoon to win an Academy Award.
- There was a stretch in the 1940s where Tom and Jerry dominated the Best Animated Short Oscar category by winning a staggering total of seven Oscars.
- The comedic tone of Batman: The Brave and the Bold has drawn criticism from fans of a Darker and Edgier Batman, so much so that one episode punched the fourth wall in the face to deliver an eloquent defense of a Lighter and Softer show.
- Teen Titans is often dismissed for its frequent comedic tone. However, since the series is a Cerebus Rollercoaster, it can be plenty serious when it wants to be.
- Transformers Animated. The comedy and seriousness are better balanced here, but the comedy part is always more apparent, hence why the deeper themes are overlooked by most.
Exceptions to the rule:
- A very good example is The Hangover, a comedy that's basically Refuge in Audacity and Crosses the Line Twice put on film — it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical/Comedy), the first non-animated "pure comedy" film to do so in over two decades.
- Usually, if comedies win any major awards, it's for a supporting performance. Examples include Melvyn Douglas in Being There, John Gielgud in Arthur, Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda, Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, Jack Palance in City Slickers, and Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine. (In the first two cases, the lead actors also were nominated but didn't win.)
- Want to have the best chance for winning an Oscar by appearing in a comedy? Appear in a Woody Allen movie. Three actresses — Dianne Wiest (twice, for Hannah And Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) and Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) — have won Best Supporting Actress. Michael Caine won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Hannah and Her Sisters and Diane Keaton received Best Actress for playing the title character in Annie Hall.
- American Beauty had the tagline in the trailer "If you think a comedy can't be moving, if you think a drama can't be funny, look closer". The film is essentially a comedy with the drama coming to the forefront in maybe the last fifteen minutes and it is widely regarded as one of the best films of the ’90s.
- There have been only four comedies winning Best Picture in the last 50-plus years. It's worth noting that three of these winners — The Apartment (1960), Annie Hall (1977), and Shakespeare in Love (1998) — aren't regarded as pure comedies; they all contain significant dramatic elements, though when these occur in Annie Hall it's still played for laughs. The other winner, 1963's Tom Jones, is a pure comedy, or very close to it... albeit one that's adapted from a respected 18th-century British novel.
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is mostly a comedy and is regarded as one of the best installments of the series. Of course, the whole series is already in the Sci Fi Ghetto.
- Considering cartoon comedies, Tom and Jerry is a major exception. Such shorts as Quiet, Please! and Yankee Doodle Mouse got an Oscar for the Best Short Animated Film; although it's also worth noting that the number of shorts that won this award is the same that their amount that was only nominated. Before Tom and Jerry, cutesy fare like Silly Symphonies shorts tended to always win the award while zany comedies were overlooked.
- Back to the Future got an Oscar nomination for its original story. Naturally, it lost to Witness, but for a sci-fi teen comedy that's practically a Best Picture win.
- Judd Apatow subverts this trope. His first two films were vulgar sex comedies (The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up) that both wound up named among the best ten films of the year by the American Film Institute. His third, Funny People, was markedly less of a comedy. He produced Bridesmaids and it got two Academy Award nominations (one for Melissa McCarthy's performance and another for the screenplay).
- Shakespeare himself applies as an exception. Literary scholars love his whole work: comedies, tragedies, histories, romances... everything. And everything has been on stage ever since he wrote it.
- Charlie Chaplin devoted much of the latter part of his film career showing that his film comedies could do far more than provide a few laughs. As a result, he has been honored as one of the great filmmakers with sophisticated satires like Modern Times, The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is the original Great American Novel, but it is mostly a comedic series of adventures, especially toward the end.
- James Joyce's Ulysses, one of the best-regarded novels of the 20th century, is essentially a comedy. Joyce himself claimed there was "not one single serious line in it". Of course, it does have True Art Is Incomprehensible on its side.
- Franz Kafka read his books aloud to his friends while supposedly roaring with laughter, and he is considered one of the great writers of the 20th century. That said, his works are just as often described as "nightmarish and terrifying" by critics.
- Don Quixote is often cited as the greatest novel ever written, and it's a Deconstructive Parody of Chivalric Romances.
- Catch-22 was ranked seventh on Modern Library's list of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and it's hilarious. Granted, it does get more serious later in the book.
- P. G. Wodehouse, whose novels are often critically acclaimed as being the product of both a great writer and a comic genius.
- Sci-fi comedy The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is considered a classic. Although literary critics often avoid it, reviewers have praised it and it has a very devoted cult following.
- A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a rare feat for a comedic novel.
- Beast Wars is probably the most zany and comically over-the-top series in the Transformers franchise, but owing to the mostly serious second season, it's often considered the best of them all by fans.
- Tropic Thunder gave an Oscar nomination for Robert Downey, Jr. for his very, very line-crossing character of Kirk Lazarus. Similarly, Downey and Tom Cruise were nominated for the golden globes.
- The Producers won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and spawned a Broadway musical adaptation that set a record for most Tony wins. Gene Wilder earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, for Chewing the Scenery as the original Leo Bloom, but lost to Jack Albertson, who played John Cleary in The Subject Was Roses.
- Annie Hall won the Oscar for Best Picture, and although Woody Allen lost as Best Actor in his best known role, he did so to another romantic comedy performance, Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl, not to the top contender in the category, Richard Burton in the drama Equus.
- Inverted initially with the Video Game industry, and averting it altogether later on. Video games have leaned towards having fun more than anything else ever since the existence of Pong, and it wound up taking a while before the medium started being recognized as a way to tell serious stories while keeping the gameplay solid. Even today, both comedy-oriented games and drama-oriented games are treated equally by critics and fans alike. Case and point: the grim, bleak Gone Home has nearly the exact same Metacritic score as the wacky, outrageous Borderlands 2.