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Comedy Ghetto

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"Everybody knows that comedy is the lowest form of entertainment, next to animation."

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 (if not downright incomprehensible), 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?note  Exactly, and the numbers predict that it's pretty unlikely. 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. For comedies that managed to avoid this stigma, see Out of the Ghetto. 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. But a movie that simply wants to be funny without an obvious message? Low-brow trash.

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 The 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.


Examples

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    Film 
  • While some films of Louis de Funès did good with most critics (his Gérard Oury efforts in particular, The Sucker, La Grande Vadrouille, Delusions of Grandeur and The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob), he generally wasn't a darling to them, due to him always playing slapstick comedy roles. Filmmakers and critics who became prominent with the French New Wave generally despised him and his popular success.
  • Many critics lamented Jean-Paul Belmondo's shift to action comedy roles (and action roles period) in the mid-1970s after he had been an icon of the French New Wave with groundbreaking dramas such as Breathless and Pierrot le Fou.
  • 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 Python's 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. (Reportedly, being in Boogie Nights hurt his chances more than Williams did.)
  • 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.
  • Essayist Steve Almond is on record as saying that Alan Ruck should've won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
  • 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.
  • Fantastic Four (2005) was disliked for keeping a lighthearted tone while other comic book films at the time of release including Sin City (also featuring Jessica Alba) and Batman Begins had gritty tones and were praised. There were other things that caused the movie to be panned.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe is sometimes hit with this by fans who dislike the light-hearted approach many of the movies take:
    • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is even more comedic than the others, and the trailers played up the comedy aspects. It was widely expected to bomb, though whether that was because of the comedy or the fact that its comic was pretty obscure is up for debate. Needless to say, the film is one of the highest-rated entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – effectively breaking out of the ghetto.
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron especially was attacked by a few fans for the characters making "too many jokes." Whether they have a point is up for debate, though the movie does get serious and contains many situations that aren't Played for Laughs.
    • Ant-Man broke out of the ghetto as well, despite many predicting it would become the MCU's first ever failure for being notably more comedic than the rest of the franchise. In fact, the comedy elements were praised, while the film's low points were the dramatic ones. It grossed $500 million worldwide and earned an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
    • While the Spider-Man films Homecoming and Far From Home have been well-received, they tended to get less praise than other films in the MCU, since they primarily served as Breather Episodes between more serious fare. By contrast, No Way Home was much Darker and Edgier, and not only made more money than any Spider-Man film prior, but managed to receive the most critical acclaim out of all the MCU Spider-Man films.
  • Speaking of superhero cinematic franchises, the DC Extended Universe tends to invert this; one of the most frequent criticisms for several of the movies so far released in it have received is that they're too dark, humorless and introspective, and could probably stand to lighten up and take themselves a bit less seriously like the MCU does.
  • Jim Carrey once said that the Academy didn't give him a Best Actor nomination for The Truman Show because of his "talking butt" routine; he would go on to be snubbed for his work in Man on the Moon (in which he played Anti-Humor pioneer Andy Kaufman) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as well. All three movies arguably qualify as Dramedy; Carrey actually won a Best Actor — Drama Golden Globe for The Truman Show and the corresponding Musical/Comedy award for Man on the Moon (he saw the latter as a case of Award Category Fraud), and picked up a nomination for Musical/Comedy for Eternal Sunshine too. Notably, Kate Winslet got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for Eternal Sunshine — Carrey's role is of equal importance, but Winslet is primarily associated with dramas and thus REAL acting, whereas Carrey came to fame in Large Ham Slapstick roles and never gave them up entirely even as his range broadened.
  • Happy Death Day is a clear Horror Comedy, but the filmmakers rejected the label, which is apparently deemed by producers as hard to sell to audiences, and instead the film was dubbed "horror fun" by them.
  • As film critic Redmond Bacon argues in his article for The Calvert Journal, the reception of Soviet films in the West suffers from this trope. The likes of Andrei Tarkovsky and Alexei German, who made often grim and artsy films, is much more known to Western audiences than, say, the works of Leonid Gaidai, Eldar Ryazanov or Georgi Daneliya, who made themselves famous from more comedic films. In former Soviet Union, Elem Klimov's brilliant Young Pioneer camp-set comedy Welcome, or No Trespassing is a favorite of many, yet in the West, he's much more known for Come and See, a very grim war film, often considered one of the best in the genre. Not only that, but the most watched Mosfilm movie on their official YouTube channel is Love and Pigeons, a comedy Westerners barely know about. Bacon goes on to suggest that stereotypes about Russia come into play, since comedies are believed to be less political and thus less prone to censorship (despite some of the most popular Soviet comedies containing clever and well-hidden jabs that flew past Soviet censors for one reason or another — Leonid Gaidai in particular was a master of Censor Decoy).
  • Because Pixar has become famous for their deep, mature, and emotional storytelling, their lighter films tend to be hit hard by this status, even if they become successful films in their own right.
    • Luca is a far smaller and more lighthearted affair than the rest of Pixar's output, as besides the cartoonier art style and greater emphasis on comedy, it has no grand adventure or the deep emotional and philosophical moments found in other Pixar films, and it has a more grounded and low-stakes conflict than other Pixar films, with even the main villain being more of a mean bully than a true legitimate threat (until the third act). While the film is still popular and beloved overall, its breezy Slice of Life tone and small stakes has caused some critics and Pixar fans to dismiss and scoff at the film, with some viewing it as inferior to Pixar's past work, if not one of the studio's weakest or even worst films, simply because it lacks the emotional depth and pathos that Pixar is known for.
    • Despite the fact Turning Red still has Pixar’s emotional storytelling, many people have been turned off from this movie due to having a bigger emphasis on comedy than the average film from the studio.
  • When the Academy averted this and awarded the Best Supporting Actress award to Marisa Tomei for her performance as Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny, it was considered such an upset that there were persistent (and false) rumors that the wrong name was read out and the Academy just went with it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Almost any time a sitcom starts to make an attempt at major Emmy nominations, the episode 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).
  • This digs a chasm of mutual misunderstanding between the critical élite, and everybody else, in Great Britain. There is a tradition of the critics expressing a shuddering distaste, at best, and outright contempt, at worst, for popular sitcoms and comedy productions. note  At the same time, works despised by the critics also tend to be beloved by fans. This only serves to make the critics crankier. A TV sitcom that suffered from this in The '70s was Love Thy Neighbour; even in the 2010's, it is still sought out by fans. A more recent example of a comedy hated by critics but which draws in millions of viewers is Mrs. Brown's Boys.
  • Doctor Who Fandom VIPs 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 harshly received 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.
    • Averted with the casting choice of Peter Capaldi, whose announcement was very well received despite his best known performance being from a comedy. Although it might have helped that the comedy he was best known for was a pitch-black satire of contemporary issues, which tends to be the type of comedy which is most likely to find its way out of the Ghetto and into critical acclaim; also, Capaldi was an avowed and longtime fan of the franchise. The Twelfth Doctor era (Series 8-10) was a Darker and Edgier stretch with very few Breather Episodes and a lot of horror content, but it incorporated humor into even the bleakest stories; in what is often seen as a response to complaints that Twelve was too cold and the tone too grim in Series 8, he and the show became lighter as it progressed. In addition, Series 8-9 companion Clara Oswald with her angsty character arc seems to be less popular than Series 10 companions Bill Potts and Nardole (the latter of whom originated, as Donna Noble had, as a one-off comedy character played by an established comic actor), wisecracking characters who may have been put through the wringer but more than pulled through in the end (especially Bill).
  • Averted with Supernatural. Comedic episodes like "The French Mistake" and "Mystery Spot" tend to get ranked as high as dramatic episodes like "Swan Song" and "What Is and What Should Never Be".

    Music 
  • 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 bemoans how the Academy must hate joy and laughter, Black begins challenging the nominees to fistfights to assert comedians' dominance, and Reilly says that they can have it both ways by also doing absurdly tragic Oscar Bait roles too.
  • 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 '60s. Nevertheless, both The Beatles and Monty Python have named them as a huge inspiration.
  • Frank Zappa also received more recognition as an 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.
  • Averted by Eminem, whose shock-comedy songs have won him more critical praise and esteem than most of his serious songs... although not necessarily outsold them, with his biggest commercial hits to date being "Lose Yourself", "Love The Way You Lie" and "Not Afraid", all of which are serious songs. However, this trope is responsible for a lot of the backlash he gets from non-listeners, who struggle to reconcile his position on the G.O.A.T. list with the humorous nature of his material, which can just seem like unintentionally funny bad lyrics if you aren't familiar with his body of work and only know the line from seeing it on a Genius lyric card.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • 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-centered 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.
  • Like a lot of things in pro wrestling people actually in the business see this differently than the fans do. In this excerpt from his podcast Jim Cornette tries his best to explain the difference between "wrestler that's funny" (which doesn't fit this trope) and "comedy wrestler" (which does.)
  • 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, and 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, and unlike many "comedy wrestlers" that do comedy to cover up the fact that they're just not very good wrestlers Eddie was an excellent technical wrestler (and a pretty great in-ring worker in general) that always put on fantastic matches, so the smart fans were very forgiving.
  • LayCool 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. Notably Michelle had been pushed as a serious ruthless heel before that, and fans were indifferent. When Michelle showed she had a knack for comedy, she was Rescued from the Scrappy Heap for many. Likewise Layla's comedic antics caused her to become an Ensemble Dark Horse.
  • CMLL exotico Maximo is an exception that proves the rule. Foreign viewers came under the assumption the promotion was more comedy based when they saw him as World Heavyweight Champion. It's not, the world heavyweight title simply isn't the end all be all of CMLL, where all weight classes are respected and of all the other world titles, none of them had contemporary titleholders to Maximo who were also comedy luchadores. In fact the only other champion you could call such was National Welterweight Champion Bárbaro Cavernario. Not to take away from their success, World anything is good and the Welterweight is the most prestigious of any level but it is more so the fact Mexican majors are just more open to giving pushes in general. Similarly, Los Psycho Circus were AAA's most popular trio but if they could be called a comedy group they still operated in what was otherwise one of AAA's most Darker and Edgier periods where they were the only 'comedy' champions.
  • Even after becoming Bullet Club's cleaner, there are fans that complain that Kenny Omega is too much of a cartoon character for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. These same complainers loved his Dramatic Dream Team work though and stand firm in their belief he is perfect for that promotion. To his credit, Omega went on to usurp Karl Anderson's leadership position and deport the stable's centerpiece AJ Styles.
  • Emma avoided the ghetto on NXT. Her gimmick was that of a Cute Clumsy Girl who thought she was a good dancer. Despite the comedy gimmick, she was still pushed as a (somewhat) serious title contender. On the main roster however, her character was Flanderised and she fell headlong into the ghetto – eventually finding herself back on NXT trying to restart her career with a Face–Heel Turn.
  • On NXT Summer Rae was treated as a serious competitor. There was a time when she had an undefeated streak. On the main roster as the dance partner to Fandango, she was instead presented as a bimbo who could only get fluke wins. Creative presumably realised she had a better affinity for playing a Brainless Beauty rather than an Alpha Bitch – but her Jobber status still raises eyebrows.
  • Jillian Hall initially avoided this - as she was still presented as a competent threat with her Hollywood Tone-Deaf gimmick. But around 2008 she suddenly became the go-to Diva for losing a Squash Match or getting a Humiliation Conga. She eventually stopped winning altogether, though she was granted one Divas' Championship reign – which lasted about a minute.
  • In general any heel with a comedy gimmick is likely to start out strong and undergo Flanderization into a Jobber before long.
  • Chikara, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and the Japanese promotion Dramatic Dream Team. Many older fans and especially those that still have a high degree of respect for Kayfabe are absolutely horrified by what they see with these promotions and others like them. The wider wrestling fanbase mostly just ignores them.
  • All Elite Wrestling is a permanent resident to some fansnote , often being described as "PWG with a TV deal", and considering that a lot of the same people hold high ranking positions in both companies it's not an unfair comparison. Subverted somewhat in that AEW CEO/booker Tony Khan really likes the comedic sort of wrestling (case in point, he's called Orange Cassidy his favorite wrestler, and it shows by the way Cassidy is booked) and much of this is by design, and he doesn't consider this trope a bad thing.

    Theatre 
  • 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!

    Video Games 
  • There has been much discontent from fans of Sonic the Hedgehog (well, more so than usual) when Ken Pontac and Warren Graff started writing the cutscenes and dialogue for the games, as they yanked the narrative style from the rather bleak and serious tone of games like Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) to the heavily comedic Sonic Colors and Sonic Lost World. And that's not even mentioning the actual quality of their writing, which according to most of the fanbase ranges from decent to pretty awful.
    • Another issue is the fact that SEGA's mandates are so restrictive in some areas that there is little that even can be done when even those up-top see the games as fluff for kids.
    • These same fans awaited Sonic Boom with dread as the list of names of the show's creative team came in and they are all comedy writers. Amusingly, this actually got subverted with time; while their fears were met for the first season, the constant shafting from both Cartoon Network and Boomerang gave the writers more confidence to do more surreal stuff in the second season; if no-one's ever going to see it, why not get creative?
  • Inverted with Team Fortress 2. It is an extremely ridiculous game, which carries over to its fandom making short vids about it with Source Filmmaker and Garry's Mod. Thus the serious shorts, including those submitted to the Drama category during the Saxxy Awards, often get looked down upon, claimed to be full of cliches. This isn't always the case, though, Story of a Sentry and Bad Medicine are usually regarded as fine dramatic videos.

    Web Original 
  • Both fans and haters of any Caustic Critic personality, such as Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation, can be found using this to support their respective defense or distaste of said critic. The former claim that because these people are principally entertainers, the content of their reviews cannot be criticized because they're "joking". Meanwhile, the latter often claim that because the given review series is "only" a comedy, the viewpoints expressed within cannot be taken as actual critical analysis and thus they are not "real reviewers".

    Western Animation 

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