Comedy (from the Greek: κωμῳδία, kōmōidía), as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse generally intended to amuse, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in Ancient Greece. In the Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was remarkably influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theaters. The theatrical genre can be simply described as a dramatic performance which pits two societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye famously depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old", but this dichotomy is seldom described as an entirely satisfactory explanation. A later view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes; in this sense, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to take recourse to ruses which engender very dramatic irony which provokes laughter.
Much comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict, repetitiveness, and the effect of opposite expectations, but there are many recognized genres of comedy. Satire and political satire use ironic comedy to portray persons or social institutions as ridiculous or corrupt, thus alienating their audience from the object of humor. Satire is a type of comedy. Parody borrows the form of some popular genre, artwork, or text but uses certain ironic changes to critique that form from within (though not necessarily in a condemning way). Screwball comedy derives its humor largely from bizarre, surprising (and improbable) situations or characters. Black comedy is defined by dark humor that makes light of so called dark or evil elements in human nature. Similarly scatological humor, sexual humor, and race humor create comedy by violating social conventions or taboos in comic ways. A comedy of manners typically takes as its subject a particular part of society (usually upper class society) and uses humor to parody or satirize the behavior and mannerisms of its members. Romantic comedy is a popular genre that depicts burgeoning romance in humorous terms, and focuses on the foibles of those who are falling in love.
The word "comedy" is derived from the Classical Greek κωμῳδία kōmōithía, which is a compound either of κῶμοςkômos (revel) or κώμη kṓmē (village) and ᾠδή ōidḗ (singing); it is possible that κῶμος itself is derived from κώμη, and originally meant a village revel. The adjective "comic" (Greek κωμικός kōmikós), which strictly means that which relates to comedy is, in modern usage, generally confined to the sense of "laughter-provoking". Of this, the word came into modern usage through the Latin comoedia and Italian commedia and has, over time, passed through various shades of meaning.
Greeks and Romans confined the word "comedy" to descriptions of stage-plays with happy endings. In the Middle Ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, La Divina Commedia. As time progressed, the word came more and more to be associated with any sort of performance intended to cause laughter. During the Middle Ages, the term "comedy" became synonymous with satire, and later humour in general, after Aristotle's Poetics was translated into Arabic in the medieval Islamic world, where it was elaborated upon by Arabic writers and Islamic philosophers, such as Abu Bischr, his pupil Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes. Due to cultural differences, they disassociated comedy from Greek dramatic representation and instead identified it with Arabic poetic themes and forms, such as hija (satirical poetry). They viewed comedy as simply the "art of reprehension", and made no reference to light and cheerful events, or troublous beginnings and happy endings, associated with classical Greek comedy. After the Latin translations of the 12th century, the term "comedy" thus gained a more general semantic meaning in Medieval literature.
Comedy is one of the original four genres of literature defined by the philosopher Aristotle in the work Poetics. The other three genres are tragedy, epic poetry, and lyric poetry. Literature in general is defined by Aristotle as a mimesis, or imitation of, life. Comedy is the third form of literature, being the most divorced from a true mimesis. Tragedy is the truest mimesis, followed by epic poetry, comedy and lyric poetry. The genre of comedy is defined by a certain pattern according to Aristotle's definition. All comedies begin with a low, typically with an "ugly" guy who cannot do anything right. By the end of the story or play, the "ugly" guy has won the "pretty" girl, or achieved some other goal. Comedies usually also have elements of the supernatural, typically magic and, for the Ancient Greeks, the gods. Comedy includes the unrealistic in order to portray the realistic. For the Greeks, all comedies ended happily which is opposite of tragedy, which ends sadly.
Aristophanes, a dramatist of the Ancient Greek Theater wrote 40 comedies, 11 of which survive and are still being performed. In ancient Greece, comedy seems to have originated in bawdy and ribald songs or recitations apropos of fertility festivals or gatherings, or also in making fun at other people or stereotypes.Aristotle, in his Poetics, states that comedy originated in Phallic songs and the light treatment of the otherwise base and ugly. He also adds that the origins of comedy are obscure because it was not treated seriously from its inception.
In ancient Sanskrit drama, Bharata Muni's Natya Shastra defined humour (hāsyam) as one of the nine nava rasas, or principle rasas (emotional responses), which can be inspired in the audience by bhavas, the imitations of emotions that the actors perform. Each rasa was associated with a specific bhavas portrayed on stage. In the case of humour, it was associated with mirth (hasya).
Comedy took on a different view with the advent of the Christian era. The comic genre was divided by Dante in his work The Divine Comedy, made up of the epic poems Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Dante's division of comedy into three sub genres still exist today in various forms. Inferno represents the darkest of all comedies, or what is known as dark or black comedy. In such comedy, one is forced to laugh or enjoy dark or black topics that one shouldn't enjoy or laugh at. Generally, most who read the whole Divine Comedy find the Inferno to be the most enjoyable of the three. At the end of the dark comedy, one is still left with a sense of hope but one has not necessarily achieved what one has looked for. Purgatorio is made up of what most comedies today possess. Purgatorio is light hearted, at least compared to Inferno, and yet one still does not achieve fully what one looks for. As such, Purgatorio leaves the main character with a sense of hope greater than what was felt at the end of Inferno. Paradiso is the most traditional of the three in way of the Greek standard of comedy. The supernatural play a huge role in all three poems, but Paradiso ends the happiest of all three with the main character achieving his goal. Infernal, Purgatorial and Paradisal comedies are the three main genres in which one can place all other comic forms.
The phenomena connected with laughter and that which provokes it have been carefully investigated by psychologists. They agreed the predominant characteristics are incongruity or contrast in the object and shock or emotional seizure on the part of the subject. It has also been held that the feeling of superiority is an essential factor: thus Thomas Hobbes speaks of laughter as a "sudden glory". Modern investigators have paid much attention to the origin both of laughter and of smiling, as well as the development of the "play instinct" and its emotional expression.
George Meredith, in his 1897 classic Essay on Comedy, said that "One excellent test of the civilization of a country ... I take to be the flourishing of the Comic idea and Comedy; and the test of true Comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter." Laughter is said to be the cure to being sick. Studies show that people who laugh more often get sick less.
Comedy may be divided into multiple genres based on the source of humor, the method of delivery, and the context in which it is delivered. The different forms often overlap, and most comedy can fit into multiple genres. Some of the sub-genres of comedy are farce, comedy of manners, burlesque, and satire.