Comedy is like a chameleon. This is because society is always changing so the culture impacts what people may find funny. Each decade has its own distinct comedic code. Over the past century, we have seen film go from using physicality in silent films to musicals in the 1950’s to using darker themes in 21st century comedies. As time has gone on, there has been a large number of different genres that fall under the comedy umbrella such as: comedy-drama, romantic-comedy and black comedy. For example, William Wyler’s classic Roman Holiday, released in 1953 is worlds away from Edgar Wright’s 2004 black comedy, Shaun of the Dead.
There are comedies that have stood the test of time with Billy Wilder’s 1959 hit Some Like It Hot about two aspiring musicians who witness a murder and dress up as women to escape. The film brilliantly explores societies expectations on women as well as subtly bringing in undertones of attitudes towards homosexuality.
The comedies from the early/mid 20th century are traditionally synonymous with musicals with stars like Doris Day reaching an iconic status of popularity amongst fans. The happy singing and dancing of 1950’s cinema was a way of cheering up audiences during the aftermath of World War II. This contrasts with the comedy of today which aims to discuss serious issues in a more direct manner such as teenage pregnancy (Juno) and mental illness (Little Miss Sunshine). Although earlier comedies do incorporate societal critiques, the tones of the film are generally happy whereas comedies today are not afraid to leave the audience feeling shocked and incorporating a darker tone overall.
Because comedies are more mainstream and loved than dramas are, it is a way to see how the general public learns about important issues and how they coped with it. The fact that the comedies made during war time are happier in tone suggest that the film is primarily a means of escapism. On the other hand, the 21st century comedies demand that the audience face the issues head on. This is evident in the female-lead comedies this year that are demanding equality of the sexes with films such as the remake of Ghostbusters directly showing that a woman can do a “man’s job”.