It is to laugh

Anyone here know the difference between humour and comedy?

The reason I ask is that someone on one of my forums posted a question – “What kind of comedy do you write?” My immediate response was – “I don’t; I write humour.” Right on top of that I thought, “Okay, so why do you call it humour, and not comedy?” (I already know why I call it “humour” and not “humor”, eh?)

I looked up both “comedy” and “humour” in the OED, and found that “humour” was defined (amongst the whack of definitions around bodily fluids and temperament) as a quality of action, speech or writing which incites amusement. “Comedy” was defined almost entirely in terms of drama and performance.

When I read this, it made perfect sense to me that I would define what I write as “humour” rather than “comedy”. My earliest pieces of humour were done for print. In the early nineties, when I was a freelancer for CBC, my humour was broadcast on air, voice only. I don’t think I could be said to have performed it – I read it. I’m a good reader, so I used tone, timing and vocal expression as I read, and, of course, I’d read any piece probably a dozen times before I went to air, so I was able to sound a little more off the cuff than off the page. Still, it was speech, not physical action.

Last weekend at the Open Mike I performed a piece about lambing. I’d written the original in the late nineties, and I edited it for time before the open mike. I’ve also told the story, in an abbreviated form, for years, so I was familiar enough with it that I didn’t look at my notes. As I told it, I used some gestures for emphasis. I suppose at that point, what I was doing was probably comedy, although I was still thinking of it as humour.

The other difference between humour and comedy – and I’m willing to believe this may be my personal perception – is that if someone says “comedy”, I think that the laughs are the point, and there’d better be lots of them. If someone says “humour”, I think that the tone will be light and there will be amusement, but whether or not you laugh out loud is still to be seen. “Dark humour”, perversely, also has a light tone, but it’s a lightness about grim things, so it’s a darker light. Kinda like Manitoba when the Red River flooded in 1997: “Yeah, it’s wet, all right, but it’s a dry wet!” *

Comedy, I also think, relies more on physical expression – by which I don’t necessarily mean slapstick, although slapstick fits into that. Someone pretending to sew their fingers together, that old visual joke, is performing comedy. Monty Python did both humour and comedy, because many of their pieces work well even without the visual cues (“The Philosopher’s Song”, for example) and some (like “Ministry of Silly Walks”) do not. I think I would still classify puns as humour, because they rely on a verbal twist to work, rather than a physical one.

I still say I don’t write comedy – I write humour. Baker’s humour, if you like, because it’s usually light and wry.

Go ahead, tell me you didn’t groan.

* Manitobans are prone to dismiss the winter’s chill with, “Yeah, it’s cold, all right, but it’s a dry cold.”

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