Elements: Ignorance and Enlightenment 5/10

Posted on 24 June 2009

The comedy element of “ignorance and enlightement” is most popularly used in farce. Farce is a form of storytelling that involves exaggerated and improbable situations that frequently include witticisms, sexual innuendo, mistaken identity, and disguise. Classic examples would be Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. More recent examples would include Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot and John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers.

Ignorance and enlightenment are a matter of who knows what when. Usually the audience is in on the joke. Let’s say Aaron has been dating a big glam-rock star’s daughter. The relationship is quite a sweet one. When Aaron thinks he’s hanging out with a group of roadies and tries to impress by bragging about this relationship, he doesn’t realise that one of them is his girlfriend’s father without the makeup and glam gear. As the audience we watch on in horror and amusement as Aaron shoves his foot unwittingly further and further down his throat. The humour might be compounded by a friend who is frantically waving at Aaron to stop, since he’s understands the situation.

The next step in this scenario might be the girlfriend turns up chirping, “Oh Aaron, you’ve been introduced to Daddy!”  Aaron has now been enlightened as to his predicament and he needs to figure out how much he has given away and begin the painfully humorous effort of trying to dig himself out. When the father becomes enlightened to parts of the situation, as well as the girlfriend, these will also provide moments of uncomfortable humour involving poor silly Aaron.

Some Like It Hot ends with the character of Osgood, who has been determinedly offering marriage to Daphne, finally becoming enlightened that she is a man. He then utters the film’s memorable last line, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” This
enlightens the audience that perhaps Osgood’s sexuality is a bit blurred or that he’s desperate, and gets a laugh. Here the element of ignorance and enlightenment overlaps with the element of surprise and may in fact be a distinct subset.

Peace and kindness,


Elements of Comedy: Introduction

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