Elements: Exaggeration 10/10

Posted on 03 January 2011

For myself when it comes to doctors, scientists, historians, sociologists, etc, I want them to present the truth as fairly as possible without exaggeration. I decide for myself how I wish to respond or take action.

People who deal in facts, and who distort the facts in order to push for perhaps genuinely needed change, can do more harm than good. Fear is certainly a public motivator. Lies revealed, that were said for the “public good”, create disillusionment and apathy.

It is the job of experts to tell it to us straight. It is the job of storytellers to get people interacting with material facts intellectually and emotionally. Once we are in the realm of comedy people know we are in a play world, where reality is stretched and twisted and examined from a myriad of unusual and original perspectives.

Comedy is the fun way to engage people’s attention and potentially come up with real solutions. People don’t necessarily walk away frightened, depressed, or muddled by misrepresented facts. Facts may not enter into it at all, just “what-if”s.

Distopian fiction relies on “what if things continue in this manner” or “what if an aspect of this situation distorts itself out of proportion”. Disney’s humorous film Wall-E follows a distopian story arc. In the film’s world technology does everything for the humans. So much so that adult humans have become overweight babies who are transported, as if in an electronic pram, from one distraction to another. They have left Earth because by living in a wasteful indulgent culture, their pollution has destroyed the environment.

No one believes we will become the baby-people portrayed in Wall-E. However, we may already be suffering from some of the same issues the characters face. The fun and excitement we experience from this story may give us the strength to peek into the mirror at our own lives.

This sort of comic storytelling has been around for a long time: Gulliver’s Travels by Swift was published in 1726; Don Quixote by Cervantes, which was also the world’s first novel, was published in 1605; and Lysistrata by Aristophanes was originally performed in 411 BC. I’m sure examples exist even further back.

Exaggeration and buffoonery is how jesters are able to speak truth to the king. What the jesters present can be freely thought about or dismissed as foolishness. Jesters have traditionally been safe in the realm of political debate—and yet people of all political persuasions would hear the message.

Comedy uses a wide variety of exaggerations from the extraordinarily large to the exceptionally small, from overstatement to understatement.

Oversized props are an easy source of humour. The Goodies are famous for pulling out giant hammers, hats or enormous kittens. A clown car where the size of the car is miniscule, but the number of clowns emerging is out of proportion with the obvious space inside, has been a longstanding comic trope. Undersized props can be equally funny. Many comics will signal that they are a source of humour by wearing clothes that are too small. It’s as if they haven’t noticed they are no longer children and have outgrown their pants.

Most comic acting is emotionally over-wrought. Small troubles are magnified. The breaking of a toy is given the same emotional significance as a death in the family. The absurdity of the reaction is what helps give perspective on what truly deserves our rage, grief, or determination. Understatement can be a more subtle way of doing this. Marty the Martian in Bugs Bunny calmly states, “I’m going to blow up the Earth, it obstructs my view of Venus.”

Degrees of reaction are often paired with degrees of intensity in the actual situation. In Shaun of the Dead Shaun is at first underwhelmed by a highly dangerous situation involving deadly zombies. In The Young Ones Neil attempts suicide when no one cares about the lentil casserole he has made for tea.

Sometimes exaggeration is found in the complexity of a situation, and we are left wondering if the protagonist can possibly pull off saving the day. A classic version of this is a husband coming home and a wife having to hide not one, but several lovers in several locations. The fun is had as she tries numerous ways to cover up her deceptions.

Obvious exaggeration is a marvelous tool for bringing people to understand where real balance lays.

Peace and kindness,


Elements of Comedy Introduction

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