September 29, 2013

Comedy = tragedy + time.

Yesterday, this blog was devoted to the topic of comedy and tragedy, with particular emphasis on the aphorism "Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel," which might be the most famous + insightful thing ever said about comedy and tragedy. The competition is that Mel Brooks quote I was redoing the other day — "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die" — and the one you see above in the title to this post — "Comedy is tragedy plus time."

That aphorism invites criticism. One is that it should be phrased "tragedy plus time allows comedy" — because you still have to say something funny about the old tragedy. Another is that it may be that we feel free to make light of old-enough tragedies, but that's something pretty disgusting about us, as is extremely well explained by the comedian David Mitchell here:

19 comments:

Lionheart said...

The other side is two normal activities tied together to make a negative. Taxing and spending apart are just activities but the "Tax and Spend Liberal" hoovers up your assets in order to spread them to those deemed more worthy.

And, why never a mention of the almost as common Tax and Spend Conservative? Well I guess that is a RINO.

Mary Beth said...

He mentions setting a sketch in WWI or WWII. That made me think of one from the Mitchell and Webb show about Nazis.

rhhardin said...

Tragedy involves goats.

Imus: [The goats] apparently were eaten by coyotes, of which there are a bunch out there at the ranch.

Andrea Mitchell: Oh my God. A tragedy.

July 27, 1999

surfed said...

The old saw - It's not funny till someone gets hurt. Then it's hilarious.

EDH said...

Never knew the specific origin of the "red-hot poker up the ass" thing.

In addition to these disasters, Edward II is remembered for his probable death in Berkeley Castle, allegedly by murder, and for being the first monarch to establish colleges at Oxford and Cambridge: Oriel College at Oxford and King's Hall, a predecessor of Trinity College, at Cambridge.

Would all make sense if he instituted diversity training.

David said...

"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln . . . . "

Long running joke about one of the nation's greatest tragedies.

I wonder when this phrase came into general usage? Probably earlier than we think.

William said...

There are many deaths in Hamlet, and we consider some of them tragic and others comical. Hamlet and Ophelia:tragic. Rosenkranz and Guildenstern: comical, or at least absurd. It's the death of Polonius that concerns me. Polonius is halfway between a figure of fun and a figure of wisdom. His death is not quite tragic and not quite nonsensical. We don't know what to make of it. I bring this up because were Polinius alive today, I'm certain that he would be active on the Internet and most probably a compulsive blogger. It's not just the distance of time that separates us from tragedy but the distance of their identity,

Left Bank of the Charles said...

What about The Great Dictator (1940) and Casablanca (1942)?

William said...

I always thought pillage was what happened when seniors, e.g. me, tried to open one of those child proof prescription bottles with unfortunate results.....You can make a funny movie about a Viking raid of a British or Irish village, but try making a funny movie about Muslim raiders striking an African village.

Jupiter said...

"Raping and pillaging" may not necessarily involve anyone getting his knickers undone. Compare "rapine and plunder", which simply means forcible theft.

But while we are on the subject, why is rape so horrible? We see fictional depictions of violent death everywhere, and apparently most people don't find that particularly disturbing (I do). But show someone getting raped, and people, like this comic, get disturbed. I would rather not have to choose, but if I had to choose, I would rather be raped than murdered. Wouldn't you?

Don said...

"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce." -- Karl Marx

Hmmm... so first comes tragedy, then later (adding time) it is farce (which is a form of comedy). Thus, tragedy + time = comedy!

So, I just have to ask, does that mean that Marx's economics was a tragedy, and Obama's is a farce?

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Sorry to rain on your parade, but "life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel" is NOT insightful. It is exactly 50% wrong, because ...

Life is a tragedy to those who (really )think.

Skyler said...

I had always thought the correct term is "rapine and pillage" which follows the old custom of using two terms for a legal concept, such as "aid and abet" and "hue and cry" among many others.

Skyler said...



This website indicates that I am right and the original phrase was "rapine and pillage."

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Life is a comedy to those who feel ticklish. Life is a tragedy to those who feel pricklish.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Comedy = tragedy + ... timing

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

"Those who think, laugh; those who feel, cry; those who think and feel, scream." I forget who said it -- haven't found it online.
"It is better to think than to do, better to feel than to think, and best of all simply to look." -- Goethe, I thought, but haven't found it online.
It's extremely boring to read Goethe's works as such, but he's got an awful lot of wise quotes: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=goethe&commit=Search

RonF said...

I'd always heard it as "Tragedy is something bad that happens to me. Comedy is something bad that happens to you."

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

No.

It's "Comedy plus tragedy equals time." At least it is in one versions, possibly the Woody Allen version. But I'm not inclined to look it up because I think that's the perfect way to think about it.

Adding in "allows" means that we need some sort of permission. We don't need permission. We have certain loose rules, to be sure, but we don't need permission. And we certainly feel free to break those rules and suffer the consequences, should there be any.

It seems to me that comedians are chafing under too many rules lately... at least some are... and it's not a good thing.