Skip to content Skip to footer

The 10 Hilarious Comedy Subgenres

Comedy

Comedy

We all love a good laugh. This is our gateway to happiness when our days go wrong.

Sometimes.

Depending on your sense of humor, there is a comedy subgenre for everyone. Some might like slapstick like the good ol’ days, some might prefer raunchy blue comedy. It depends on the mood and what will help you escape the dark reality you’re in.

The idea for comedy is a true escape from the natures of our reality. Based on my experience, whenever I’m having a bad day, and watch a comedy special or film or read hilarious stories and even Instagram comments, my day soothes itself out.

Now, I’m not saying comedy is the genre to escape responsibilities, but at least it’ll leave you a bit relieved that the world isn’t as dark as we perceive.

It feels good to laugh and, in fact, can be stress relieving.

If you’d like to understand the science behind why we love to laugh, take a look at this article by Anne Libera on The Science of Comedy (Sort of).

Contents

Disclaimer

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means that I may receive a commission for purchases made through links in this post, at no additional cost to you. To learn more, go to our Affiliate Disclosure page and our Privacy Policy page.

The Many Faces of Comedy

Comedy has played a crucial role in human culture for thousands of years. It’s our way of coping, critiquing, and, of course, laughing. Over the years, comedy has developed into various subgenres, each offering its unique brand of humor. This post will explore ten major subgenres of comedy and offer examples from both literature and film.

In literature, comedy can be traced back to ancient Greek theater, with playwrights like Aristophanes and Menander. Over time, the genre has transformed, with significant contributions during various eras. For example, William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan comedies, the satirical works of Jonathan Swift and Voltaire, and the literary humorists of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, have all played a noteworthy role.

In film, comedy became a prominent genre since the early days of cinema. Silent film stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were famous for their comedic roles. Sound revolutionized the genre, leading to include screwball comedies, romantic comedies, parodies, slapstick, and other forms. Directors and actors like Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers, and more recently, Judd Apatow and Wes Anderson, have significantly influenced comedic cinema.

Comedy in both literature and film often relies on exaggeration, satire, irony, and elements of the absurd to highlight human follies and societal issues, providing entertainment while also, at times, offering subtle social commentary.

If you would like a more detailed and theoretical approach to comedy, I suggest you get your hands on these books.

The Comic Toolbox How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not

Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why

Dante’s Comedy and the Ethics of Invective in Medieval Italy: Humor and Evil

Jane Austen and Comedy

Historical Overview

Medieval and Renaissance Influences

During the Medieval and Renaissance periods, comedy often intertwined with societal and religious themes. Medieval plays, like the farces and morality plays, used humor to teach moral lessons, while Renaissance comedies, epitomized by works of Shakespeare, explored human nature through clever wordplay, mistaken identities, and intricate plot twists.

The 19th Century Boom

This era saw a shift towards more realistic and satirical forms of comedy in literature. Authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens used wit and irony to critique social norms and class structures, while playwrights like Oscar Wilde pushed boundaries with their sharp social commentary and sophisticated humor.

20th Century Expansion

The 20th century witnessed the diversification of comedy in both literature and film. The silent film era brought physical, slapstick comedy with stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. As the century progressed, genres like parody, satire, and dark comedy gained popularity, reflecting and critiquing the tumultuous social and political landscape.

Contemporary Landscape

In the contemporary realm, comedy continues to evolve, with stand-up, sitcoms, and comedic films reflecting current societal issues and trends. The rise of digital media has also played a significant role, enabling a broader range of voices and styles to emerge and reach global audiences. Today’s comedy is marked by its inclusivity, diversity, and ability to adapt to changing societal norms and technologies.

The 10 Comedy Subgenres

Slapstick

Slapstick icon

Slapstick comedy is like the universal language of laughter. I mean, come on, no matter where you’re from, there’s just something so hilarious about seeing someone get into an over-the-top situation—like slipping on a banana peel or getting a pie right in the face. It’s all about the visual gags, the kind of humor that doesn’t need translation. This type of comedy finds its roots in the silent film era, where the action spoke louder than words.

Now, let’s talk about where we see this kind of comedy light up our world. In literature, Jerome K. Jerome gives us a front-row seat to a comedy show with Three Men in a Boat. An adventure filled with mishaps and witty commentary, all while rowing down the Thames River.

Then there’s P.G. Wodehouse, who introduces us to Bertie Wooster and Jeeves in The Code of the Woosters. The plot is a whirlwind of bizarre situations, encompassing encounters with a cow creamer and evading a fascist dictator, all interwoven with miscommunication and social errors.

Films, too, have their fair share of slapstick marvels. The General (1926), a silent film that blends action with comedy in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat, laughing as a train engineer becomes an accidental Civil War hero.

Fast forward to the ’90s, and we get Dumb and Dumber (1994), where the cross-country antics of two lovably clueless friends turn a simple task into an unforgettable adventure. And who could forget Tommy Boy (1995)? It’s a road trip that turns into a hilarious quest to save the family business, with every turn bringing a new laugh.

Farce

Farce icon

Farce is like the wild child of comedy, where everything that can go hilariously wrong does, and then some. Imagine being caught up in a whirlwind of mistaken identities, disguises, and a pace so fast it makes your head spin. It’s the kind of humor that thrives on the improbable, pushing the boundaries of believability to create a delicious mess of confusion.

Take Noises Off by Michael Frayn, for example. It’s a play that peeks behind the curtain, showing us the chaotic underbelly of a theatrical production spiraling out of control. This story isn’t just about what happens on stage; it’s the off-stage drama, with a cast of characters tripping over their own lives (and props), that steals the show.

Or consider Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas, set in the prim and proper setting of Victorian England, yet anything but dignified. It’s a comedic riot that starts with a simple act of impersonation and spirals into a tangle of romantic pursuits and mistaken identities.

In the realm of film, Some Like It Hot (1959) takes us on a comedic journey with two musicians on the run, diving headfirst into the world of disguise and unexpected romance. It’s a story that blends the essence of farce with a touch of screwball, creating a classic that resonates with audiences even decades later.

Another good example is The Pink Panther (1963) brings us the unforgettable Inspector Clouseau, a detective whose incompetence is only matched by his confidence. His pursuit of a jewel thief, amidst a cascade of mishaps, is comedy gold, painting a picture of farce through the lens of a clueless hero.

Satire

Satire icon

Satire is like society’s own mirror, making our quirks, missteps, and absurdities bigger and funnier. It’s a place where humor and critique unite, using irony, sarcasm, and parody to make us ponder, push boundaries, and maybe, just maybe, make us see the world in a whole new way.

Satire is captivating because it’s entertaining and insightful. It doesn’t just aim to amuse but to enlighten, offering a humorous take on the issues at hand. Through its clever commentary and biting humor, satire engages us in a conversation about society, politics, and human nature, leaving us not only entertained but perhaps a bit wiser.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift takes us on a journey far beyond the ordinary, where each fantastical land and its inhabitants serve up pointed observations on human nature and the peculiarities of 18th-century society. It’s an adventure that’s as much about exploring strange new worlds as it is about uncovering the oddities of our own.

Then there’s Animal Farm by George Orwell, a tale that starts with the noblest of intentions, a society of equals, free from human oppression. Yet, this farmyard fable quickly devolves into a story of power, corruption, and betrayal, mirroring the very human follies it seeks to critique.

A classic, The Great Dictator (1940), with Charlie Chaplin in dual roles, offers a bold, comedic critique of tyranny and fascism. Chaplin’s portrayal of a Jewish barber and a dictator not only mocks Hitler but also highlights the power of satire to challenge authoritarianism.

Another example is Dr. Strangelove (1964), a hilarious movie that satirizes the Cold War’s brinkmanship, featuring a crazy general causing a nuclear standoff. Through a mix of dark humor and political satire, it confronts the absurdity of nuclear politics, making us laugh at what’s essentially a terrifying prospect.

Parody

Parody icon

Parody is a brilliant genre where imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but also the funniest. Parody takes elements from popular works, genres, or styles and amplifies them to create a world where the ordinary becomes hilariously strange. It’s a balancing act of mockery and admiration.

Parodies work because they’re familiar and surprising at the same time. It invites us into worlds we think we know, only to reveal them through a lens of exaggeration and humor. Whether it’s mocking the sacred or ridiculing the serious, parody reminds us not to take it all too seriously and that sometimes, the best way to appreciate something is to see the funny side of it.

In literature Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is like the ultimate parody in literature, poking fun at chivalry while still praising it. We follow the slightly crazy Don Quixote and his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza on a wild adventure, fighting windmill giants and imaginary duels. It’s all about knights, romance, and honor.

Bored of the Rings by Harvard Lampoon dives into the realms of fantasy, skewering J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic with a parody that’s as audacious as it is hilarious. Here, the quest is ridiculous, the heroes unlikely, and the adventure so loaded with gags and puns, it’s a wonder Middle-Earth survived the satire.

In the film world, Spaceballs (1987) by Mel Brooks launches us into a galaxy far, far away from serious, with a spoof that takes on Star Wars and doesn’t let go. It’s a comedic quest to save the princess (and the audience) from the clutches of boredom, proving that space opera and slapstick are a match made in the heavens.

This example was what probably introduced me to parody when I was younger, Scary Movie (2000). This film turns the horror genre upside down, taking the tropes of slashers and ghost stories and running them through a comedy shredder. The result is a movie that is both clever and amusing, demonstrating that laughter can be a powerful tool in confronting our fears.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) mixes zombies with zingers, creating a parody that’s also a loving homage to horror. As Shaun and his pals fumble their way through the apocalypse, we’re treated to a story that’s as much about friendship and love as it is about surviving hordes of the undead.

Romantic Comedy

Romantic Comedy icon

Romantic comedies are like the cozy, feel-good sweater of the cinema and literary world. They’re the stories that take the rollercoaster ride of romance, with all its ups, downs, twists, and turns, and sprinkle it liberally with laughter. At their heart, romantic comedies remind us that the path to love is never straightforward, but it’s the detours, mishaps, and miscommunications that make the journey worthwhile.

In literature, Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding takes us through the life of Bridget Jones, charting her romantic mishaps and personal discoveries with a humor and honesty that’s as endearing as it is amusing. It’s a story that reimagines the classic themes of Pride and Prejudice in the diary of a woman who’s just trying to figure it all out.

Emma by Jane Austen introduces us to Emma Woodhouse, a well-meaning but somewhat meddlesome heroine, whose attempts at playing matchmaker in her small English village lead to a series of comic misunderstandings and romantic entanglements. Austen’s sharp wit and keen social observation make the journey to love both entertaining and insightful.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby dives into the intertwining worlds of love and music, following Rob as he revisits past relationships to the soundtrack of his life. It’s a novel that explores the humor and heartache of love, all set against a backdrop of obsessive record collecting.

On the big screen, When Harry Met Sally (1989) is a movie if you want to see how guys and girls navigate friendship and romance. The dialogues and scenarios in this movie are unforgettable, perfectly capturing the spirit of romantic comedy.

On a more contemporary side, Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) mixes laughter with the complexities of love at various stages of life. Through interconnected stories, it showcases the silly, serious, and sometimes convoluted paths we take in the pursuit of love.

For more information and other examples, check out my post on Romance.

Screwball Comedy

Screwball Comedy icon

Screwball comedy is a super fun genre from the 30s and 40s that flips romance upside down, adds tons of humor, and serves it with crazy antics. The dialogue is sharp and the characters, especially the female leads, are anything but typical damsels in distress. These stories are wild and funny, showing the chaos of love and battles between the sexes.

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, though a more contemporary offering, channels the essence of screwball comedy with its story of a dysfunctional family forced to come together. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the characters are eccentric yet relatable, making this comedy a timeless gem.

On film, most of the good ones were released during the times of the 30s and 40s. Bringing Up Baby (1938) stands as a pillar of the genre, with its tale of a straight-laced paleontologist and a free-spirited heiress. Their misadventures, involving a pet leopard and a series of improbable mishaps, capture the screwball comedy’s hallmark blend of romance and chaotic humor.

His Girl Friday (1940) speeds through its story with rapid-fire dialogue and a plot that twists and turns with every line. By seamlessly integrating romance, humor, and a critical examination of societal norms, screwball comedies keep the audience entertained and engaged.

Black Comedy (or Dark Comedy)

Black Comedy icon

Dark comedy, also known as black comedy, is a fearless genre that boldly explores society’s deepest fears and taboos. It’s a place where laughter and the macabre come together, revealing the shadows of our world with a humor that’s both unsettling and undeniable. This subgenre finds humor in things that are usually not funny, like death and disaster, and makes us laugh instead of despair.

In the literary world, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde might seem like an odd companion in this genre, yet it’s a brilliant example of how dark comedy can skewer societal norms and expectations. Through the farcical tale of mistaken identities and romantic entanglements, Wilde wittily exposes the pretensions and hypocrisies of Victorian society, proving that humor can be a powerful weapon against the status quo.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis dives into the darkness of the human psyche with a narrative that’s both horrifying and hilariously satirical. Following the life of Patrick Bateman, a man who embodies the zenith of 80s excess and nihilism, Ellis’s novel is a chilling, comedic critique of capitalism, vanity, and apathy.

On the screen, Fargo (1996) brilliantly blends the bleak with the absurd in a crime story set against the stark, snowy backdrop of Minnesota. The Coen Brothers masterfully mix murder, kidnapping, and quirky Minnesotan niceties, creating a comedy of errors that’s as dark as it is deeply human.

One of my favorites in this subgenre, In Bruges (2008) takes us on a journey with two hitmen as they navigate the picturesque streets of Bruges, Belgium, wrestling with issues of guilt, morality, and existential dread. It’s a film that marries the beauty of its setting with the grim reality of its characters’ lives, crafting a story that’s both darkly funny and poignantly tragic.

Observational Comedy

Observational Comedy icon

Observational comedy is like a playful jab, calling out the everyday absurdities we all know. You don’t need over-the-top setups or fictional worlds to find this humor funny. From weird morning routines to awkward social interactions, observational comedy is relatable and hilarious.

In literature, SeinLanguage by Jerry Seinfeld translates the iconic comedian’s stand-up magic onto the page, offering a glimpse into the quirky observations that made both him and the television show Seinfeld household names. Seinfeld has a knack for unraveling the ordinary, showcasing the humor hidden in life’s most mundane moments.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson invites readers into the hilariously bizarre world of its author. Lawson’s recounting of her upbringing and adult life bridges the gap between the outrageous and the relatable, proving that truth is not only stranger than fiction but often much funnier.

If you’ve ever been bored working in an office, Office Space (1999) is the movie for you. The way it mocks corporate culture and the longing to escape really speaks to all of us who are fed up.

Clerks (1994) captures the essence of a day in the life of two retail workers, transforming the seemingly mundane into a backdrop for existential banter and comedic encounters. It’s a snapshot of 90s culture that finds humor in the inertia of the everyday.

Superbad (2007) navigates the trials and tribulations of teenage life with a keen eye for the ridiculousness of growing up. Its exploration of friendship, the awkwardness of high school parties, and the anxiety of impending adulthood hits home because it’s rooted in the real-life experiences that shape us all.

Deadpan (or Dry Humor)

Deadpan icon

Dry humor is when you say something funny without cracking a smile, proving that it’s all about the delivery (or lack thereof). This style of comedy turns the delivery on its head, making the lack of reaction part of the punchline. It’s the perfect match for those who love their humor served with a side of subtlety, relying on the sharp contrast between a stoic expression and the absurdity of the words being spoken.

You have to check out Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s an epic story about an angel and a demon trying to save the world. The book is hilarious because it treats the end of the world like it’s just small talk.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams takes us on a bizarre journey through the cosmos. Adams has a way of describing crazy situations like they’re normal, which makes Arthur Dent’s space adventures even funnier.

On film, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) by Wes Anderson uses a deadpan narrative style to explore the quirky dynamics of a dysfunctional family, blending visual and verbal understatement to create a comedy that’s both sophisticated and subtly hilarious.

In the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), we are introduced to a high schooler who possesses a unique talent for breaking the fourth wall, effortlessly delivering lines directly to the audience. His chill vibe adds charm and amusement to his exciting escapades and clever observations.

Blue Comedy

Blue Comedy icon

Blue comedy fearlessly ventures into the world of the risqué and the ribald, fearlessly joking about topics often only whispered about in private. This subgenre thrives on its audacity, pulling humor from the complexities, embarrassments, and absurdities of adult life. This comedy fearlessly defies societal norms, finding humor in experiences that are typically considered taboo.

In literature, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth stands as a pillar of blue comedy, offering a no-holds-barred look into the psyche of Alexander Portnoy as he lays bare his sexual neuroses to his psychoanalyst. Roth’s novel broke ground by bringing sex and identity into the comedic spotlight, challenging societal norms with every page.

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk mixes dark humor with a critique of addiction, family dynamics, and the desperation of human connection. Palahniuk goes deep into the messed up stuff humans do and the search for who they are, with a funny twist thanks to Victor Mancini.

When it comes to raunchy rom-coms, There’s Something About Mary (1998) is the gold standard. It’s got heartfelt moments and unabashedly bold humor. The movie is all about love, even when things get awkward or over-the-top. It’s about finding the relatable moments in the uncomfortable ones.

American Pie (1999) authentically depicts the journey of teenagers exploring their sexuality in a way that is both shocking and incredibly relatable. This movie fearlessly explores the awkwardness of adolescence, finding humor in the pursuit of sexual milestones.

Writing Comedy

Crafting comedy is like mixing the perfect cocktail: too much of one ingredient can throw off the entire experience. To begin with, it’s important to be well-versed in various comedy subgenres. Physicality is key for slapstick, irony is essential for satire, and a touch of romance and heart is necessary for rom-coms. Craft characters with unique traits that are so realistic, they practically jump off the page (or screen). Timing is the key to humor.

Surprise your audience. lead them down one path, then flip the script. This isn’t just about punchlines, it’s about playing with expectations. It could be through clever wordplay in a rom-com or the absurd setups of parody.

Conflict and misunderstandings? Comedy gold. They’re the engines driving the hilarity in farces and screwball comedies.

But don’t forget, your jokes must do more than just amuse. They should peel back layers of your characters or nudge the plot forward, especially in story-rich genres like black comedy or narrative-driven rom-coms.

Test your material! Comedy is subjective, but you’ll know it’s a hit if it makes people laugh.

In essence, writing comedy is about balance, between humor and story, expectation and surprise. Keep it focused, keep it sharp, and most importantly, make sure it resonates.

Final Thoughts

The realm of comedy is vast and varied, offering a palette of humor that caters to different tastes, cultures, and sensibilities. Whether it’s the physical comedy of slapstick or the satirical critiques, there’s a comedic style to suit every occasion and audience.

This exploration into the subgenres of comedy not only underscores the versatility of the art form but also highlights its timeless and universal appeal. Comedy can satirize society, explore human connections, or just make you burst out laughing. The diverse range of comedy ensures that it remains a cherished and lasting part of our cultural fabric.

If you enjoyed that, then check out the other Genres I wrote about where I discuss the meaning of each subgenre along with examples.