In the realm of crafting a comedy narrative, the strategic focus revolves around irony. We can define it as the ability to scrutinize society and discern the disparity between appearance and reality. We have previously talk about this topic in the analysis of Cunk On Earth.
Comedy thrives on the relentless exploration of irony. In fact, it’s a duality that involves presenting one thing while leading the audience to discover another. Here, we delve into three examples of comic irony to shed light on this nuanced comedic technique.
Three Comedy Techniques
1) The Gift of Happiness in a Comedy
A character unexpectedly acquires something believed to bring misery and endeavors to rid themselves of it, only to realize it is the gift of happiness.
In the classic The In-Laws (Arthur Miller, 1979), Alan Arkin’s character inherits the burden of his daughter’s eccentric father-in-law (Peter Falk). Despite attempting to escape this apparent misery, Arkin finds himself entangled in a madcap adventure involving a lunatic CIA agent and a dictator in Central America. Little does he know; it becomes the grandest adventure of his life, accompanied by a windfall of 5 million dollars.
Consider the film Liar Liar (Tom Shadyac, 1997). Jim Carrey’s character is cursed to tell only the truth for a day. Initially, this seems like a miserable predicament. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes the catalyst for personal growth and deeper connections.
2) Steps Away from the Goal
A character, in pursuit of a goal, unknowingly takes actions that lead them away from their objective.
A prime example is found in Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1983). Dustin Hoffman’s character seeks love but must disguise himself as a woman to get closer to Jessica Lange’s character. Ironically, his every effort to win her love complicates matters further, leading to a revelation that breaks the comedic tension.
In the animated classic Shrek (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, 2001), Shrek’s attempts to rid his swamp of fairy-tale creatures inadvertently result in the companionship of a talkative donkey and, ultimately, a meaningful connection with Princess Fiona.
3) Led Straight to the Goal Unknowingly
A character is consistently driven away from their goal, only to discover they’ve been unwittingly led right to it.
Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941) presents a film director, Sullivan, aspiring for social significance in his work. However, a series of ironic events lead him to a prison chain gang in Louisiana. Amidst the swampy surroundings, Sullivan stumbles upon a theater where prisoners find joy in simple cartoons. This revelation prompts Sullivan to realize that the true need isn’t social significance but good light entertainment. Through a clever twist, Sullivan returns to Hollywood with a newfound understanding of his craft.
An excellent example can be found in Planes, Trains & Automobiles (John Hughes, 1987). John Candy’s character, Del Griffith, unintentionally assists Steve Martin’s character in navigating a series of travel mishaps. In the end, Martin discovers that the very person causing the chaos is the key to finding his way home for Thanksgiving.
Try to use these techniques and discover how irony can be a powerful tool in crafting engaging and humorous screenplays. However, can you use these techniques in drama?