Forms of Comedy

Burlesque – an artistic composition, esp. literary or dramatic, that, for the sake of laughter, vulgarizes lofty material or treats ordinary material with mock dignity, featuring slapstick humor, comic skits, bawdy songs, striptease acts, and a scantily clad female chorus. The characteristic device of burlesque is mockery of both high and low through association with their opposites. (i.e. The educated vs. the uneducated in The Clouds) Cariacature, parody, and travesty all fall under the umbrella of burlesque, each one focusing on a different aspect to achieve the goal of mockery.

Examples of burlesque: As previously mentioned, the focus on the differences between uneducated people an educated ones in The Clouds, coupled with the vulgarity of the jokes (in which Strepsiades, the uneducated, is always the butt) and implied nudity, is a key element of burlesque. Not to mention, The Clouds also features both cariacature and parody in an effort to bestow mock dignity on the targets of each one (Socrates and education, respectively).  Emily Vinci

Chambers 21st Century Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
Cambridge Guide to the Theater

Farce: a farce is a type of comedy that entertains its audience through unlikely, improbable, outlandish, and humiliating verbal, as well as physical, humor portrayed by its exaggerated stock characters. This type of humor may include, but not limited to, sexual innuendos and word play, and physical disasters in addition to ludicrous confusion and absurdity. All of these characteristics contribute to the plot as well as help move the story along. A farce also moves at a fast pace towards the climax of the story in which the primary problem from the beginning is unraveled one way or another, usually by a twist in the plot. As a comedy characterized by broad satire and improbable situations, it also displays humans as being vain and irrational.

The well-known comedy The Birds by Aristophanes is a Farce. A prime example can be found in-between lines 1195 and 1260 of the Peter Meineck translation. In this scene, the Goddess Iris enters and is treated as an object and subjected to degradation by Mamedo. He makes constant sexual innuendos at Iris’s expense by referring to her as a boat the entire scene. In this scene, typically you would expect a Goddess to be treated with respect and honor, however, we see here the complete opposite taking place. The obscenity seen here is also displayed throughout the comedy in other situations as well and these scenes are what make “The Birds” the famous comedy it is today. Khaliph Green

“farce.” Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 03 Sep. 2009.

“farce.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press, 2001, 2004. 03 Sep. 2009.

“farce.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2009. 03 Sep. 2009. .


Personal Definition:  Gag is a term that refers to a type of comedy that can range from a simple joke to, most commonly, a practical joke.  The term gag, as it is used to refer to comedy in theater, originated from the definition meaning for something to be forced into the mouth, then began to mean comic improvisation and eventually pranks or any joke as it does now.  This movement to a new meaning may have come from the act of imitating someone who has been ‘gagged’ by choking.

Examples:  Most of the comedy in Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush is a type of gag comedy called ‘sight gag’, the jokes are portrayed through extravagant actions so that the viewer can understand what is going on without having sound.  Below are two examples from the movie.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush-Thanksgiving Scene

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush-Charlie Turns into a Chicken


“gag.” The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Credo Reference. Web. 17 April 2013.

“gag 1 gag.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate(R) Dictionary. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2004. Credo Reference. Web. 17 April 2013.

“gag.” Word Origins. London: A&C Black, 2006. Credo Reference. Web. 17 April 2013.

Nicole Potter


Reference to taboo sexual and excremental areas of the human body (usually verbal), often considered offensive and immodest, can be stated directly or by more subtle methods.

Aristophanes tends to focus far more on innuendo than direct obscenity, but the scene in Birds where Jerkoffalot is literally “jerking off” on stage could be considered both obscene and comical. Though this scene is not verbally obscene visually seeing the actor jerking off a fake penis could be considered obscene by some audience members.  ( Birds, 1565-1680)

Daniel Morales

obscenity.” Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought. Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers Ltd, 2007. Credo Reference. Web. 17 April 2013.

Shaw, Harry. “obscenity.”Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972.

Jeffrey Henderson, Maculate Muse. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.



A pun is a usually humorous play on words. A word is used in a way that suggests or emphasizes different meanings or applications of words that sound the same or similar. Homographs, words that are spelled the same way, and homophones, words that sound the same, are often used in puns. The pun has been called by some “the lowest form of wit.” The word pun may have been derived from the Italian word puntiglio, meaning quibble or fine point. The Greeks used the word paronomasia, meaning “equal word,” for what is now called a pun.

Aristophanes. Aristophanes 1: Clouds, Wasps, Birds. Trans. Peter Meineck. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1998. Print.

GRUNER’S GAME THEORY OF HUMOR.” Elsevier’s Dictionary of Psychological Theories. Oxford: Elsevier Science & Technology, 2006. Credo Reference. Web. 17 April 2013.

Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield (Massachusetts): Merriam-Webster, 1995. Print.

Shaw, Harry. Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972. Print.


1.  PROPHET: Say I, the Pious Prophet.

MAKEMEDO: Well, “pious” off! There’s nothing you can “prophet” from here.

–Aristophanes, Birds, lines 961-62.

This example has two puns, one between words that sound similar and one between words that sound the same. The first pun is in the word “pious” which sounds similar to the word “piss”. Makemedo is essentially telling the man to piss off, and uses his name against him. This idea continues in the second pun, “prophet”, which sounds the same as “profit”. Makemedo is accusing the man of being a charlatan, again using his own title against him.

2. LAWYER: According to Athenian directive thirty seven b, subsection four g:                                    All coinage, weights, and measures of Cloudcuckooland must hereby be brought into accordance with the coinage, weights, and measures of Olophyxia.

MAKEMEDO: You’re the only “oily fixture” ‘round here, mate.

–Aristophanes, Birds, lines 1039-1043.

The transformation of the word “Olophyxia” into “oily fixture” is another example of a pun made from words that sound similar. While the oily fixture is added by the translator to make the pun more English-reader friendly, the footnote shows that this was also a pun in Greek, although the pun was with the words Olophuxioi and Ototuxioi, the latter meaning “to cry in pain.”

3. MAKEMEDO: Poseidon! Look there. I’ve never seen such a “fowl” collection of birds!

–Aristophanes, Birds, lines 294-95.

This example shows another pun using homophones. Here fowl can obviously refer to the birds, but it could also be heard as “foul,” in which case it seems he is making fun of the birds.

4. CONTRACLEON: You can do exactly the same here as you do in court. For example, say one of the housemaids has been secretly going “in and out,” you could seize her “assets,” that’d be nice, wouldn’t it? That’s all you lot think about in court anyway. If it’s a nice day, you can sit out in the sun and fine the accused in “fine” weather. If it’s snowing, you can sit by the fire and listen to “heated” debates, and if it rains,you can stay inside and put the defendants in “deep water.”

–Aristophanes, Wasps, lines 767-73.

This example offers a plethora of homographic puns that are also pronounced the same way. “Assets” refers literally to something that could be seized by the court as recompense, but, as suggested by the “in and out,” it also has sexual connotations, that is genitals as the assets that could be seized. “Fine” is another pun referring to both the monetary fine and the adjective that could be used to describe a beautiful day. Similarly, heated can be physical heat from flames or the metaphorically heated passions of those debating. The humor is found in the comparison of everyday things like sex, weather, and fires with legal terms.

 Hannah Bostwick



In poetry, satire is the ridicule of human vices portrayed in a humorous tone, such as irony or sarcasm. This form of comedy is used to criticize the weaknesses and problems in society by blending “humor and wit with a critical attitude toward human activities and institutions” (Shaw, 332). The tone of satire various amongst authors from “tolerant amusement” to “bitter indignation” (Baldick, 198). However, “if [satire] is offensive or contemptuous, then it is no longer satirical but cynical” (Elkhadem, 90).

Aristophanes uses satire in his play Wasps when Xanthias, a slave, states that “we are certainly not going to be having another go/at the most beloved of political figures, Cleon” (Aristophanes, 62-63). This statement is satirical since the main character, Procleon, is a representation of Cleon – they both are Athenians who are involved with politics and love their country. Though Aristophanes states he will not be mentioning Cleon, he is in fact using him as his main character. Aristophanes consistently pokes fun at Cleon by having Cleon’s fictional representation, Proclean, act as the comedic relief throughout the play and display ludicrous behavior.

Liz Madden

Aristophanes. Aristophanes 1: Clouds, Wasps, Birds. Trans. Peter Meineck. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1998. Print.

Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 1990. Print.

Elkhadem, Saad. The York Dictionary of English-French-German-Spanish Literary Terms and Their Origin. York Press, 1976. Print.

Shaw, Harry. Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972. Print.


Scatological Humor

In literary terms it is a type of bawdy or obscene humor that focuses around the references to excrement and related matters. A type of low-comedy that is course in nature, meant for a “belly laugh” not a “brain-powered” laugh. Scenes where scatological humor are used typically involve the humiliation of  someone as well as general buffoonery.

“Scatology.” A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Blackwell References, 3rd ed. edited by J.A. Cuddon.

“Scatological Humor” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press, 1996.

Ex: “    Makemedo: But, eh…but we’re not men.

Servant: Well, whatever are you then?

Makemedo: Eh…I’m a Yellow-streaked Dribbler, a Libyan species.

Servant: There is no such bird.

Makemedo: Hey if you don’t believe me, take a look at my feet.

Servant: And you, what species of bird are you?

Goodhope: I’m a brown-rumped turddropper from Phartia.”

Meineck, Peter. Aristophanes I: Clouds, Wasps, Birds. 1st. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company,Inc, 1998. p.271-272. Print.

Amanda Houts


Screwball comedy is a form of comical theatre typically found in film during the 1930’s, when it first gained popularity. Like many other forms of comedy it contains farcical situations and slapstick humor, but is defined mostly by the way characters roles are often reversed or confused and information is often misconstrued. The rich are poked fun at in the screwball comedy and often appear lazy and stiff, where as the poor man is looked to more as the comedic hero. A screwball comedy many times may center around a marriage or remarriage usually involving ridiculous circumstances and characters may appear dressed as the opposite sex, furthering the joke of the mistaken identity.

Some have described screwball comedy as the “skillful blend of sophistication and slapstick” and comparatively stating that “while the Three Stooges use sledgehammers, screwball characters use silver chafing dishes and the like- weapons of the upper class” (Modern Times). Examples of screwball comedy can be seen in Aristophanes’ Birds. Though the play in it’s entirety may not be considered a screwball comedy, there are certain elements they have in common. The wedding towards the end of Birds is like that of a wedding in a screwball comedy, where the couple is not necessarily compatible and they come from two differing classes. There are also similarities in how the gods are thought of as hungry Jerkoffalots, much like the rich class is portrayed in screwball comedy. Other examples include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Madeleine DelBusso

“Screwball Comedy Film.” Wikipedia . Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., 30 Aug. 2009. Web. 02 Sept. 2009. < h>.

“Screwball Comedy.” Screwball Comedy . ModernTimes, 2007. Web. 02 Sept. 2009. < >.


A ridiculing or trivialization of a dignified subject or dramatic literary work. Travesty differs from mock epics in that mock epics treat frivolous subjects seriously, while travesty treats serious subjects frivolously. The word comes from Latin terms for “across” and “clothes”.

An example of a travesty is in Aristophanes’ The Birds, where the goddess Iris is treated with disrespect by the character Makemedo.

Amanda Schneider

Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

The Encyclopedia of World Theater. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977.

Shaw, Harry. Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972.