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Comedy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Matthew Bevis
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Dec 2012 Very Short Introductions
considers comedy not only as a literary genre, but also as a broader impulse at work in many other historical and contemporary forms of satire, parody, and play.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (20 Dec 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199601712
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199601714
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 11.6 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 58,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


To consider comedy in its many incarnations is to raise diverse but related questions: what, for instance, is humour, and how may it be used (or abused)? When do we laugh, and why? What is it that writers and speakers enjoy - and risk - when they tell a joke, indulge in bathos, talk nonsense, or encourage irony?

This Very Short Introduction explores comedy both as a literary genre, and as a range of non-literary phenomena, experiences and events. Matthew Bevis studies the classics of comic drama, prose fiction and poetry, alongside forms of pantomime, comic opera, silent cinema, popular music, Broadway shows, music-hall, stand-up and circus acts, rom-coms, sketch shows, sit-coms, caricatures, and cartoons.

Taking in scenes from Aristophanes to The Office, from the Roman Saturnalia to Groundhog Day, Bevis also considers comic theory from Aristotle to Freud and beyond, tracing how comic achievements have resisted as well as confirmed theory across the ages.

This book takes comedy seriously without taking it solemnly, and offers an engaging study of the comic spirit which lies at the heart of our shared social and cultural life.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

Insightful, witty and impressively wide-ranging throughout (Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

Bevis shows there's no iron rule that a book on comedy can't be entertaining (Independent i)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Matthew Bevis' "Very Short Introduction to Comedy" is hugely enjoyable and offers a sophisticated (and at times properly demanding) account of the development of the subject from the time of the Ancient Greeks up to more-or-less the present day. I say it's demanding but that should not put anyone off reading this wonderful guide. As plenty of people have said, comedy is a serious matter - if it is to be done well - and Matthew Bevis makes this absolutely clear by providing a thorough account of the history of the subject in its many different forms. Having said that, the book is full of great jokes which exemplify or illustrate the points he makes about how Comedy has evolved through history.

Bevis' analyses of "Withnail and I", "Groundhog Day", and episodes of "The Simpsons" alone make the book a real winner, but there is much more to enjoy. In particular I welcomed being introduced to comedy I didn't know about.

Shortly after finishing the book I re-read parts of it and I've come to view that it isn't just good - it's an excellent exploration of its subject: comprehensive yet concise, thoughtful, full of shrewd insights and above all very funny. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A good book grows on you. It makes you want to read it again, to refer to it, to chew over parts of it. And it takes you to places you didn’t expect. This is what this very short introduction to comedy did for me. Its eight main chapters are short and cover a lot of ground, cleverly sequenced in a rough, chronological order. So we start with the ancient Greeks and end with eschatology. Generous use of illustrations, photos, quotes and further references enhances the reading experience.

My intention was to summarise each chapter, but that would be silly, since you can deduce their contents from the Contents page. Instead, I’ll offer you the insight which struck me the most, namely, Bevis’ contention that comedy’s power lies in its bringing together things that seem divergent from one other. In the context of a conversation about the two different types of clown, Bevis speaks of how these two characters embody a “myth that’s inside all of us: the reconciliation of opposites” (p. 73).

Later on, Bevis expounds his view that laughter and seriousness shadow each other, just as the id and superego did for Freud. Comedy is both an avoidance and an expression of life’s darker side. The opposition between comedy and tragedy is only apparent; in reality, they presuppose each other (ps. 94-6). Thus we can learn to balance detachment from life and engagement with it (p. 100), neither pitiless nor pathetic (p. 112).

How to classify such a comedic, ludic life is an interesting question. Bevis suggest the tragicomedy, in the vein of Beckett (p. 104). Possible even the genre of romance can form a mid-point between comedy and tragedy, or at least an end-point for when comedy comes good (p. 110).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Comedy 10 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book I read to research this post was Comedy A Very Short Introduction by Matthew Bevis which is a very good book which I bought from kindle. This book is part of a series of about 300 books where an expert writes roughly 150 pages about a particular subject as an introduction. This book is about the history of and what makes comedy. The earliest comedies were plays written in ancient Greek that tended to be quite eloquent and wordy. Nowadays our comedies are very different but still difficult to give an exact definition. The best comedies were probably made in films in the later silent era and the early talkies of the 30's and 40's. The film studios enjoyed a monopoly on very creative people in that which later dwindled a little. This book tends to look mostly at films by people like the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton who were all experts at this. It also has links to many of these films on YouTube. There is some plays featured from various periods and a little on what makes them tick as well as some classic more recent films like Groundhog Day where Bill Murray must live the same day over and over again. Of course initially he gets up to things like stealing and having sex with women because there are no consequences but gradually realizes living the same day is meaningless. Another classic film albet from the silent era it looks at is The General starring Buster Keaton where there is a wonderful where he has his heart broken by a girl and is so focused on being upset he fails to notice the ledge of the train he is sat on is travelling. It is often regarded as one of the greatest silent films ever made and the name general refers to the steam train featured in the film. Many people regard Buster Keaton although a little lesser known as Charlie Chaplin as being just as great a comedian and like him he directed and scripted his own films. I did enjoy this book which is like a celebration of what is funny more than anything and is an interesting read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! 1 Sep 2013
By Xel
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Easy to read and very useful at doing exactly what it says in the title! Some useful sound bytes in terms of quotations as well so very useful for AS coursework.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent all round 20 May 2013
By alice
This book has literally saved my essay. It is packed full of relevant references in an easily accessible manner and is a vital guide to anyone studying comedy at any level, from theatre through film and stand up (it even has a short passage on Groundhog Day!). It may be 'short' but it is so full of leads to different books, making it incredibly useful. THANKS MATTHEW.
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