A Visual Comedy Video Timeline

by Spencer Duncan, dramaturg

Those who read my post last week may remember that Water Sings Blue engages with visual comedy.  What is visual comedy? Well, for an excellent in-depth look, I recommend Julian Dutton’s book Keeping Quiet: Visual Comedy In the Age of Sound.

For a brief understanding, I invite you to watch this video timeline based in part on Dutton’s book.

Visual comedy is also known as silent comedy. While its existence dates back to the Italian Renaissance’s commedia dell’arte (and likely beyond that) it was the era of silent films which brought visual comedy into the 20th century, with greats such as Charlie Chaplin and the duo Laurel & Hardy.

With the introduction of the “talkies” (movies with sound), the era of silent film and silent comedy started to die out. While physical gags and slapstick humor didn’t disappear, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that visual comedy was revamped.

French director and actor Jacques Tati created his character, the bumbling Monsieur Hulot. Water Sings Blue takes much of its humor from M. Hulot’s debut 1953 film, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.

And we’re not the only ones. Rowan Atkinson, known for his Mr. Bean, claims M. Hulot to be inspiration for his work.

What are the latest visual comedy shows? If we were to dive into animation, we could likely say Aardman Studios’ Shaun the Sheep.

Or, if we wanted to stick with live actors, we could easily point to the BBC’s new sitcom, Pompidou, co-created by Dutton himself.

Either way, it’s all very visual, if you know what I mean.

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