Many people think that comedies are light-hearted, fluff stories lacking all seriousness. Yet what makes comedies funny is that they’re often loaded with seriousness and there’s nothing more serious than death. In “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” there’s the constant threat of war and murders along with constant gunfire. But death alone isn’t what makes comedies funny. Comedies are only funny when they illustrate some element of life that even many dramatic films don’t tackle.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” ultimately tells the story about what’s important in life. The story is about a man who discovers a mysterious owner of a once grand hotel. Eventually when he learns how this mysterious man came to own the hotel and why he stays with it, we learn his true reason, which is to hold on to the fragile memory of the few happy years he had with his wife. While making us laugh, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” helps us better understand our own life. Comedy isn’t just about making us laugh, but making us laugh and making a point at the same time.
“Horrible Bosses” is also about death when the heroes decide the best way to get around their horrible bosses is to kill them. Yet even this story is more than just death but about making your life better despite all the challenges around you.
“Harold and Maude” is the ultimate comedy about death where the hero fakes his own suicides. The hero (and us) eventually learn to embrace life instead of death. Think of any comedy and there’s almost always a background threat of death and an important message about life. Even though romantic comedies may not always focus on physical death, they do focus on emotional death by making us fear the hero will never find true love. Romantic comedies also help us better understand some aspect of life as well.
In “Miss Congeniality,” the hero learns what it’s like to be a woman while poking fun at beauty pageants. “Little Miss Sunshine” also pokes fun at beauty pageants while using death as a threat and showing us the emotional importance of a family.
Every good comedy focuses on death and telling an important message. Every bad comedy just tries to make us laugh, but without death and an important message about life, bad comedies wind up trying to flood us with bad, disjointed jokes that eventually fail to sustain an entire story. If you’re writing a comedy, look for ways to inject death and an important message into your story. You’ll find that nothing makes comedies funnier than a little death with an emotional message about life.