Low comedy asks for little, if any intellectual skill in the script writing. Slapstick is an excellent example of this form as it is largely a physical humour, which like farce, asks for ridiculous situations.

The origins of the word slapstick may have first begun with the Commedia dell’Arte, which flourished in Europe in the 16th to 18th Centuries. It is rumoured the Harlequin-like character Arlecchino literally used a stick to whack others in performance. The slapstick was merely a paddle – two sticks tied together at one end designed to make a loud noise. Eventually the name stuck, but the stick disappeared, so today we rarely see the slapstick itself.

Instead, modern slapstick asks for tripping on banana peels, accidentally walking into unseen objects and banging heads together. It is often a violent form of comedy, with the violence being an integral factor in its success. The Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges were masters of slapstick and their films are full of outlandish physical gags and preposterous plot developments. The dumb Harpo was often the victim of much Marx Brothers entertainment. Other famous comedy teams such as Laurel and Hardy and the films of the Keystone Cops also employ hilarious use of slapstick. More recently (and less violently), the character Mr Bean effectively used simple slapstick in many episodes of the television series of the same name.

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11 Responses

  1. mia says:

    Who wrote this article?

  2. ThedramastudentKG says:

    thanks this really helped my homework on slapstick comedy

  3. Bailey says:

    Just a quick question, when was this article posted?

  4. The Drama student says:

    This really helped with my homework; thanks!

  5. Amy says:

    very good answer

  6. Student drama teacher says:

    Hey Justin/thedramateacher,

    I’m currently putting together a unit on pantomime and wanted to do a lesson on slapstick. Are there any good activities/tasks/games you would recommend for teaching slapstick to a group of 14-15 year olds?

  7. Marine Dumortier says:

    Hello thedramateacher
    My name is Marine Dumortier and I am a High School Junior at the International School of Brussels in Belgium. I take an IB Theatre Higher class and we have been studying Commedia Dell’Arte for the past few months. I read the article “Slapstick” and found it very interesting and useful. To conclude our study of Commedia, we are required to write a paper on a topic of our choice. I have chosen to speak of Arlecchino’s props, mask, and costume. I was wondering if you could give me some additional information his use of props? Or any other information you may know about his costume (color, texture) and/or mask (color, shape, texture, use)? You would be a great help!
    Thank you for your time,
    Marine Dumortier

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