One thing that very few people disagree about is that the human race loves to laugh, so it is only natural that comedy remains one of the most popular genres of film and television. When it comes to humor, the Brits have a special gift, and over the years people all over the world have come to love their special blends of slapstick, situational humor, even a touch of naughtiness. What is truly unique is when asked to describe what makes British comedies so different most can’t, but from movie to movie or show to show they stand out as original displays of humor that never seem to get old. The longer format of the feature film is in some ways a bigger challenge than the 20 minute, or so, format of the television comedy, but the British pull that off with their signature bawdiness.
Comedies have had a place in film almost from the beginning. In the late 1800’s several inventors and their companies all over Europe and America were developing ways to produce moving pictures. The earliest motion pictures to be shown publically were usually just short captures of something entertaining in motion. People were awed and fascinated by short visual recordings of things like a bike rider, acrobatic acts, even a man sneezing, viewed through the lens of a kinetoscope cabinet. Thomas Edison’s company in America is usually given credit for producing the first of these, along with a projected form of film, but motion picture machines were being developed and films being made all over Europe also. In fact what is generally thought to be the earliest surviving motion picture was made in Leeds, England by the Brits. It wasn’t particularly funny being simply a few people walking through a garden, but I guess comedic genius has to develop over the years.
After the fascination of watching some guy sneeze wore off, new subjects for the widely popular moving picture had found. Naturally among these were the first comedy films. Until the length of the films became long enough to support some kind of visual plot the first humorous films tended to be shots of accidents or mishaps, like a guy falling off a bike, or getting a pie in the face. These were the earliest forms of slapstick or physical comedy and usually there was only enough film to cover one event, but boy did people love it. I mean, c’mon, how many times do you actually see a guy fall off a ladder in regular life and not get hurt. As films got longer and sound was added, plots could be developed, newer and more involved story lines could be shown and slapstick was joined by other forms of humor as the genre of film comedy developed.