What is Physical Comedy?
Physical comedy has been a cornerstone of entertainment since the days of silent films. In those days, the success of the film depended on the actor’s ability to sell the part. This meant over-exaggerated motions that were unmistakable and extremely physical. Beginning with facial expressions, it quickly grew to the full-on body work we recognize now. From the Marx Brothers and Marcel Marceau to Will Farrell and Melissa McCarthy, the art of physical comedy has evolved into what has flung itself into what we know today.
Following in the pioneer’s footprints, Chris Farley was a jewel of the art. From his run on Saturday Night Live, he kicked and rolled his way into our hearts. The Chippendales parody was one of the most memorable performances of his career with the exception, however, of the motivational speaker forever hiking his pants back up. He was perfecting his art far before we knew him on SNL, and grew exponentially with his movie career and hits like Tommy Boy. Although he tripped and fell one time too many, but for those of us he brought joy and happiness to he will always be the prince, and will never be forgotten.
There have been plenty of ladies dipping their toes into the physical realm of comedy, and for as much as Lucille Ball brought us with her faux pas when she did get into Ricky’s shows, Molly Shannon is the leader we think of first. Her painful looking portrayal as Mary Catherine Gallagher will always live in infamy. Who can forget her scene on the stage when she shuffled her way right off into a pile of metal folding chairs? While she admits to plenty of bruises and bumps, there can be no denying her love of the entertainment factor.
Of all the physical comedians of our day, it would be a crime to overlook Michael Richards. While he may have been master of his domain, he was ridiculously challenged by a pair of jeans and even a simple doorway. How many looked forward to his entrance, then literally ducking once he arrived? He even took the physical comedy to a higher level with the freshly licked finger in the electrical outlet hairdo. Seemingly made of rubber, his presence always made an impact.
All these performers are physical comedian royalty in their own right, but the reigning king has to be the most unlikely of characters. Not since Bugs Bunny have small, frail people had an explosive representative like Jaleel White. Every action of the boy made mothers everywhere cringe. How this child managed to throw himself across and into everything on the set and still walk away is still one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries. At least he had the satisfaction of hurling himself straight into the object of his flustered affection.
So we now raise our glasses to these masters who risked life and limb to put a smile on our faces. Well played friends, well played.