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Television comedy is a category of broadcasting that has been present since the early days of entertainment media. While there are several genres of comedy, some of the first ones aired were variety shows. One of the first United States television programs was the comedy-variety show ''
Texaco Star Theater ''Texaco Star Theater'' was an American comedy-variety show, broadcast on radio from 1938 to 1949 and telecast from 1948 to 1956. It was one of the first successful examples of American television broadcasting, remembered as the show that gave Milt ...
'', which was most prominent in the years that it featured
Milton Berle Milton Berle (born Mendel Berlinger; ; July 12, 1908 – March 27, 2002) was an American comedian and actor. Berle's career as an entertainer spanned over 80 years, first in silent films and on stage as a child actor, then in radio, movies and tel ...
- from 1948 to 1956. The range of television comedy has become broader, with the addition of
sitcom A sitcom, clipping for situational comedy (situation comedy in the U.S.), is a genre of comedy centered on a fixed set of characters who (mostly) carry over from episode to episode. Sitcoms can be contrasted with sketch comedy, where a troupe ma ...
s,
improvisational comedy Improvisational theatre, often called improvisation or improv, is the form of theatre, often comedy, in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted: created spontaneously by the performers. In its purest form, the dialogue, ac ...
, and
stand-up comedy Stand-up comedy is a comedy performance and narrative craft whereby a comedian communicates to a live audience, speaking directly to them through a microphone. The performer is commonly known as a comic, stand-up comic, comedian, comedienne, stan ...
, while also adding comedic aspects into other television genres, including
drama Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance: a play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on radio or television.Elam (1980, 98). Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been con ...
and
news News is information about current events. This may be provided through many different media: word of mouth, printing, postal systems, broadcasting, electronic communication, or through the testimony of observers and witnesses to events. Com ...
. Television comedy provides opportunities for viewers to relate the content in these shows to society. Some audience members may have similar views about certain comedic aspects of shows, while others will take different perspectives. This also relates to developing new social norms, sometimes acting as the medium that introduces these transitions.


Genres


Sitcom

The ''situation comedy'', or sitcom, has become one of the most commonly-watched types of television comedy. As the name suggests, these programs feature recurring characters placed in humorous situations. The first television sitcom was the U.K.'s ''
Pinwright's Progress ''Pinwright's Progress'' is a British television sitcom that aired on the BBC Television Service from 1946 to 1947 and was the world's first regular half-hour televised sitcom. The ten episodes, which aired fortnightly in alternation with ''Kaleid ...
'', ten
episode An episode is a narrative unit within a larger dramatic work or documentary production, such as a series intended for radio, television or on-line consumption. Episode derives from the Greek term ( grc, ἐπεισόδιον / ''epeisodion''), me ...
s being broadcast bi-weekly from November 1946 to May 1947. Since the early 1950s, with shows including ''
Hancock's Half Hour ''Hancock's Half Hour'' was a BBC radio comedy, and later television comedy series, broadcast from 1954 to 1961 and written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. The series starred Tony Hancock, with Sidney James; the radio version also co-starred, at ...
'' in the U.K. (derived from a radio show), and ''
I Love Lucy ''I Love Lucy'' is an American television sitcom that originally aired on CBS from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957, with a total of 180 half-hour episodes spanning six seasons. The show starred Lucille Ball, her then real-life husband Desi Arnaz ...
'' in the United States, sitcoms have become more prominent among television viewers. ''
I Love Lucy ''I Love Lucy'' is an American television sitcom that originally aired on CBS from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957, with a total of 180 half-hour episodes spanning six seasons. The show starred Lucille Ball, her then real-life husband Desi Arnaz ...
'' was popular in Nielsen's audience ratings, topping the viewing charts in four out of their six years on the air. Sitcoms will often portray comedic moments through audience laughter, either through live audiences or a laugh track. They are almost always a half-hour in length, and in some cases, they will film using a
multiple-camera setup The multiple-camera setup, multiple-camera mode of production, multi-camera or simply multicam is a method of filmmaking and video production. Several cameras—either film or professional video cameras—are employed on the set and simultaneousl ...
. Sitcoms are seldom presented as realistic depictions of life, but they can generate honest humour through the relationships between and development of characters.


Improvisational comedy

Improvisational comedy is a genre that features actors creating dialogue while in the process of acting. It has a history of prominence in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Before appearing on television, comedy programs were already present on the radio. Several of these programs, including ''
The Day Today ''The Day Today'' was a British comedy television show that parodies television news and current affairs programmes, broadcast in 1994 on BBC2. It was created by Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris and is an adaptation of the radio programme ''On ...
'' and ''
The Mary Whitehouse Experience The ''Mary Whitehouse Experience'' was a British topical sketch comedy show produced by the BBC in association with Spitting Image Productions. It starred two comedy double acts, one being David Baddiel and Rob Newman, the other Steve Punt and Hug ...
'', eventually transferred over to television. ''
Whose Line is it Anyway? ''Whose Line Is It Anyway?'' is a short-form improvisational comedy show originating as a popular British radio programme, before moving to British television in 1988. Following the conclusion of the British run in 1999, ABC began airing an Americ ...
'' was created in 1988 by
The Comedy Store PlayersThe Comedy Store Players is a group of improvisational comedians who perform at The Comedy Store in London. The group first came into being in October 1985. Members of the group have included: *Dave Cohen *Jeremy Hardy *Kit Hollerbach *Josie Lawren ...
,
Mike Myers Michael John Myers OC (born 25 May 1963) is a Canadian-American actor, comedian, director, producer and screenwriter. He is known for his run as a performer on ''Saturday Night Live'' from 1989 to 1995 and for playing the title roles in the ''Wa ...
' improvisation students in London. It began broadcasting in the UK before expanding to the US, with
Drew Carey Drew Allison Carey (born May 23, 1958) is an American actor, comedian, and game show host. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and making a name for himself in stand-up comedy, he gained stardom in his own sitcom, ''The Drew Carey Show'', and ...
starring in the American version until its cancellation. Some sitcoms may also use improvisation when filming. The actors of ''
Curb Your Enthusiasm ''Curb Your Enthusiasm'' is an American comedy television series produced and broadcast by HBO that premiered on October 15, 2000. The series was created by Larry David, who stars as a fictionalized version of himself. The series follows Larry in ...
'' had general episode summaries to rely on, but would often create their own lines when they were in front of the camera.


News comedy

News comedy is a genre that brings humour into stories reported on mainstream news, commonly adding this by creating mostly-fictional jokes to summarize true events. It is a common way for young adults to learn about the political news and events of their time. Programs that have accomplished this include ''
The Daily Show ''The Daily Show'' is an American late-night talk and news satire television program. It airs each Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central. Describing itself as a fake news program, ''The Daily Show'' draws its comedy and satire from recent n ...
'' and "
Weekend Update ''Weekend Update'' is a ''Saturday Night Live'' sketch and fictional news program that comments on and parodies current events. It is the show's longest-running recurring sketch, having been on since the show's first broadcast, and is typically ...
" on ''
Saturday Night Live ''Saturday Night Live'' (also known simply as ''SNL'') is an American late-night live television sketch comedy and variety show created by Lorne Michaels and developed by Dick Ebersol. The show premiere was hosted by George Carlin on NBC on Oc ...
''. ''The Daily Show'' became more well-known when
Jon Stewart Jon Stewart (born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, November 28, 1962) is an American comedian, filmmaker, political commentator, and television host. He hosted ''The Daily Show'', a satirical news program on Comedy Central, from 1999 to 2015. Stewart ...
began hosting in 1999. The award-winning show mocks political events and candidates, and brings in correspondents to report further on these events and people. During the 2000 U.S. presidential election, 435,000 young adults viewed Stewart's coverage, while 459,000 watched traditional news. Despite its satirical approach, journalists have stated that programs such as ''
The Daily Show ''The Daily Show'' is an American late-night talk and news satire television program. It airs each Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central. Describing itself as a fake news program, ''The Daily Show'' draws its comedy and satire from recent n ...
'' and "
Weekend Update ''Weekend Update'' is a ''Saturday Night Live'' sketch and fictional news program that comments on and parodies current events. It is the show's longest-running recurring sketch, having been on since the show's first broadcast, and is typically ...
" still broadcast real news, which ensures that its producers are aware of how to cover this news in a way that viewers can gain knowledge.


Stand-up

Stand-up comedy has been represented on television. Stand-up comedians have been a staple of variety and late-night talk shows; talk-variety shows such as ''
The Tonight Show ''The Tonight Show'' is an American late-night talk show currently broadcast from the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center in New York City, the show's original location (a tradition interrupted by decades of originating from various studios in the L ...
'' traditionally open with a comedy monologue performed by the program host. Television stand-up reached a peak of popularity on
British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** Britishness, the British identity and common culture * British English, t ...
schedules with the ITV programme '' The Comedians''. Their style of comedy was swept away almost entirely in the Britain of the early 1980s when a new generation of stand-ups challenged what they saw as racist and sexist humour and revolutionised the form under the banner
alternative comedy Alternative comedy is a term coined in the 1980s for a style of comedy that makes a conscious break with the mainstream comedic style of an era. The phrase has had different connotations in different contexts: in the UK, it was used to describe co ...
. In the US, stand-up comedy programs became popular on many
cable television Cable television is a system of delivering television programming to consumers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or in more recent systems, light pulses through fibre-optic cables. This contrasts with broadcas ...
channels beginning in the mid-1980s, as such "brick wall" shows (nicknamed for the stereotypical use of a fake brick wall as a backdrop) were cheap to produce and air. Stand-up humour later had mixed fortunes on the small screen, often shunted away to the small hours or as part of a larger entertainment extravaganza.


Gameshow

Some gameshows may give the guests a chance to perform stand up comedy to win a round. Examples of this genre in the UK include ''
Have I Got News For You#REDIRECT Have I Got News for You {{R from other capitalisation ...
'', ''
8 Out of 10 Cats ''8 Out of 10 Cats'' is a British comedy panel show currently airing on E4. It was first broadcast on Channel 4 on 3 June 2005. The show is hosted by Jimmy Carr and the current team captains are Rob Beckett and Katherine Ryan. The show is based ...
'', ''
Mock the Week#REDIRECT Mock the Week {{R from other capitalisation ...
'', and ''
Never Mind the Buzzcocks ''Never Mind the Buzzcocks'' is a British comedy panel game, themed on pop music, that aired between 1996 and 2015. It first starred Phill Jupitus and Sean Hughes as team captains, with Hughes being replaced by Bill Bailey from the eleventh series ...
''. In the USA this is a less common genre, '' Oblivious'' being one of the few examples. In Japan and South Korea, these comedy gameshows, often with subtitles and , are extremely popular.


Comedy-drama

A comedy-drama, is a program that combines humor with more serious dramatic elements, aiming for a considerably more realistic tone than conventional sitcoms. These programs are shot with a
single-camera setup Diagram showing a single-camera setup. The single-camera setup, or single-camera mode of production, also known as portable single camera, is a method of filmmaking and video production. The single-camera setup originally developed during the birt ...
and presented without a laugh track, and typically run an hour in length. This can refer to a genre of television or radio drama series. There are different subgenres within this category, such as the medical comedy-dramas like ''
M*A*S*H ''M*A*S*H'' (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) is an American media franchise consisting of a series of novels, a film, several television series, plays, and other properties, and based on the semi-autobiographical fiction of Richard Hooker. The ...
'' and ''
Grey's Anatomy ''Grey's Anatomy'' is an American medical drama television series that premiered on March 27, 2005, on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) as a mid-season replacement. The fictional series focuses on the lives of surgical interns, residents ...
'', legal comedy-dramas like ''
Ally McBeal ''Ally McBeal'' is an American legal comedy-drama television series, originally aired on Fox from September 8, 1997, to May 20, 2002. Created by David E. Kelley, the series stars Calista Flockhart in the title role as a lawyer working in the Bos ...
'' and ''
Boston Legal ''Boston Legal'' is an American legal comedy-drama television series created by David E. Kelley and produced in association with 20th Century Fox Television for ABC. The series aired from October 3, 2004, to December 8, 2008. The series starred J ...
'', and the musical comedy-drama '' Glee''.


Sketch comedy

Sketch comedy programs differ from sitcoms in that they do not basically feature recurring characters (though some characters and scenarios may be repeated) and often draw upon current events and emphasize
satire Satire is a genre of the visual, literary, and performing arts, usually in the form of fiction and less frequently non-fiction, in which vices, follies, abuses and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, with the intent of shaming individuals, ...
over character development. Sketch comedy was pioneered by
Sid Caesar Isaac Sidney Caesar (September 8, 1922 – February 12, 2014) was an American comic actor and writer, best known for two pioneering 1950s live television series: ''Your Show of Shows'' (1950-1954), which was a 90 minute weekly show watched by ...
, whose ''
Your Show of Shows ''Your Show of Shows'' is a live 90-minute variety show that was broadcast weekly in the United States on NBC from February 25, 1950, through June 5, 1954, featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Other featured performers were Carl Reiner, Howard ...
'' debuted in 1950 and established many conventions of the genre. American sketch comedy reached a later peak in the mid-1970s with the debut han ''
Saturday Night Live ''Saturday Night Live'' (also known simply as ''SNL'') is an American late-night live television sketch comedy and variety show created by Lorne Michaels and developed by Dick Ebersol. The show premiere was hosted by George Carlin on NBC on Oc ...
'', originally a variety program but soon devoted mostly to sketches. In the UK, two of the more successful examples are ''
Monty Python's Flying Circus ''Monty Python’s Flying Circus'' (also known as simply ''Monty Python''; sometimes abbreviated ''MPFC'') is a British surreal sketch comedy series created by and starring the comedy group Monty Python, consisting of Graham Chapman, John Clee ...
'' and ''
Little Britain ''Little Britain'' is a British sketch comedy series that began as a radio show in 2000 and ran as television series between 2003 and 2007. One-off specials were broadcast in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020. It was written and perfo ...
''.


Animated cartoon

Animated cartoons have long been a source of comedy on television. Early children's programming often recycled theatrical cartoons; later, low-budget animation produced especially for television dominated Saturday-morning network programming in the US.


Impact on society


Audience interpretations

Television comedy is described by media scholar Bore as a way to bring audiences to a collective sense in viewing and enjoying commonly-watched programs across societies. One specific way this can be done is through laugh tracks. While some view laugh tracks as ways to allow audiences to lightheartedly poke fun at characters, others see them as ways to restrict viewers to only laugh at certain moments. For the latter, it can also be seen as collectively taking over the real laughter of viewers watching from home. Another aspect of audience's interpretations of comedy on television refer to how far writers go when poking fun at characters or real-life people. ''Saturday Night Live'' found itself in controversy when a sketch was performed, imitating politician David Paterson for both his political abilities and his blindness. This brought up the idea of two central forms of humour that comedies will use: one prioritizes the joke itself and how it generates laughter from an audience, while the other prioritizes the personal characteristics of whom an actor is impersonating.


Changing norms throughout comedy's history

Comedy has been a television genre prominent for introducing concepts that typically do not align with series' respective social norms. One of these concepts is same-sex intimacy. The appearance of these scenes were not popular in the early days of comedy, and in shows such as ''
Roseanne ''Roseanne'' is an American sitcom television series created by Matt Williams and Roseanne Barr, which aired on ABC from October 18, 1988, to May 20, 1997, and briefly revived from March 27 to May 22, 2018. It stars Barr as Roseanne Conner and r ...

Roseanne
'' and ''
Ellen Ellen is a female given name, a diminutive of Elizabeth, Eleanor, Elena and Helen. Ellen is the 609th most popular name in the U.S. and the 17th in Sweden (2004). People named Ellen include: *Ellen Adarna (born 1988), Filipino actress *Ellen Alak ...
'', ratings could be changed up to TV-14 and receive a "mature content" warning as a result.
Ellen DeGeneres Ellen Lee DeGeneres ( ; born January 26, 1958) is an American comedian, television host, actress, writer, and producer. She starred in the sitcom ''Ellen'' from 1994 to 1998 and has hosted her syndicated television talk show, ''The Ellen DeGene ...
famously came out on her show, although ABC cancelled ''Ellen'' one year later, with some gay rights groups protesting this decision. ''I Love Lucy'' became the first sitcom to have a multilingual couple. Lucy was American and spoke English, while Ricky was Cuban and spoke Spanish. The relationship between spouses in sitcoms has also changed throughout history. In earlier shows, the women would be the ones who made comedic errors, while the men, having more dominance, would become upset at their wives. Some more recent shows, such as ''
The King of Queens ''The King of Queens'' is an American sitcom television series that originally ran on CBS from September 21, 1998, to May 14, 2007, for a total of nine seasons and 207 episodes. The series was created by Michael J. Weithorn and David Litt, who als ...
'', would have the opposite roles, with the male characters making more mistakes, while their more sophisticated wives would become upset at their husbands for their actions.


See also

*
Britcom A British sitcom or a Britcom is a situation comedy programme produced for British television. Although styles of sitcom have changed over the years they tend to be based on a family, workplace or other institution, where the same group of contra ...
- list of British sitcoms *
German television comedy Germany has a long tradition of television comedy stretching as far back as the 1950s, and with its origins in cabaret and radio. 1960s *1963: ''Der 90. Geburtstag'' (''Dinner for One'') is a comedy sketch recorded on 8 July 1963 at ''Theater am Be ...
* Lists of comedies


Further reading

*


References


External links


''A History of Comedy on Television: Beginning to 1970''
- by Richard F. Taflinger

- UC Berkeley Libraries {{Authority control
Comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction consisting of discourses or works intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, film, stand-up comedy, television, radio, books, or any ...