Before I started the course I wondered where the term slapstick came from, so I looked it up in Wikipedia and got this definition: "Slapstick is a style of humor involving exaggerated physical activity which exceeds the boundaries of normal physical comedy." I love that--for me it begs the question, what exactly is "normal physical comedy"? That question alone makes me laugh while I'm typing this. It reminds me of a musicologist's description of the The Beatle's innovations as unexpected key changes and male voices singing outside their normal range. That always made me laugh too. (It echoed The Simpsons: "The Beatles, sir, were a British pop quartet from the 1960s." "Yes, I seem to remember their high-pitched caterwauling on the old Ed Sullivan show.")
Who, exactly, gets to define the normal range of the male voice or the boundaries of normal physical comedy? I mean, what is "normal physical comedy"? I ask that seriously--couldn't any physical comedy be slapstick? Or is there something different about comedy that incorporates (most of) the five elements of slapstick, things like ritual, exaggeration, and violence? I don't think we have to have to have an ironclad definition (I don't care) but the elements did make me think. For instance, nothing could be more ritualistic than The Three Stooges. There were so many classic repetitive elements of their humor that got worked into every short--poking in the eye, pushing someone over an accomplice huddled behind them, all three Stooges trying to get through a doorway at the same time. When you watch a lot of their shorts it gets to become familiar and comfortable.
I think repetition and ritual are an intrinsic part of art, as much as innovation. The epic poem always contained formulaic passages that the bard repeated to give him time to think about what was coming next, just like The Three Stooges shorts contained formulaic gags to keep the pace moving forward to the new gags that were unique to the plot. I even see this in music. I have teen daughters and they have every Taylor Swift album and I've heard them hundreds of times. I think she's a brilliant songwriter, and one of the things that intrigues me is how often she repeats a lot of her musical themes--melodies, chord changes, etc. I normally would have thought of that as a weakness, but then I reflected on how one of my other favorite songwriters, Paul Weller from The Jam, did the same thing. They both wrote a huge catalog of work. If that involved borrowing from themselves and playing with the same musical ideas and seeing what new things they could express through them, then that's part of the art. So I guess that's something I'll be looking for in slapstick--how do the rituals and conventions evolve.