Constructive comedy comes directly from the situations, characters. It comes from within the scene. It emerges from making natural connections with the information we have. It is discovered in following the story and the progression of the characters. Constructive laughs sweep the audience along with the story, make them connect with the characters more and make them understand a little more.
Destructive comedy comes from outside the scene. It comes from the ego of the actor and a desire to be the funny one. It comes from ideas and references that are being forced where they are not wanted. Destructive laughs, make the actors stop and following the story and characters. It makes the whole edifice constructed in the brain of the audience member to start to crumble, and in some cases become destroyed completely. It makes us care less about the characters.
Stand-up can embrace both forms much better than improv, because it is about the laughter. Comedic plays or films almost never have the destructive type unless they are absurdist or “screwball.”
Improv, as ever, falls somewhere between these two mediums. In fact one possible definition for short form and long form could be to which end of the standup-theatre line people are trying for. And of course, short form can take destructive comedy. Whatever you are doing it’ll be over in a couple of minutes, nobody is emotionally invested, so why not gag the hell out of what you (or someone else) started.
But if you are trying to do something longer, and want to bring the audience along with you, you don’t want to be destroying what you’ve set up. Because if you are fine with destroying it, why should the audience care anything about it? They won’t. You don’t care, they don’t care.
|Birdsong at the Comedy Theatre, London. Photograph: Tristram Kenton|
In fact, I deliberately emphasised the destructive term because it really is that. It shuts of so many doors for things that would take a show from being merely funny to being amazing.