Any attempt to dissect and examine comedy on a higher academic plane, affording it a sort of clinical reverence in the face of its own irreverence, is a comedic premise in and of itself. Applying the idea of semiotics to films like Ghostbusters, Trading Places and the Austin Powers franchise is laughable at best, a devastating bore at worse. While much of Sounding Funny reads as overly academic and needlessly analytical, the basic premise behind this collection of essays is quite sound—pun intended.

The use of sound, either through effects or musical scoring, plays an immensely important role in the establishment of tone within comedy. From its beginnings in the silent era, music played an integral part in underscoring not only the antics of Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but also in helping to shape the audience’s response to what they are seeing. While certain behaviors can’t help but be perceived as funny—something both Lloyd and Chaplin were able to master to a level that finds their work relevant some 100 years later—the right musical underscoring serves to heighten the humor on screen.

For those who grew up associating some of classical music’s most popular works with the absurd antics of Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, et. al., there becomes an inextricable link between the comedy delivered on screen and the soundtrack underscoring the action. In examining what is perhaps the greatest example of this pairing, Peter Morris discusses the significance and humor inherent in the use of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” Elmer Fudd intoning “ki-ill the waaa-bit” over the well-known melodic theme can’t help but be amusing both for its sheer absurdity and its appropriation of high art within that of a lower form. It’s a juxtaposition that is itself funny.

In his analysis of the choice of motifs and classical music allusion within the score for Trading Places, Ben Winters appears to overthink the underlying social commentary within each piece. That is, until he begins breaking down the origins of each element of the score and the specific themes associated with different characters, each designed to evoke a very particular response to what is transpiring on screen. In this, the comedic premise becomes something much more than an actor or actress making an ass of themselves on screen. Of course, this holds true only if you subscribe to the notion that these are calculated moves on the part of the writer/director.

In the three essays dealing with foreign cinema, the collection’s thesis starts to become lost in favor of a cultural analysis beyond that of traditional western cinema. While certainly interesting, their basic premises lack the sound element that ties together the more effective cinematic evaluations. Here Sounding Funny begins to wander into the territory of impenetrable academia, with scores of archaic and little used terms being thrown about without really saying anything.

Ultimately, Sounding Funny is not for those who look for levity in their comedic analyses. Rather it is an often overly-dense academic assessment of humor that lacks that key element and manages to very nearly suck the humor out of the pieces analyzed. Only for those diehard comedy nerds who require a deeper philosophical, minutely nuanced approach to their explorations of comedic cinema.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Holy Hell! Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP Turns 20

Like their fellow members of the class of 2001, Yeah Yeah Yeahs would ultimately prove not…