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Comic Spirit and "bringing Down the House"

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Essay title: Comic Spirit and "bringing Down the House"

Comedy has existed with the human spirit as far back as humans began writing the first plays and stories. Comedy and laughing at other peoples’ situations has always been a very good way to tell an entertaining story. Yet, at the same time, it can be an effective way to share lessons about life and the human condition. The “comic spirit” takes many forms throughout human civilization and several classic examples can be seen in Roman and Greek comedies. Greek comedies often create humor from the conflicts created by stereotypes and imbalances. For example, the play Lisistrata has a main character who is a woman who tries to stop the Peloponnesian War by convincing all the women of Athens to stop having sex with their husbands. Taking place during a period when women did not have power in society (compared to men), this Greek comedy used the imbalances of women to create a funny story while at the same time as making a statement against war. A more modern comedy that uses imbalances and stereotypes to create humor is the movie “Bringing Down the House” starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah. The humor in this movie is created by the use of multiple stereotypes, imbalances and ultimate role reversals of a white, wealthy male and a black, ex-convict female who first meet each other in an Internet chat room. There are also contrasts between young and old people. Although the imbalances and stereotypes throughout the movie create funny situations, it may have a negative side effect because it takes advantage of racial, gender and age stereotypes, which may be insulting or hurtful to some people, just to get a laugh.

The story begins with Steve Martin’s character, Peter Sanderson, chatting online with someone who he thinks is a pretty, blonde lawyer. When he finally arranges to meet her for a “first date,” he is shocked to find out that the blonde lawyer turns out to be a black ex-convict named Charlene (played by Queen Latifah) who wants Peter to help prove her innocence from being set up in a bank robbery that sent her to prison for four years.

The movie uses several elements of imbalance and stereotypes to create humorous situations in the story. For example, there is contrast between Peter and Charlene. On the surface in the beginning of the movie Peter seems to be a regular a white male with a successful, upper middle class lifestyle. He lives in a nice home in a nice neighborhood, drives a new Mercedes and has two normal looking kids. Charlene, on the other hand, is still wearing her prison outfit when she first meets Peter. We don’t know if she is telling the truth about her innocence or if she is trying to take advantage of Peter.

The humor in the early part of the movie is around Charlene’s interference in Peter’s life and his attempts to hide her true identity from people he knows. For example, Charlene invites her friends to Peter’s home for a big house party. When Peter finds out after coming back from work, he kicks everyone out just in time before his neighbor, played by Betty White, wonders if she heard some kind of disturbance in the neighborhood. Peter has to lie and pretend nothing happened.

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