April 29, 2024

KINDS OF AMERICAN FILM COMEDY: A Serious Study of Funny Stuff

By Wes D. Gehrig
2024 / 234pp
Review by Mr. Bonnie (the Bookworm)😺

To be honest, I’d never heard of Wes D. Gehrig, and since this book doesn't include an About-the-Author page (though the forward by Ashley Donnally speaks fondly of him), I did a little quick digging on my own. Gehrig is a film scholar who’s written a few dozen books on the subject over the past 40 years, mostly related to the comedy genre, as well as some of its legends.

One thing is certain…in reading this book, it's obvious he knows his stuff (though I did detect a few inconsequential errors related to certain films). With Kinds of American Film Comedy: Six Core Genres and Their Literary Roots, Gehrig appears to be trying something a bit different from some of his other work. He’s written entire books on some of these particular genres before, but here, he traces their origins back to the writings of various humorists, from Jonathon Swift to Mark Twain and plenty in between, both famous and comparatively obscure.

Following a lengthy introduction on the origins of literary humor, subsequent chapters discuss Personality Comedians, Crackerbarrel Populism, Parody, Screwball Comedy (which is not the same as slapstick), Romantic Comedy and Dark Comedy. Each chapter follows the same pattern: Gehrig’s definition of the genre, which he supports with numerous examples from classic and modern films (though I sense a particular affinity for the former). He frequently breaks each genre down into various subgenres before connecting it all to assorted written works, many written before anyone even knew what a moving picture was.

Academic without being pretentious, Gehrig’s writing reflects deep knowledge of his subject and an exhaustive amount of research. Some chapters are obviously more interesting than others, which largely depends on the reader’s personal preferences. Hence, I found the chapters on Parody, Screwball & Dark Comedy more engaging than Crackerbarrell Populism or Romantic Comedy. Along the way, Gehrig makes many intriguing assertions…some I concur with, others I don’t. But hey, where’s the fun in reading a critical analysis if you spend the entire time nodding in agreement?

Though this is not a movie guide of reviews and recommendations, readers will undoubtedly be intrigued enough to check out some of these films themselves, or revisit old favorites from a more analytical perspective. Perhaps some will even feel encouraged to explore the genre’s literary roots. Whatever the case, this book offers a serious study of funny stuff.

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