Segments in this Video

Why Humans Laugh (05:24)


The earliest humans used laughter to distance themselves from tension. Sumerians record events with humor and, like most humans, mocked authority and the physical and moral deformities of others.

Comedy in Ancient Greece and Rome (02:58)

Ancient Greek festivals gave way to theater and comedy that mocked pretense and hypocrisy. Roman humor was more ferocious, focusing on the suffering of others in the arena. Cicero urged lawyers to make fun of their opponents.

Christian Church Against Laughter (04:30)

The 4th-century Christian church took a dim view of laughter. When the Council of Arles excommunicated actors, theater disappeared in Europe for more than 1000 years. People did not give up their laughter or their Feast of Fools.

Revival of Theater and Comedy (01:24)

In the mid-15th century, François Rabelais's "Gargantua and Pantagruel" spread across Europe, actors became professionals, and Commedia dell'Arte flourished. From that point on, theater was shaped for all future audiences.

Moliere: Comedy as Social Critique (02:24)

Moliere (1622-1673), a French actor and playwright, was the greatest of all writers of French comedy. Among his targets were hypocrisy, religion, and affectation.

Origin of Circus Clowns (04:32)

This segment traces the evolution of clowns from Joseph Grimaldi at the end of 18th century to today’s character clowns and white-faced clowns.

Film: Tradition of Sight Gags and Charlie Chaplin (03:30)

In the U.S., Mack Sennett's Keystone Cops revived slapstick comedy in silent film, establishing a tradition of sight gags. Charlie Chaplin’s genius is revealed in his films.

Universal Humor (02:50)

The different uses of humor in Greenland and Japan are explored. Laughter around the world shows that we have more in common than cultural differences might suggest.

Laughter: Exclusive to Humans (05:39)

This segment examines the unique qualities of humankind that makes laughter possible, the universal components of humor and laughter, and the human need to laugh.

Laughter and Good Health (03:09)

The brain emits endorphins during laughter, creating relaxation and a feeling of well being. A French comedian asserts that expressing strong emotions of any kind, "puts you back on track." Laughter has health benefits for the immune system.

Laughter as a Social Function (06:20)

This segment explores the function of laughter in parent-child bonding, community-building, group identity, and in business and politics.

Commercialization of Laughter (06:59)

Industrialized nations manage resources that are profitable, and laughter is no exception. Big business hires humor consultants to keep employees happy and productive, and greeting cards provide humor for nearly every occasion.

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Comedy is the complement of tragedy, and tragedy is one of the oldest forms of ritual in the Western world. However, while tragedy is linked to the sacred, comedy is often linked to the profane and sometimes even the sacrilegious. This program explores comedy, from Aristophanes and Cicero to the Christian ban on humor. The Feast of Fools and Carnival as Christian institutions that celebrate the profane are examined, along with the role of the Fool in the Renaissance court. The work of Rabelais as a Reformation-era text examines satire as a form of social critique and political tool that verges on the blasphemous. Literary figures such as Molière and more recent icons, such as Charlie Chaplin, are discussed, along with societies like Japan that suppress laughter and consider it subversive. (53 minutes)

Length: 53 minutes

Item#: BVL10180

ISBN: 978-1-4213-0613-1

Copyright date: ©1998

Closed Captioned

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Recommended by MC Journal: The Journal of Academic Media Librarianship.

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Only available in USA and Canada.