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People tend to think of comedy as a more modern art, with the explosion of stand-up comedy in the 1970s bringing comedy to the forefront of American entertainment. However, comedy has a long and rich history around the globe.

From Laurel and Hardy to Shakespeare to court jesters, throughout the years humans have placed value into comedy and the ability to laugh a little. In both high society and the lowest rungs of civilization, comedy has had a serious cultural impact across the world over the centuries.

 

While it is true that the stand-up comedians of the 20th century cemented comedy as an entertainment juggernaut, the 18th century also experienced a large boon to comedic writing and performance. This was due to a changing attitude towards egalitarianism, where it became less of a faux pas to enjoy the same things everyone else was enjoying, regardless of class or economic situation. This more relaxed attitude allowed comedy to flourish in many different forms during the 18th century, paving the way for the comedy we know and love today.

What Was Funny In The 1700s

During the 18th century, comedy was very similar to what we see today, though the method of delivery was much different. The production of plays would be where the majority of people would see comedy performed. With egalitarianism becoming more popular among all levels of society, comedic plays at the time would often mix the worlds of the lower and higher classes, using those situations to great comedic effect.

 

While these fish out of water stories were certainly a successful formula, they were far from the only way people in the 18th century were exposed to comedy. Street jokes were as popular then as they are today, and required only a basic understanding of language to gain enjoyment from hearing them, making them widely used by all levels of society. Everyone from the common rabble and the upper echelons of society appreciated puns and wordplay.

 

Comedic books and collections of poetry were also a popular option for those living in the 18th century looking for a laugh. These comedic writings could range from crude and lewd bathroom humor to more elevated political and religious humor, often within the same book or collection. The comedy of the 18th century often focused on satire and poked fun at everyone regardless of station while also being relatively progressive by depicting women to be as motivated by sex, if not more in some cases, than men. There was no shame to be found, with graphic depictions of sexual acts on full display and royalty cavorting with sex workers, almost nothing was taboo.

Were There Scandals Like Today?

Modern comedy is seemingly plagued by scandal, often seen as going too far or being insensitive to victims of illness or trauma. Many blame a continually growing culture of political correctness as the cause for this apparent uptick in comedic scandals, assuming that the reason people are offended is that they’ve lost their humor. Unfortunately, instead of seeing these scandals as an opportunity for awareness towards any particular subject, the media at large tends to latch onto the negative side. Scandals have been a part of comedy’s history for centuries. In fact, much of the comedy of the 18th century revolved around and relied upon scandals.

 

Like today, there was little that was more intriguing in the 18th century than a good scandal. Scandal rags, both fictional and real, were a popular way for people to find out all the relevant dirt on politicians and prominent figures, and these gained popularity throughout the 18th century. Scandals were like lifeblood to the comedy world in the 1700s, and though celebrities and politicians were often roasted, many authors chose to change their names or redact parts of their names to avoid potential legal action against them.

The 1700s even had their own equivalent of cutting political cartoons in satirical prints and caricatures. These often took aim at political scandals and employed cutting wit, leaving their creators respected and feared by those who might become the subject of them. Just as it is today, even the most powerful leaders weren’t spared the satirization, and this helps to normalize these leaders and keeps them from becoming untouchable figures. Scandal and comedy have always gone together, regardless of societal progression.

Comedy Has Always Been Important

Comedy serves an important function outside of simply making people laugh and enjoy themselves just a bit more. The art of comedy is an essential part of human interaction and has the ability to change the way that people think and act. Even Aristotle and Plato were contemplating the importance of comedy when crafting the very basis of western philosophy. While comedy can help people to connect through laughter, there is also evidence that laughter can help to reduce chronic pain and provide other health benefits.

 

Saying that laughter is the best medicine has been popular for decades, but recent studies have shown that there may be some truth to the old saying. Laughter releases endorphins and dopamine within the human body, which can significantly alter someone’s mood for the better and potentially lift them out of a depressed state. Aside from the mental health benefits of laughter, it can also help protect people’s hearts and lower their blood pressure by reducing stress levels significantly.

 

While comedy was used to help bring society together during the 18th century, scientists are just now looking into how comedy can make the world a better place. Comedy can help us to talk about incredibly sensitive subjects that would normally have a hard time finding their way into everyday conversation. Not only does it open the door to discussing touchy topics, but comedy also allows people to openly criticize and comment on social structures, breaking them down without having to worry about repercussions too much — assuming they handle the subject matter well.

 

Modern comedy really isn’t all that different from the comedy that was abundant in the 18th century. The delivery methods may have changed, and now there are many different platforms from which someone can access comedy, but the basic benefits of comedy have remained the same. In divisive times, comedy brings us together, it can help relieve the pain after tragedy, and overall it brightens our days by putting a smile on our faces.

 

About The Author

Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.