IELTS® Listening Practice 78

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Listening Script Vocabulary

(Section 4: You will hear a talk on the topic of comedy. First, you will have some time to look at questions 31 to 40 [20 seconds]. Listen carefully and answer questions 31 to 40.)

Good afternoon, students. Now, today we will be discussing 'comedy' as part of our series of lectures on film genres. We'll look at what makes something funny, the history of comedy and different styles you may see, and also a brief look at comic timing.

It's important to start by saying that comedy is not a science, it's art. Therefore, there are no rules and it can be very subjective. What one person finds funny, another might cringe at. 

One thing worth noting is that when analysing comedy and what is funny, it is almost like it is only visible out of the corner of your eye. As soon as you try and look directly at it and analyse it too much... all of the funniness disappears.


However, let's try to pinpoint exactly why we find things funny. Why does this reaction force us to convulse and laugh? I have no idea.   

There is no simple answer to why something is funny. Something is funny because it captures a moment, it contains an element of simple truth, it is something that we have always known for eternity and yet are hearing it now out loud for the first time. I think that our need to feel intelligent comes into play a lot in finding things funny. Maybe humour is actually the overwhelming joy at feeling intelligent. Somebody tries to put on their shoes standing up and falls over in the process. They look foolish, we therefore feel intelligent as we are not the one falling over trying to put on shoes. We laugh. Someone makes a clever joke and only a few people get it. If we get the joke, we recognise the person as being clever and we feel clever ourselves as we understand the concept. We laugh. So, is humour partly to do with self-congratulation at being intelligent? Quite possibly.

What else makes something funny? Well, comedy is full of opposites and contradictions. Sometimes the expected makes us laugh. For example, a woman buys a white coat she has been saving up for. The white coat is the last one in stock. We see the woman's gleeful face as she tries on her new lovely white coat. We cut to a scene of a park keeper painting a bench black. We know what's going to happen already. The comedy is in the anticipation and expectation as we build up to the inevitable moment where she sits on the wet black bench in her new white coat and ends up with black stripes across her back. 

But sometimes it is the unexpected that makes us laugh. For example, a hunter is out hunting rabbits. He finds a rabbit hole and sends his dog down. After five minutes of nothing, he sticks his head down the hole to find the rabbit and dog playing cards. 

In the same way, both the familiar and the unfamiliar can make us laugh.

Historically, the original meaning of the word 'comedy' was merely a dramatic play that was the opposite of tragedy. Tragedy involved big important characters, usually falling from grace. It would often end badly and would explore high themes of power and betrayal etc. Comedy, on the other hand, usually revolved around normal people moving up in the world and would feature a happier ending. This was the origin of the word comedy. 

In literary circles, people often talk of high comedy and low comedy. High comedy is seen as intellectual wit, often set among high society and using clever characterisations and complex situations. Oscar Wilde and P G Wodehouse are good examples. Low comedy uses coarse language, slapstick and farce – for example Monty Python and Little Britain.

There are various types of comedy, including slapstick, which is all about physical humour. Charlie Chaplin used this to good effect. Parody is where a work deliberately mimics another style for comic effect or ridicule. 

Spoof is light parody or gentle imitation. It is not necessarily intended to ridicule or make fun of the thing being spoofed but the comedy happens in the recognition of the piece being spoofed. For instance, a woman in glasses with tied up hair who is obviously beautiful anyway, takes off her glasses and then unties her hair and shakes it loose. As she does, her wig falls off. We all recognise the Hollywood moment and so this is funny not just because her wig falls off, but we are fully aware of the reference and know that usually this is not supposed to happen.

Farce is where comedy is achieved through exaggeration and extreme characters in preposterous circumstances that seem to spiral out of control and become ever more ludicrous. 

Probably the most mysterious part of performance comedy is timing. In any performance comedy a rhythm is established, and people often talk about beats. A beat is a small pause put in place to enhance a joke... sometime after the punchline to enable the audience time to react and get the joke, but often a pause is placed before a line to build expectation. These beats are full of expectation.

Now, let's move on to…

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