While the origins of slapstick humour are most commonly associated with the highly physical Italian Commedia dell’Arte in the 16th to 18th centuries, there is evidence of the form existing earlier in Roman Atellan farces. The wooden paddle used to whack characters in Commedia dell’Arte performances became the name for this form of comedy. Its modern roots lie in American stage vaudeville and the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Keystone Cops, before becoming an integral feature in the films of Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and The Marx Brothers. More recent performers include Jerry Lewis, Rowan Atkinson and Jim Carrey. – Justin Cash
History of Slapstick
Article about the history of this form of comedy, origins of the term and modern film examples.
Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on the history of this most physical type of comedy.
Academic paper on how this comical humour has stood the test of time. Includes references to exaggerated violence, pie to the face gag, flatulence, the groin shot, etc.
Series of resources from The Drama Teacher website on American vaudeville, where the origins of the modern form lie.
Great explanation of what this type of comedy is for younger learners.
Resource from The Drama Teacher website on the techniques of the Commedia dell’Arte, where the beginnings of physical comedy originated.
Historical overview of this comedy form including well-known performers and comedians.
Interesting academic paper Physical Comedy: From Stage to Screen.
Resources on Atellan Farce, a form of improvised, knockabout comedy performed during Roman times.
Excellent series of lesson plans on this form of physical comedy for junior or middle secondary students. Includes physical activities, stimulus material, worksheets and an excellent history of slapstick.
6-lesson comedy unit that includes a number of forms of comedy.
Term-length unit outline suitable for junior high school students.
Excellent series of pantomime and mime exercises and activities for the drama classroom – includes movement, characterisation, gesture, use of objects etc.
Great 13-week drama unit on clowning, including status, attitude, comic walks etc.
Teacher resource pack with a series of clowning activities.
Outline of a middle years comedy course for the drama classroom from The Drama Teacher website.
Course outline for a 10-week junior high school physical comedy unit in Drama.
Great list of the top performers and teams with a brief explanation about each, from Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin to Laurel and Hardy and Jim Carrey.
Comprehensive biography of silent film actor Buster Keaton, a physical comedian rivalled only by Charlie Chaplin.
Ranker’s list of the funniest physical comedians of all time.
Biographies of the life and work of film comedians Laurel and Hardy.
Excellent resource website on Charlie Chaplin – biography, films etc.
Biography of American physical comedian and actor Jerry Lewis.
The Guardian’s list of the top 20 films of physical comedian Jim Carrey.
Resource about comedy team the Marx Brothers including line-ups and numerous films.
A collection of 16 of cinemas greatest moments of this form of comedy..
Wikipedia’s list of physical comedians from Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin to Rik Mayall and the Marx Brothers.
Biographies of comedy duo Abbott and Costello.
Three Stooges resource website with biographies, movie clips etc.
Series of techniques explained:
Useful series of physical comedy activities for younger students.
Academic paper examining this form across different mediums – from the live performances of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte and American vaudeville to animated Looney Tunes cartoons.
Useful resource outlining twenty lazzi to be used in the drama classroom (lazzi were brief interludes of comical nonsense in Commedia dell’Arte performances).