It’s no secret that I’ve retreated to my underground lair of late to work on upping my presentation game by trying my hand at the odd bit of stand up comedy (and roller derby, but that’s a different story). That, of course, begs the question, how does one get started in the world of standup? I could take a class on standup, but as a couple searches quickly determined, Houston appears to be a bit of a wasteland in that regard – although, as in all cultural comparisons, Austin definitely shows promise. Hence, I’ve retreated to Plan B, and started my odyssey to become an amateur standup comedian (after all, let’s be realistic, going pro is a non-starter) by going out and purchasing a couple books on comic theory.
Thusly, I found myself reading the Comic Toolbox the other day, as the author, John Vorhaus, deconstructed different comedy types. One of them particularly resonated. You see, the ensemble comedy (think Friends, Bad News Bears, Inglorious Basterds, etc.) involves what is considered a group protagonist. The group itself is the protagonist as it strives to reach its goals, whether they be killing Nazis, banding together to win the championship, or raising enough money to buy their old theater from the evil businessman.
The comedy lies in the conflicts between the members of the team whom invariably are written with divergent characteristics and personalities. The common goal binds them however, because without that common goal, their radically divergent personalities would quickly cause them to lose cohesion and focus on their own specific needs, not that of the team. The common goal provides the catalyst for the team to work through their differences and unite in the face of overwhelming odds.
Without that driving goal for the group protagonist to work against, the team would quickly split apart and disperse into the four winds. That would no longer be a comedy. That would be a tragedy.