The Founder of Comedy, Aristophanes

The Founder of Comedy, Aristophanes

From the comedic style of dark humor utilized by the Coen brothers and Kurt Vonnegut, to Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, comedy has been an effective way to entertain the population, and has also been an efficient way to share ideas in an unrestricted manner.

In the times of ancient Athens, Aristophanes, the father of comedy, created a popular career in stoking laughter by usually ridiculing politicians, aggressive generals, intellectuals, his audience, and other artists such as renowned tragic playwright Euripides.

His pioneering in comedy stemmed from the religious celebrations of Olympian god Dionysus, and exercised the ability to engage in free speech and criticism, which held those in power to higher standards by the democratic culture which was influenced by comedy.

In theaters in ancient Athens which usually hold around 20,000 people, this mockery of the powerful who would usually sit at the front made Aristophanes popular with the common people, and stroked thinking in the population as they laugh.

For example, in 411 B.C after Athens suffered a naval defeat against Sparta and its allies, Aristophanes created a play called “Lysistrata”. Lysistrata's story depicts Athenian women who have had enough of the Peloponnesian War and have barricaded themselves in the Akropolis. They stage a sex strike in order to get their husbands to vote for Sparta's peace.

This not only creates a humorous and surreal situation to laugh about, like in numerous of his plays, but it forces the audience to think about these situations, especially in the point of view of what was making them laugh. This also shows elements of current dark humor today, shedding light of taboo or stigmatized subjects, and turning them into something hilarious.

Aristophanes was not afraid to brutally insult or come after any idea or person who he felt should be subject to that mockery, especially the powerful. His subjects of this mockery in his plays are quite unpredictably chosen to be the punching bag of jokes, which diversifies the elements of his works. In his play “The Birds”, the cast, which are in the forms of numerous birds, interacts with the judges, threatening to defecate on them if the play doesn’t win first place by the judges.


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