Backstage: Exploring the difference between comedy and tragedy

Actor G. Valmont Thomas plays Sir John Falstaff in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Henry IV, Part One” and in “Henry IV, Part Two.” Thomas also played Falstaff in OSF’s 2006 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” This is the second of a two-part column. The first was published on June 12, 2017.

G. Val ThomasFestival’s “Henry IV, Part One” and in “Henry IV, Part Two.” Thomas also played Falstaff in OSF’s 2006 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” This is the second of a two-part column. The first was published on June 12, 2017.

EH: What makes great comedy?

GVT: Comedy should illuminate something about the human condition — in a joyously hilarious way. Nowadays humor has gotten very cruel, actually mean. Some stand-up comedians just vent. If you look at the writing on TV situation comedies that are really popular, there are a lot of mean things said between characters. We are supposed to treat them like they are funny. Some of them are; but most often, they’re not.

EH: Do you prepare for comedy and tragedy differently?

GVT: In comedy, you need less restraint. You have to explore a lot of different ways of doing things to find out what is going to work with the group of people on stage. In tragedy, we’re all going in the same direction. The thing about comedy is that nobody is going in the same direction. The diversity of objectives on stage is clashing. That’s what’s funny — people careening off of one another.

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