When I found out this week is International Clown Week, it got me thinking. How many of my favorite characters from literature and media were the goofy side characters? Shaggy from Scooby Doo, Samwise from The Lord of the Rings, Richie from IT… hey, almost all of my favorite characters were clowns! These bubbly, funny personalities always wind up being adored by the audience, yet they are equally overlooked. My argument is, you cannot have a good story without some comedic relief.
Chronic Side Character Syndrome
I like to call this phenomenon Chronic Side Character Syndrome or CSCS. For centuries, authors delegated the funny or silly person the role of side character. There seemed to be this belief that because they were eccentric, they were not relatable as protagonists. Plotlines would not feel as dramatic, because obviously trauma means sad, right? Wrong!
Comedians are known to be some of the saddest people on earth. Comedy and tragedy go hand-in-hand. Many famous comedians such as Lewis Black and Pete Davidson base their careers off of making jokes about their life struggles. For many comedians, their tragic past and mental illness require ways to cope, and comedy is a coping mechanism.
Comedic relief characters do not have to be the side character in order to keep a plot dramatic. Look at the Marvel cinematic universe or the novel A Confederacy of Dunces. The audience still feels the characters’ pain despite them making jokes about their situations. If anything, having a funny protagonist keeps the viewer or reader hooked.
Benefits of the comedic relief
Including comedic relief characters, even as just side characters, greatly enhance the work. Think about the most memorable characters to you. What personalities did they have? What was endearing about them? I am sure plenty of readers will state their most treasured comfort characters were the ones who made them laugh.
Comedic relief characters also provide breaks in an otherwise heavy story. Though I’ve written about how much I hate Shakespeare, one thing he did right was to always include a “fool.” The fool character often gave much-needed reprieve from the dreary plotlines of murder, incest, and drama. In other words, they were the “relief” part of the term “comedic relief.”
Anyone can write a sob story, but managing to write a compelling, emotional story while still having funny moments is what makes a true writer. These funny characters turn the written word into art by reflecting the ups and downs of life, rather than just focusing on the downs. After all, who wants to read a story that only goes down?
Respect the clowns
Comedic relief characters truly are the glue of a good story. They embody levity and garner attention. Without the funny characters, tragic tales would be only one half of the coin and fail to show the whole picture of life.
So, not only in media but in real life, respect the clowns around you. Your family and friends and everyone who makes you smile. Just like in the story world, these people are there to bring light into the darkness and keep you engaged until the end. Clowns are necessary and personally, the most important people to cherish.
To read more about comedy, read next our article 7 Funny Books to Read While in Quarantine.