Over the years, cinema has dusted off cinematographic genres and representations not only with serious and profound contents, but often and willingly imbued with comedy and joy, as in the comic genre . A component that has never been lacking. The greatest ever in the history of Italian cinema have also distinguished themselves at least once for their ability to make people laugh.

The comic genre was born with this in mind, that is to elicit a laugh, but also to make people think at the same time.

Let’s see together how it was born and what its protagonists are in the new post dedicated to our curiosities.


  • Comic genre: birth
  • The beginnings of the comic genre
  • The comic genre from the early twentieth century up to the Second World War
  • The revolution in the comic genre begins: the sound
  • From the post-war period to the 1970s
  • From the 70s to today: the comic genre becomes comedy
  • Italian comedy
  • Famous comedy genre movies and actors
  • The “cinepanettone” breaks into the comic genre
  • Paolo Villaggio and Renato Pozzetto revolutionize the comic genre
  • The irruption of Checco Zalone in the comic genre
  • Conclusions

Comic genre: birth

The comic genre is a form of cinematographic art, the origins of which must be historicized between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. And that is the period in which the first comic representations are in full swing.

The experiments of Melies and the Lumiere brothers in black and white are the first sequences where a certain comic streak appears. French cinematography is leading the way from this point of view, while the Italian one does nothing but refine this groove and make it even more successful and effective.

Suffice it to say that, in general, the comic film can also presuppose a comic that makes you think – perhaps that makes fun of the powerful.

The evolution of the comic genre in Italy comes close to the advent of the so-called “ Italian comedy ”.

The beginnings of the comic genre

Obviously, considering the technical limitations of the time, the sound, at the beginning, was practically absent and the protagonists are above all people who are ill-adapted to the evolution of society and, therefore, are at times ridiculous. 

And France to be the center of the genre with various top-level actors such as Robinet and Polidor but above all Max Linder , with a respectable filmography. The latter has become ‘famous’ for having practically spread the genre of satire, making fun of the customs of bourgeois and respectable society.

From France, let’s move on to the new continent: in the United States and Sennett ‘s star to shine, a real talent scout. In fact, the actors discovered by the director of the production company Keystone are countless.

The United States adapts the genre to their culture by inserting much more entertainment, with scenes at times even bordering on the absurd. Among the actors to remember is Roscoe Arbuckle

The comic genre from the early twentieth century up to the Second World War

The first difference is the duration . From 1910 the films begin to last longer and, moreover, we begin to give more attention to both the characters and the plot . So much so that it is from these years that actors that we consider immortal begin to emerge, among which we mention Charlie Chaplin (whose ‘didactic’ videos are still shared today) and the couple Laurel & Oil , aka Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

The actors ‘dominate’ the genre, so much so that, in fact, he remembers more of the teachings of Chaplin (such as in ‘The Great Dictator’ or ‘The Brat’) who does not forget at all who is in difficulty and, through a laugh, try to leave a better world to those who come after him. 

There is, of course, not just Charlie Chaplin. In the story and also the mimicry of the American Buster Keaton , with a paradox: the protagonist hardly laughs in the films so much as to earn the fame of ‘comedian who never laughs’, inventing a different mimicry than usual.

Among the filmography, to remember are ‘The law of hospitality’ and ‘How I won the war’.

The revolution in the comic genre begins: the sound

And starting from the beginning of the Great Depression of ’29, then from the ’30s, that the comic genre is revolutionizing. The sound comes into permanent form with initial results bordering on the grotesque, but only because, obviously, a period of adaptation is necessary in a revolution like this. 

However, it is the Marx brothers who set the tone for the correct use of voice and sounds, with a series of innovations, including using objects instead of speech and giving rise to arguments and reasoning bordering on paradox. Groucho Marx, one of the two brothers, stood out for a respectable filmography such as ‘A Night at the Opera’ and ‘The Marx Brothers’ Blitzkrieg as well as for his characteristic mustache.

But the most famous of the comic genre of the time, in this sense, are Laurel & Oil , that is the actors Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. An inseparable couple, which complement each other: one more robust and solver of problems, the other more slender but combinator of disasters.

In addition, of course, to the immense skill of these two actors, there is the particularity of the look in the room of Olio (Oliver Hardy) to seek, in an ironic way, the support of the public. There are those who say they are the most famous couple in the history of the world of cinema .

Maybe it won’t be like that, but they have accompanied at least four generations of cinema lovers, plus future ones thanks to films like ‘Flying Devils’, ‘Children of the Desert’ and ‘Comrade B’.

From the post-war period to the 1970s

Also in Italy we have our own Stanlio and Olio : we are talking about Gianni and Pinotto. Very good, but they did not have the same notoriety as theirs. Their comedy focuses on criticism of the middle class and the peculiarity lies in the fact that they have also ‘mixed’ thriller and horror. Among the films to remember there is ‘Gianni and Pinotto recruits’, from 1941, with a collection that makes them enter the history of cinema.

Beyond, however, the specific actors, it must be said, however, that since the end of the Second World War we have witnessed continuous evolutions of the genre . In fact, the excess reaches such a limit that we start talking about farce, understood in a positive sense. The exaltation of what is comic of which the major exponent is the actor Jerry Lewis , thanks to the fact that his character is immediately noticed for the excessive physique and for the situations at the limits of the improbable in which he find again. An example for all is ‘Dr Jerryll’s Crazy Nights’ of 1963, which is a parody of the novel of the same name. 

Alongside this, however, comedy is beginning to take its place, with films such as ‘ Hollywood party ‘ directed by Blake Edwards. There are also, moreover, those who have made the transition from silent to sound almost painlessly. Example among many is Jacques Tati, taking a cue from Keaton. In just 6 feature films (this is the number of his filmography) he managed to give an imprint to the not indifferent comic genre, bringing on stage a silent character, thoughtful but comic at the same time. 

Let’s go to the 70s . Here we begin to feel the influence of TV and comedy takes up more and more space. Furthermore, the comic genre is increasingly contaminated by other types, as in the case of ‘ Frankenstein Junior ‘, a film directed by Mel Brooks in 1974.

Or ‘Laughing to Laugh’, the following year, by John Landis, who ‘mocked’ television and the mass media in general. Let us not forget that we are however also in the years of revolutions. 

And yet Woody Allen the real ‘leader’ of the comic genre of those years. He began his career with lighter forms and then ventured into a much more demanding comic, so much so as to lead to even more dramatic works. He has also worked on TV and has produced such films as ‘Get the Money and Run’, ‘Harry Shattered’ and ‘The Bananas Free State Dictator’.

Also worth mentioning is Monty Python , a group formed in the late 1960s (in 1969 to be precise), of English origin and made up of 6 people: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. They too, like their predecessors, mock the habits and customs of the middle class and, also through surreal or at least particular montages, have tried to stir the conscience. They worked on TV on ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and, of course, also on film with ‘And now for something completely different’. 

From the 70s to today: the comic genre becomes comedy

Mentioning all the artists who have made the comic genre great is impossible, but in principle, from the 70s to today, there has been a transformation that has led it to turn, in some ways, into comedy.

And a gradual transition, which begins with ‘Animal House’ from 1978, directed by John Landis, and then continues with ‘The Craziest Plane in the World’, from 1980 and the Christmas film par excellence ‘A Chair for Two’ by Eddie Murphy, in 1983. The period of the sagas also begins, with the Police School which, which began in 1984, extends for several years. 

One of the most famous actors in this sense is Jim Carrey but also Mr. Bean – played by Rowan Atkinson – has been a protagonist in this sense in recent years.

The comic with an easy and immediate laugh had its climax in Italy with the ‘ Cinepanettoni ‘ and with the short television pills.

But, in our country, with the Italian comedy we have far ahead of the times. 

Italian comedy

The evolution of the comic genre in Italy comes close to the advent of the so-called “ Italian comedy ”. The capital Rome is the fulcrum, the nerve center of almost all productions. Today it is understood almost in a pejorative sense, but in the immediate post-war period this term indicated something peculiar to our country.

Something that, in short, also distinguished him from a cinematographic point of view. 

Famous comedy genre movies and actors

Films such as My Friends of Tognazzi or We just have to cry starring Massimo Troisi and Roberto Benigni touch upon delicate historical themes and events, but in a decidedly ironic version. And this is precisely the point: the comic film must not only make you laugh but also make you think. And, in case, also show a side of something that, often, is almost hidden. 

Their gags help to give that extra feeling of lightness of the contents represented. What then characterized comic characters of previous periods such as Toto and Alberto Sordi .

Authentic principles of the evening. “Toto, Peppino e la malfemmena” plus ” An American in Rome” are milestones in the history of Italian cinema. In practice, the Italian comedy represents society in all its facets, be they negative or positive. Telling the ‘real’ life, that of ordinary people, beyond the big news stories. 

The societies and settings of various eras emerge between worldly events and popular meeting places to give vent to reality in its entirety . The story of the details and particulars of every single social frame is one of the pre-eminent characteristics of the comic genre, refined over time.

The “cinepanettone” breaks into the comic genre

Since the 1980s, a sort of variant of comedy has taken over in Italian cinema , the so-called cinepanettone . A comic less thought out and more shouted, more instinctive and less rational. Perhaps that is less reflective and, for this very reason, harshly criticized by lovers of the same comic genre. 

A genre of great success that, unlike the previous ones, divides more for the contents, often and willingly beyond the lines, highlighted. Actors like Christian De Sica , son of the unforgettable Vittorio De Sica , and Massimo Boldi were its pillars for a long time.

The duo on the set worked and how and how the numbers in continuous rise of the past years denoted an almost unstoppable growth. Nowadays the so-called auteur cinema seems to be making a comeback again.

Paolo Villaggio and Renato Pozzetto revolutionize the comic genre

In this sense it is worth mentioning two other historical characters of Italian comedy such as Paolo Villaggio and Renato Pozzetto . Both have staged the prototype of the Italian man totally enslaved to power. Emblem of a condition of discomfort and inferiority that characterized the ancestors of Italian comic films.

The country boy dated 1984, for example, is an emblematic litmus test. The young Pozzetto plays the part of a peasant who decides, at a certain point, to change his life and move towards a city and urban existence.

The same comedy of Villaggio with his character Fantozzi is part of that epicity and that cultural change which, at the same time, amuses the viewer. In practice, the accountant Fantozzi reflects the will and, paradoxically, the naive unawareness of the common man of being able to confront himself with a certain elite. Always coming out defeated.

The irruption of Checco Zalone in the comic genre

The comic genre introduced in recent years, for example, by the actor Checco Zalone directs cinema towards a total derision of customs and social phenomena.

An equally irreverent and, at times, compromising cinema in the wake of illustrious predecessors.


In general, the comic genre associated with cinema presents a paradigm of this type: laughter, irreverence and mockery aimed at a certain type of bourgeoisie and society “subservient” to power and clientelism. A sort of transposition of reality into cinematography. A process still underway today, but in a less politically correct key.