What You Need to Know About Human Comedies

These are the essential elements of human comedies, or “dramedies”:


  1. These family dramas with comic overtones tend to be “feel good” movies that also have depth and meaning.
  1. The comedy tends to be less overt as the humor comes from a deep empathy for characters in realistic situations with high personal stakes: survival.
  1. Family Comedies actively engage the audience in a provocative drama.
  1. The subtext is often spoken aloud by the audience.
  1. The audience enjoys the pleasure of experiencing the shadowy behavior of others, like the shadow of commitment, which is possession and coercion.
  1. Structure is not based on the narrative/plot progression but on the emotional experience of the audience: the rising and falling energy of hope versus despair.
  1. Family Comedies have a relatively thin outer plot, and most of the time is used in telling the relationship stories and subplot stories.
  1. Family Comedy characters are victims of their own counter-running sentiments: the desire to be happy, and the desire to survive the family dysfunction.
  1. The desire for happiness becomes tragic when characters are ambivalent, refuse to leave their comfort zone, and settle for a life of self-pity, blame and complaints.
  1. Family Comedies take longer to set up, and reach the climax toward the very end.
  1. The world of Family Comedies is claustrophobic, a reflection of the inner states of the characters. The closed, finite physical boundaries are a metaphor for the emotional and psychological boundaries created by the back-story wounds of the family.
  1. Setting gives Family Comedies a 3rd and deeper level of meaning. Acts like a silent character, externalizing wishes and fears and boundaries of the characters.
  1. Beneath the desire for freedom is the belief that one can’t exist outside the family, institution, school or corporation.
  1. The antagonistic, threshold guardian characters are motivated by rage, the sudden loss of power and status.
  1. The comedy tends to come from the Guide character. They are driven by their fantasies of freedom and their fear of disappointment.
  1. These films are more humane; they have a warmth, humor and perspective that normal family dramas don’t have. This builds a wave of emotional power.
  1. The tension in main character in the claustrophobic family situation vacillates between imploding and exploding.
  1. Relationship driven: how has the family wound impacted the family and specifically the protagonist-antagonist relationship? The theme derives from the primary relationship arc.
  1. Family Comedies entertain and engage the audience by orchestrating a radical range of emotional experience.
  1. Stuck in Dilemma: Regression in family, versus growth outside of family; freedom versus belonging.
  1. Family comedies are family dramas with a cute, adorable kid (or adults acting like cute, adorable kids).
  1. Family comedies are about parenting, lack of parenting, and various stages and forms of love: love for a child, parent, brother, or sister; first love; forbidden love; star-crossed lovers; marriage and divorce.
  1. Main Theme: The premature loss of innocence.
  1. The main character’s behavior partly derives from the consequences of losing their innocence.
  1. When the main character is a child or a teenager, they are not judged as harshly because: they can’t grow up before they grow up.
  1. Themes: guilt, redemption, justice, innocence, freedom, Power, Denial, Trust, Separation Anxiety, Control, Grief, Attraction to the unavailable.
  1. Themes: “freedom versus belonging” will be more internal for most children — fantasies about escape, dreams about escape
  1. Children or teens are often primary characters because they are innocent and directly experience survival fears — the adults respond neurotically to survival fears — their pain is buried more deeply.
  1. The shadow subjects in family comedies deal with taboo, moralistic rules meant to keep order in our society.
  1. Humor: We laugh when adults are reduced from high status to low status (the Uncle in “My Life as a Dog”; Older Brother John and love interest Charles in “Sense and Sensibility”; the Father in “Monsoon Wedding”; Frank in “Little Miss Sunshine”; Carolyn and Buddy Kane in “American Beauty”; Kramer in “Kramer versus Kramer”; Harding in “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”.)
  1. Comic archetypes include the trickster, the grump, the know it all, the clown, the nebbish, the innocent child
  1. The main character is the audience’s primary character of emotional identification, but not necessarily the character that changes the most.
  1. The main character doesn’t change as much as she grows by following her convictions.
  1. These are stories about growth through family crisis.
  1. The antagonist or opponent is the character who represents the status quo values of the family, and may change at the end to support the main character’s “underdog” values.
  1. The primary antagonist, often a parental figure within the family network, stands for the family codes and values.
  1. The ending, positive or negative, depends on how rigid the antagonist is. If the antagonist is intractable, the ending will be dark.
  1. Patriarch or matriarch sets the outer limits of the conflict/dramatic potential.
  1. The guide represents the underdog value and may bring this value in through levity, warmth, and humor (the grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine; the uncle in My Life as a Dog; Leah, the girlfriend, in Juno)
  1. Every character is equally important because the theme surfaces through the evolving family constellation.