In defense of fools: comedy in crisis
Langgam Performance Troupe, through no grand scheme, just happened to have produced performances that decidedly do not fall in the happy category of Comedy. Its first offering, Swear Not by the Moon (2015) is based on the Bard’s most recognizable tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. LPT goes on to stage Si Medea (2016) based on Euripides’s bloody mythological play, and Sarah Kane’s Cleansed (2019) with its unabashed themes of torture and suicide. Devised pieces like Somewhere Else Instead (2018), [KOSMOS] (2021) and Thread/Wrap (2021) refuse to be conveniently pigeonholed into neat genres. By this even incomplete list of LPT’s body of work, one would think its creators are sullen, acerbic, and humorless. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As many performers know, the real comedy in any show happens backstage. Gaieties, light banter, raucous laughter—these are part and parcel of how LPT works from behind the stage. Perhaps it’s to cope with the pressures of creating a show—let’s leave it to the psychologists to theorize why this is so. What can be easily attested to is that LPT tends to err on the side of levity, on level-headedness. LPT takes the work, but not themselves, seriously. Meetings sparkle with mirth and witticism. Inside jokes spark laughter. Comedy comes with the job, albeit seldom portrayed on stage.
A light moment at the LPT Studio
With this easy relationship with folly, it is unsurprising, in the wake of Will Smith’s ungentlemanly behavior in the 94th Academy Awards Ceremony, that Jenny Logico-Cruz, artistic director of LPT, expressed her concern on what she calls the crisis of comedy. She says, “These sudden rules and decorum being imposed on comedy is problematic, when the entire history of comedy, since the age of antiquity, has always been rooted on offense.”
Aristotle teaches us that comedy grew out of improvisations on phallic songs performed during phallic rites. This is why in Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, the soldiers’ erections stand in egregious attention, eliciting laughter and scorn from the audience. It is a jocular but meaningful strike at the toxicity of masculinity and war, and a powerful display of feminine power. Aristophanic comedies comment on contemporary society, politics, theatre, and even the Peloponnesian War—nothing is too sacred to be laughed about. Italy’s Commedia dell’arte is a riotous improvisational farce that employed stock characters poking fun at recognizable members from all rungs of 16th century society. Rostand’s Cyrano makes light of the undue importance people place on outward appearances and good looks. Star-crossed couples fall in love in Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and in Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movies, and they all live happily ever after. Even Shakespeare’s Fools made fools of his kings, and gotten away with their heads still attached to their necks (well, King Lear’s fool was hung on a noose, but not by Lear). And yes, Bill’s fools at moments spout wisdom and his kings make foolish decisions, but the delineation of roles is impossible to confuse. This is why Duterte’s crass jokes on women and rape are abominable, and they left his sycophants scrambling to mansplain the president’s brand of “humor.”
There is a place for proper comedy in society. And it is an important one. Jenny reiterates, “Comedy is designed to be the channel for our ids. It is the most productive outlet for it because it has a sense technique of distancing. Laughter detaches us from our dark sides. If we police comedy, if our comedians walk on politically correct egg shells, where do we channel our ids? The horror genre, for sure, ably serves that function, but notice why horror comedies are doubly fun. Rowan Atkinson said that comedy and horror share the same characteristics and formula.” What did pundits do with the willsmithian slap? They served us endless memes and jokes about it. That’s what comedians do.
LPT believes in the value of comedy on stage and in our society. LPT also believes that violence in any form should not be tolerated. We at LPT have, as performers, objectified and portrayed violence, but these are thoughtfully and carefully staged so that the performers are never injured, emotionally or physically. We strive to adhere to the highest dictates of ethics in creating our art. And we will champion the cause of comedy. Let comedy be, and it will laugh itself, and us, out of crisis. Heaven knows how much levity we need during these trying times.