The traditions of Commedia dell’Arte and Greek theatre are still continued in Italian comedy today.
Commedia dell’Arte (literally translated as ‘Artistic Comedy’), dates back to the 16th century. It can be described as a comical theatre presentation performed by professional actors who travelled around Italy. The travelling acting groups performed mostly in city streets, and sometimes in court venues. The more famous troupes such as the Fedeli and Confidenti, even performed in palaces and reached international acclaim. The Commedia dell’Arte’s style of comedy used types of music, dance and witty dialogue, and it’s style spread throughout Europe and still lives on today in present day theatre.
In the past, ongoing themes in Italian comedy films were that of sickness, poverty, hunger, and old age, the idea being to highlight the ironic absurdities in tragic situations. A classic example to illustrate this is Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful (La vita e` bella). The film is set in the second world war in a nazi concentration camp, but somehow through the tragedy, Benigni still makes us laugh. Modern comedies today still laugh at the absurdities of modern life, although the themes of the past of sickness, old age etc aren’t that common.
Italians also appreciate jokes about life in general, and also enjoy jokes about politics e.g. there is a comic tradition of political cartoons called vignetta that can be found on the front page of Corriere della Sera, and in Naples there is a cartoon character of a chicken called ‘Gino’ who makes mini cartoon clips and songs about politics and pokes fun at political situations in the world today.