Can we compare the difference between dry comedic and slapstick sounds?? Is there a fine line between these things or is it vague?

Maybe a movie or article reccomendation could lend a helping hand in these hard times.

My approach of course relies on the situation to determine the outcome of the sound but maybe sometimes have the sound determine the outcome of the situation..this may be a bit of Chris-speak but I'd love to hear the audience's response.

2 Answers 2


First of all, did you read this thread on what makes a sound funny?

Not so much an answer as a riff: Might one answer boil down to literalism? To my brain, "dry comedic" evokes quite literal sounds that are simply very well timed or cleverly juxtaposed (or inserted to infer off-screen events). Likewise, "slapstick" for me evokes vaudeville, which was a huge influence on early animation and film, where we hear utterly non-literal sounds (like horn honks, cymbal crashes, or slide whistles) that nevertheless underscore diegetic action. There are lots of sounds that are right there on the border of realism; whooshes and impacts are great examples of sounds that can go either way, depending on their implementation. My gut reaction is the difference the emphasis and distance from representative sound (i.e., see a [foo], cut a [foo]) is what could differentiate dry comedy vs. slapstick.

(Having said all that, though, I wrestle with films like Something About Mary, which was pretty much straight slapstick - was that really slapstick in its use of sound?)

But this could all just be an exercise in semantics if this isn't what you meant in your initial question - that's just my interpretation. Roger's points are excellent, although I'd add that some sounds can carry emotion if they're cliches or tropes (like the slidewhistle), making their meaning entirely culture-specific, and that it's how and where sound is used that is where the emotion, if any, is delivered.

Ahem, wow, talking about comedy like that is totally unfunny. I've gone and harshed my own mellow...

  • Now what about a movie like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Would you call that slapstick? I loved the sound and the "pavlovian trick" the Sound Designer said he used with the Sonic the Hedgehog sounds.
    – Utopia
    Oct 1, 2010 at 4:01
  • 1
    That's another interesting one, @Ryan. It's easy to hear "slapstick" and think of it as a put-down or a negative, and it's totally not. I'd definitely consider some of the gags in SPvsTW slapstick. And it's supremely successful in defining its own narrative space: It's a moving comic book. The sounds aren't literal at all, and that adds to the humor. IMO the sounds ground it not in our reality, but its own, and that's as valid an approach as any. Oct 1, 2010 at 4:13
  • Yes it is a very usefull thread @noisejockey
    – Chris
    Oct 1, 2010 at 18:14

As usual, it's all about context. Although, off the top of my head, i'd say that sound in a dry comedy would be subtle and rely heavily on timing and coordination with the other elements of the program; whereas slapstick tends to be over the top and and would work with big, attention grabbing sounds.

Having said that, an over-the-top sound that goes against the grain of the rest of the scene can be great in a dry comedy (the broken car horn in Little Miss Sunshine perhaps); and a small subtle sound can give great punctuation for a slapstick situation (can't think of any off the top of my head, but maybe the last little piece of rubble falling after the whole house has collapsed).

So i guess what i'm saying is that i don't think a sound can be described as slapstick or dryly comedic. Broadly speaking, a sound has little or no emotional content until it's put into a story context and/or against picture.

  • Good examples of slapstick sounds are from the old silent fiolm days when stuff was added later on. The OTT sounds. In Dumb and Dumber, the Jeff Daniels bathroom scene is slapstick in the grossest way but we can't stop laughing- ok I am a sick twisted person. Also, Jacque Tati films.
    – oinkaudio
    Oct 1, 2010 at 8:43
  • @oinkaudio Just to clarify; if you reread you'll see that i was grasping for examples of small, subtle sounds punctuating a slapstick scene. Good call on Tati though! Oct 1, 2010 at 13:26

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