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Tarachow, S. (1949). Remarks on the Comic Process and Beauty. Psychoanal Q., 18:215-226.

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(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:215-226

Remarks on the Comic Process and Beauty

Sidney Tarachow, M.D.

Freud observed that two people are necessary for comedy: one, the person who laughs, the other, the object whose behavior or characteristics provoke the laughter (1). The comic process may be enjoyed without being imparted to a third. Wit requires the third person, but not the second; the subject of a witticism need not be on the scene; however, an audience is required. Humor, however, is a process which takes place within one person, the forces involved being the ego and the superego of the humorist.

It is possible to think of the people and forces involved in the comic process in another and useful way. In the suggested regrouping of elements the critical factor is the management and direction of the aggression. One could say that there are two pairs of constant elements in a comic situation: they are, first, the comedian (or wit) and his audience; second, the aggressor and his victim. This does not necessarily require four people. The minimum is two, the comedian and the audience; the other two may be supplied in fact or in fantasy and may be acted out by either one or the other of the two physically necessary characters. On this basis four elementary comic situations are postulated: 1, the masochistic comedian; 2, the story-teller; 3, the practical joker; 4, the sadistic comedian. (Humor is omitted here.)

In the first group the masochistic comedian acts out the part of the victim or sexual object. The audience may be the aggressor or a third person may be introduced as the aggressor. Costello, of the comedy team Abbott and Costello, is a typical example. He is always in trouble, and is being punished,


Revised from a paper presented as part of a Panel Discussion on Psychoanalysis of the Creative Imagination, at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Washington, D. C., May 15, 1948.

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