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When the World Laughs

Film Comedy East and West

William V. Costanzo

Publication Date - 02 March 2020

ISBN: 9780190925000

384 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock


When the World Laughs is a book about the intersection of humor, history, and culture. It explores how film comedy, one of the world's most popular movie genres, reflects the values and beliefs of those who enjoy its many forms, its most enduring characters and stories, its most entertaining routines and funniest jokes. What people laugh at in Europe, Africa, or the Far East reveals important truths about their differences and common bonds. By investigating their traditions of humor, by paying close attention to what kinds of comedy cross national boundaries or what gets lost in translation, this study leads us to a deeper understanding of each other and ourselves.

Section One begins with a survey of the theories and research that best explain how humor works. It clarifies the varieties of comic forms and styles, identifies the world's most archetypal figures of fun, and traces the history of the world's traditions of humor from earliest times to today. It also examines the techniques and aesthetics of film comedy: how movies use the world's rich repertoire of amusing stories, gags, and wit to make us laugh and think.

Section Two offers a close look at national and regional trends. It applies the concepts set forth earlier to specific films-across a broad spectrum of sub-genres, historical eras, and cultural contexts-providing an insightful comparative study of the world's great traditions of film comedy.


  • Integrates theory and research, history and culture, and the art and business of movies
  • Expands the usual canon of film comedy to include regions of the world often overlooked by Hollywood and Eurocentric studies
  • Broadens our notions of comedy as a flexible instrument of personal and cultural expression

About the Author(s)

William V. Costanzo is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of English and Film who has taught writing, literature, and film courses since 1970. A graduate of Columbia University with a Certificate in Film from NYU, Dr. Costanzo has published six books ranging from writing and computers to world cinema and film genres.


"Its inclusivity of a global perspective is refreshing. I highly recommend this book to readers wishing to expand their knowledge of comedy films outside the United States." -- Patrice A. Oppliger, HUMOR

"Hunting down universals in comedy and finding the peculiarities in regional cinemas, When the World Laughs breaks down the borders of the sense of the comic and expands horizons. Costanzo teaches the reader about laughter, about crossing ethnic and cultural boundaries to learn about what the neighbors find funny. ... Out of this modest proposal erupts a transnational understanding and appreciation to see with fresh eyes and hear with fresh ears the global grammars and rhetorics of human laughter. Written with persuasive clarity and cogency, this is a delightful treatment of film comedy." -- T. Lindvall, CHOICE

"Rich with provocative ideas for comparisons and contrasts among countries and regions, it is a rewarding place to begin, expanding this field of inquiry and inviting constructive engagement." -- Diane Carson, Transnational Screens

"Costanzo's When The World Laughs wins the Oscar for the most thorough and engaging study of cinematic comedies from Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and beyond, embracing theory, cultural perspectives, history, and the variety of comic elements as well more thoroughly than any other book written so far." -- Andrew Horton, University of Oklahoma

"This is the book the field had been waiting for, a wide-ranging study of film comedy that is informed by humor studies scholarship, erudite, well-researched, and yet quite readable." -- Salvatore Attardo, Texas A & M University - Commerce

"When the World Laughs insightfully analyzes a global selection of film comedy from Britain to Italy, Africa to East Asia, illuminating aesthetics, politics, and values. Exploring theories of humor, genre, history, culture, archetypes, and style, Costanzo presents a solid exploration of exceptional scope and depth." -- Diane Carson, UFVA Past President

Table of Contents


    Section One: Frameworks and Foundations
    · Chapter 1: Theories of Humor
    · Chapter 2: Comic Forms
    · Chapter 3: Archetypes of Comedy
    · Chapter 4: Comedy, History, and Culture
    · Chapter 5: Technique and Style
    Section Two: Local and Global Contexts
    · Chapter 6: British Film Comedy
    · Chapter 7: French Film Comedy
    · Chapter 8: Italian Film Comedy
    · Chapter 9: Russian Film Comedy
    · Chapter 10: Film Comedy in Africa
    · Chapter 11: Film Comedy in Scandinavia
    · Chapter 12: Film Comedy in South America
    · Chapter 13: Film Comedy in East Asia

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