Character comedy is the type of comedy associated with Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, and Langdon in the silent period, and with the Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, Mae West, Martin and Lewis, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and Woody Allen in the sound period. Abroad, these ranks are joined by the great comedians Jacques Tati, Pierre Etaix, Peter Sellers, and John Cleese.
The roles of these character comics were associated with the particular personae that they cultivated, which often did not change throughout their career. A character role is somewhat different from a great comic performance by a dramatic performer—for example, Michael Caine in Alfie (1966)— in the sense that this screen persona provides a different relationship with the audience. It allows Woody Allen to address and to confess to the screen audience in Annie Hall (1977); it allows Chaplin's Tramp to be abused by a lunch machine in Modern Times (1936); it allows Groucho Marx to indulge in non sequiturs and puns that have nothing to do with the screen story in Duck Soup (1934). The audience has certain expectations from a comic character, and it is the job of the editor to make sure that the audience isn't disappointed.
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