Analysing improvised music through a comedic lens

Abstract

Improvisation in modern Western performance can most commonly be found in the mediums of music and comedy. These practices have been an integral part of art performance throughout its documented history, yet there is an underrepresentation of improvisation in academia. Music and comedy academic discussion respectively privilege score-based and written media over the extemporised, and no theories have been proposed in any field to explain the effect of improvisation. However, there are three accepted theories of comedy that can be used to explain the humorous effects of improvisation in theatrical performance. These are referred to as the theories of incongruity, relief, and superiority. Viewing improv comedy through the lens of these theories demonstrates that the idiosyncratic elements inherent in the improvised nature of its performance conform with the conventions established by the aforementioned theories. As these elements are not displayed in written comedy, which the theories primarily address, the argument can be presented that improvisation as a creative approach, regardless of its medium, displays elements of humour. This argument is supported by using these theories to analyse jazz music and in recognising their relationship to jazz and their relationship to improvised comedy is very similar. This connection between improvisation in comedy and jazz goes beyond theories of comedy, and these additional similarities will be examined, before each of the primary theories is analysed in turn Within this thesis, I propose that the world of commonality between improvised music, specifically common-practice jazz, and improvised comedy, including their relationship to comedy theory, transcends the established worlds of composed music and written comedy respectively. Therefore, I will conclude that improvisation should be viewed as its own unique genre of interdisciplinary performance

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