Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin stars in the movie City Lights, a silent, black and white film, made in the 1930's. Chaplin, who portrays the character of a tramp, is the comic hero throughout the movie. It is odd that the film casts a tramp as the comic hero. Usually, no one laughs at a poor tramp; people tend to have pity and sympathy for a tramp or not even associate with one. Many of Chaplin's actions are common everyday routines for him, but his actions and gestures provide humor and comic relief in the film making him the comic hero. Henri Bergson discusses the comic in "Laughter". Bergson writes about the comic by breaking it down into different parts such as the comic in general, the comic in character and the expansive force of the comic. The Webster's Dictionary only goes as far as defining the comic as "an amusing person." Bergson, however, chooses to stay away from giving the comic a distinct, dictionary-like definition; instead he describes it, gives examples and dives deeper into the comic's meaning and purpose (62). Through diverse roles and Charlie Chaplin's simpleness, many aspects of humor grow out of accidental happenings and coincidence. Bergson provides reason and understanding to back up what people think is funny.
The first part of the comic, which is the comic in general, kind of describes itself; this information is general to all comics. Comedy can be expressed in many ways, but laughter always accompanies it (71). Laughter always happens in a group or originates in a group because it is easier to laugh in a group (62). Since laughter is a social event, it acts as a form of social correction (71). While comedy can be demonstrated on purpose, comedy can also occur at unexpected times or during normal times. Bergson suggests that comedy is accidental (67). As in Chaplin's case, his normal actions are funny to onlookers but not for himself. For example, when he is in the restaurant with the rich man, he is walking across the dance floor and he can't manage to keep his feet under him. Laughter comes from people watching the film, but Chaplin is not laughing he is just trying to cross the dance floor to get to his table. The more normal the action, the more comic the action is to others (68). Comedy "aims at the general" because it will be more humorous if people can understand it with little or no thought involved (157).
The comic in character is another part of the comic that takes in a wide range of elements. Mostly, the comic is always in character. Charlie Chaplin is the comic in the film and the character is himself, which isn't supposed to be funny. Only his actions are funny. Bergson says, comedy "begins, in fact with what might be called a growing callousness to social life" (147). This is true in Chaplin's role because he is a tramp. He does not have to worry about what people think of him. He can pretend to be blind to the ways of the world. For example, Charlie Chaplin wakes up on a new city statue on the day of its unveiling. He never thought to himself, "what effects will this have on my social status?" Chaplin was not concerned with the impressions he would make. Chaplin could be a gentleman though, even though he couldn't afford it. He certainly was kind to people he met, the rich man and the blind woman. Bergson would probably suggest this is funny because Chaplin realizes his position in life and does not worry about it, while rich people worry about everything. His carefree attitude towards life lightens the mood, even causing it to be funny.
The expansive force of the comic can be seen very often throughout the film. Charlie Chaplin has so many effects on characters in the film. The comic has such an impact on the rich man's life especially; he saves his life. In Bergson's words Chaplin would be considered a "social masquerade" when he pretends to be a fellow millionaire just like the rich man (89). When Chaplin is befriended by a drunk millionaire, Chaplin "masquerades" as a stuffy headed rich man just like his friend. They go to expensive restaurants and smoke cigars. The comedy lies in the fact that Chaplin is so unaccustomed to this lifestyle. He is