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Situation comedies strive to create entertaining humour based around a relevant situation. This is done through the exploration of many topics and application of different characteristics on different characters. In order to be successful situation comedies need to exploit the human weakness of humour. Humans are the only species physiologically capable of laughter. We often judge each other and ourselves by what we find funny. Laughter also affects us emotionally acting as a temporary amnesia making us forget or become less aware of our problems. Most sitcoms use stereotype and conflict of characters as an aspect of comedy creation.

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This combined with an emphasis on contrast, conflict and incongruity. By using incongruity the teller of a joke or former of comedy can tell the joke as if it were original, whether we laugh or not depends on if the joke contains some form of punch line that is in some way incongruous with the linguistic or physical environment in which it occurs but which at first sight had not been apparent or in any way anticipated by the audience.

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Sitcoms also offer viewers a higher willingness to take risks and say things other genres wouldn’t dare. Varied sitcoms offer different structures from the farcical structure of Fawlty Towers to the slow and spontaneous method used in The office. The basic character conflict is featured within all sitcoms to from comedy, within Fawlty Towers the incapability of Basil and mannuel to communicate is a central point to comedy. Similarly the embarrassing and progressive actions of David Brent in The Office conflicting with the general mentality of his colleges are basis for laughter.

Within a sitcom many controversial subjects and political issues are used or mocked in order to provide a basis for the comedy. By using sensitive issues and taking them one step further where they are exploited to a degree no other genre would go too comedy is created. However, this must be done whilst sustaining a degree of realism so that the viewer still has something with which to relate. By doing so every episode the viewer will recognise the characters behaviour and relate it back to their own. The Office provides a good example of this. The humour within the episodes is observational. Contrasting to the use of doors and a confined area with lots of movement to create farce comedy in Fawlty Towers.

The Office is a good example of a successful sitcom. Prior to watching an episode the viewer has certain expectations of the programme. This is formed by a gradual familiarity that is subconsciously formed between the acted stock characters and the viewer. Before watching the office we expect to see the same stock characters within the same environment. By forming this familiarity with the viewer the sitcom can exaggerate the comedy yet still make us laugh. Part of the reason we laugh is because we now the actors are acting yet we suspend disbelief. The office then takes comedy further by allowing that familiarity to be formed yet maintaining an accurate simulation of spontaneity. This therefore bonds us with the characters yet makes there actions unpredictable so we still find them funny.

The way in which the bond is formed is through the continued use of the same setting, slough, and the same theme song. This enhances the feeling that we are actually in the office with David Brent and his colleges and every day we too drive through those scenes of slough. By choosing an area like slough that is industrially dominated and similar to most urban areas the programme makers again familiarise the programme with reality and the surroundings we encounter in life.

The theme song as well as remaining the same is also familiar to a varied age range as it is and was a success throughout the last twenty years. The slight alterations within the song reflect the peculiar activities that take place within The Office. The repetition of this is contradictory to the ever changing sign at the start of Fawlty Towers. Although this is a difference both The Office and Fawlty Towers are the same in that they maintain a repeated intro, the changing of the sign introduces the silly and farce comedy created in Fawlty Towers.

As well as being a sitcom The Office is a spoof of another genre. They way in which it is filmed is similar to a “fly on the wall” documentary. This is because at several points in an episode the characters are aware of the camera, this becomes apparent by an occasional meeting of a characters eyes and the camera. The producers also incorporate the use of “Cutaways” that withdraw from the office scene and interrupt a staged interview of one of the characters.

The similarity of this to a documentary gives the impression that in the same way a documentary explores and studies a topic, The Office studies the office area yet can find nothing of interest due to the boring area that the office is. This is enhanced by the motionless and the same airless atmosphere of the camera. This is achieved through the use of the hand held camera when filming, such as the sound of the air as the camera moves; this all adds to the fake realism that The Office strives to create. The filming also uses close-ups, zooms and pulls in the same way an amateur home video would. The sound used in each episode includes background noise such as clatters and the shuffling of shoes, noises that would normally be edited out. This adds to the creation of comedy by projecting the incongruence and separating The Office in its comedy from other sitcoms.

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Kylie Garcia

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