What Makes a Comedy a Comedy?

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Since the announcement of this year’s Golden Globe nominations, a debate has sparked over the Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy nominees. All of the five films nominated in the category – American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, and The Wolf of Wall Street – are unarguably not laugh-out-loud movies, but according to Entertainment Weekly, the only qualification the Hollywood Foreign Press Association upholds for a Musical/Comedy category film is whether it makes an audience laugh. From the article:

In pop culture, comedy often implies a position where you’re outside of things, laughing at them; whereas drama suggests empathy, identification, compassion, with no laughs to get in the way. A lot of our best pop culture fuses both, so that we can laugh at a character we do feel compassion for. And when that’s happening, the distinction is moot. But comedy, as a classification, essentially repositions the purpose of a movie. It says: That movie is there to entertain you. And, of course, it is. But our relationship to a comedy can sound like a bit of a transaction: We pay our money, and we want to laugh. We want results. Whereas a drama, when it’s great, offers something more mysterious. It’s an experience that we take with us, because there’s no guffawing human coin to measure it by.