The 20th cent. has witnessed a number of distinct trends in comedy. These include the sophisticated and witty comedy of manners, initiated by Oscar Wilde in the late 19th cent. and carried on by Noel Coward, S. N. Behrman, Philip Barry and others; the romantic comic fantasy of such playwrights as James M. Barrie and Jean Giraudoux; and the native Irish comedy of J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, Sean O'Casey, Brendan Behan, and Brian Friel.
Also important are the musical comedy, which descends from 18th-century ballad operas and the comic operas of W. S. Gilbert and A. S. Sullivan (see musicals) and the slick, satirical, and professional comedy of George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, and Neil Simon. Strongly contrasting with these sunny styles are the nihilistic, highly unconventional comedy, containing both comic and tragic elements, of dramatists of the theater of the absurd such as Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett and the so-called black comedy, often concerning topics like racism, sexual perversion, and murder, of playwrights such as Joe Orton, Harold Pinter, and David Mamet.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.