Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Film Studies

First Advisor

Melinda Barlow

Second Advisor

Phil Solomon

Third Advisor

Mark Leiderman


This thesis begins at the partnership of humor and fear. Though the reactions they elicit are experientially disparate, one positive and one negative, these two universal traits are as comparable to each other as to the poles of a magnet. Fear is essential to humor, and humor is at once fearful and fear-ameliorating. At the risk of altering a wonderful thing by observation, this essay subsequently submits to its author’s foolhardy curiosity, and institutes for his extemporization a dichotomy of the expression of fear in film and television comedy, each side typified by one of America’s two silent behemoths: Charlie Chaplin, the emotive Tramp; and Buster Keaton the deadpan, the Great Stone Face. Siphoning from a previous essay of my own on the principles of magic evident in Andy Kaufman’s comedy, these examples find unification over their shared resemblance to illusion, another art form to which fear is a companion. Upon that alliance, this contrived spectrum hopes to evolve by the final page’s turning into a scheme almost worthy of these great works of humor – something three-dimensional, like a curved film, a swath of the soap-bubble which passingly encapsulates our combustive life from the unfathomable darkness outside that we name death, chaos, infinity, nothingness. This thing is the totality of fear, and it surrounds, and ends only at us. In some places the bubble is thinner than in others. These are the funny spots.