Today in my theatre history class we were discussing Plautus’ play The Brothers Menaechmus, a farce from ancient Rome. A lot of this play deals with mistaken identity between twin brothers and involves many doors through which characters enter and exit, creating much of the ensuing hilarity.
While reading this play, I couldn’t help but make a connection to The Modern Family episode “Las Vegas” because it employs many of the same conventions that are present in The Brothers Menaechmus.
Through viewing some of our sitcom episodes, I’ve been struck by how theatrical the sitcom set-up feels. The viewers are privy to information that the characters are not, which creates a lot of the humor present within each episode.
In the “Las Vegas” episode, the characters share connected hotel rooms. Many of the characters are trying to hide things from other characters through use of the series of doors that connect the sets. This confusing series of events creates the groundwork for the humor within the episode.
What really struck me about this connection was how comedy conventions can last through time. It’s crazy to me to think that we could find the same comic conventions funny that ancient Romans audiences enjoyed. I think this speaks a lot to the intertextuality that is present within sitcoms. So many of the conventions are repeated over time and many of the jokes are repeated as well.
While this is an isolated example, I think it’s important to note the larger implication that this example has. We’ve seen and will continue to see how so many of these tropes and conventions are repeated throughout history and how little our idea of humor has changed.