AskDefine | Define slapstick

Dictionary Definition

slapstick adj : characterized by horseplay and physical action; "slapstick style of humor"


1 a boisterous comedy with chases and collisions and practical jokes
2 acoustic device consisting of two paddles hinged together; used by an actor to make a loud noise without inflicting injury when striking someone

User Contributed Dictionary



from slap + stick. The slapstick was a pair of sticks tied together that make a loud noise when struck together. It was often used to provide a sound effect when one performer pretends to hit another in the face, and the recipient reacts comically. Live comedy routines that often used this device are also known as slapstick.


  1. physical comedy, e.g. slipping on a banana peel
  2. a pair of sticks tied together at one end and used to create a slapping sound effect for (1)

Extensive Definition

Slapstick is a type of comedy involving exaggerated physical violence or activities which exceed the boundaries of common sense, such as a character being hit in the face with a heavy frying pan or running into a brick wall. These hyperbolic depictions are often found in children's cartoons and light film comedies aimed at younger audiences. Though the term is often used pejoratively, the performance of slapstick comedy requires exquisite timing and skillful execution.


The phrase comes from the battacchio—called the 'slap stick' in English—a club-like object composed of two wooden slats used in Commedia dell'arte. When struck, the battacchio produces a loud smacking noise, though little force is transferred from the object to the person being struck. Actors may thus hit one another repeatedly with great audible effect while causing very little actual physical damage. Along with the inflatable bladder (of which the whoopee cushion is a modern variant), it was among the earliest forms of special effects that could be carried on one's person.


While the object from which the genre is derived dates from the Renaissance, theater historians argue that slapstick comedy has been at least somewhat present in almost all comedic genres since the rejuvenation of theater in church liturgical dramas in the Middle Ages. (Some argue for instances of it in Greek and Roman theater, as well.) Beating the devil off stage, for example, remained a stock comedic device in many otherwise serious religious plays. Shakespeare also incorporated many chase scenes and beatings into his comedies. Building off its later popularity in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century ethnic routines of the American vaudeville house, the style was explored extensively during the "golden era" of black and white, silent movies directed by figures Mack Sennett and Hal Roach and featuring such notables as Mabel Normand, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, the Keystone Kops, and the Three Stooges. Slapstick is also common in animated cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes. Cartoonist Brendon Small considers the gory violence in his late-night cartoon, Metalocalypse, a form of Slapstick.

Modern criticism

In recent times, some have criticized representations of violence in a belief that they encourage actual violence, a claim supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.;108/5/1222 Slapstick comedy has not escaped negative attention, though its lengthy presence in performance history and obviously fictitious nature usually protects it from efforts meant to censor video games and action films. Slapstick continues to maintain a presence in modern comedy that draws upon its lineage, running in film from Buster Keaton to Mel Brooks to the Farrelly Brothers, and in live performance from Weber & Fields to Jackie Gleason to Rowan Atkinson.
slapstick in Catalan: Slapstick
slapstick in Czech: Groteska (film, divadlo, literatura)
slapstick in Danish: Slapstick
slapstick in German: Slapstick
slapstick in Spanish: Slapstick
slapstick in Persian: دلقک‌بازی
slapstick in French: Slapstick
slapstick in Galician: Slapstick
slapstick in Italian: Slapstick
slapstick in Hebrew: סלפסטיק
slapstick in Dutch: Slapstick
slapstick in Japanese: スラップスティック・コメディ映画
slapstick in Norwegian: Slapstick
slapstick in Polish: Slapstick
slapstick in Portuguese: Pastelão
slapstick in Russian: Буффонада
slapstick in Slovak: Groteska
slapstick in Finnish: Slapstick
slapstick in Swedish: Slapstick
slapstick in Turkish: Slapstick
slapstick in Ukrainian: Буфонада

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Atticism, Thalia, acting, agile wit, arlequinade, black comedy, black humor, bladder, broad, broad comedy, buffoonery, burlesque, burletta, business, camp, campy, cap and bells, caricature, characterization, comedie bouffe, comedie larmoyante, comedie rosse, comedietta, comedy, comedy ballet, comedy of humors, comedy of ideas, comedy of intrigue, comedy of manners, comedy of situation, comedy relief, comic, comic muse, comic opera, comic relief, comical, coxcomb, dark comedy, domestic comedy, dry wit, esprit, exode, farce, farce comedy, farcical, gag, genteel comedy, ham, hammy acting, harlequinade, high camp, hoke, hokum, humor, impersonation, irony, lampoon, light, light comedy, low camp, low comedy, mime, mimesis, mimicking, mimicry, miming, mock-heroic, motley, mummery, musical, musical comedy, nimble wit, opera buffa, overacting, pantomiming, parody, patter, performance, performing, personation, playacting, playing, pleasantry, portrayal, pretty wit, projection, quick wit, raw comedy, ready wit, realistic comedy, representation, romantic comedy, salt, sarcasm, satire, satyr play, savor of wit, sentimental comedy, situation comedy, slapstick comedy, slapstick humor, sock, squib, stage business, stage directions, stage presence, stunt, subtle wit, taking a role, tragicomedy, tragicomic, travesty, visual humor, wit
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