Acting Funny on the Catalan Stage

El teatre còmic en català (1900–2016)

by John London (Volume editor) Gabriel Sansano (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection XIV, 308 Pages


Comedy has been a constant presence in the history of Catalan theatre, but it is rarely recognized as a separate generic identity, worthy of academic study as a whole. This volume is the first concentrated attempt to analyse Catalan theatre under the comic lens, with essays in English and Catalan. It studies comic form, performative innovation, and socio-political function. As well as providing detailed analyses of figures excluded from standard accounts, it makes a strong case for the originality of many authors, directors, and actors. This is definitely another realm in which the Catalan contribution to European culture needs to be acknowledged and appreciated. Moreover, the book provides an exceptional platform on which theatre is considered – within the same project – from several regions where Catalan is spoken: Spanish Catalonia, the Valencia region, and different towns in French Catalonia.
La hilaritat sempre ha tingut una presència molt important en l’evolució del teatre català, tot i que rarament ha comptat amb un estudi i reconeixement acadèmics. Aquest volum proposa una anàlisi de diverses formes d’humor de l’escena catalana, amb una selecció d’assaigs en anglès i català d’experts de diferents universitats. S’hi examinen algunes propostes de comicitat, innovacions performatives i la projecció sociopolítica d’aquesta jocositat. També s’hi estudia l’originalitat d’un conjunt d’autors, directors i actors al marge de l’humor políticament correcte. Sens dubte, un altre àmbit, el de riure, en el qual cal reconèixer i posar en valor la contribució catalana a la cultura europea. El llibre constitueix un cas rar on es considera el teatre –dins d’un mateix projecte– de diversos espais geogràfics on es parla català: Catalunya (sobretot Barcelona), el País Valencià i diferents pobles del Rosselló.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Studying Catalan Theatrical Comedy: An Introduction (John London and Gabriel Sansano)
  • Part I Reception and Influences
  • 1 Comic and Catalan?: The Commedia dell’Arte in Catalonia in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries (David George)
  • 2 Primera història d’Esther i La corte del rey Assuero [The (First) Story of Esther and The Court of King Ahasuerus] (Maria Moreno I DOMÈNECH)
  • 3 Dario Fo a Catalunya: el cas de Mort accidental d’un anarquista [Dario Fo in Catalonia: The Case of Accidental Death of an Anarchist] (Enric Gallén)
  • 4 Humor i absurd: escenes brossianes [Humour and the Absurd: Brossian Theatres] (Héctor Mellinas)
  • Part II Textual Strategies
  • 5 Beyond Carpanta: Humour in the Plays of Josep Escobar (Rhiannon McGlade)
  • 6 Comedy in French Catalonia: Adventures in Mockery and Self-Mockery (John London)
  • 7 Strategies for Comedy in Plays by Contemporary Catalan Women (Isabel Marcillas-Piquer)
  • Part III Acting Humour
  • 8 Joaquim Montero i Delgado, trànsits i cruïlles [Joaquim Montero i Delgado: Passages and Intersections] (Núria Santamaria)
  • 9 Power, Politics, and Comic Theatre: Political Satire as Dissidence in La torna and Ubú president by Els Joglars (Simon Breden)
  • 10 La influència de la pedagogia de Jacques Lecoq dins l’escena còmica catalana contemporània: la dramatúrgia de l’actor de Sergi López i Toni Albà [The Pedagogical Influence of Jacques Lecoq on the Contemporary Catalan Stage: The Acting Dramaturgy of Sergi López and Toni Albà] (Martí B. Fons Sastre)
  • 11 Xavi Castillo i Pot de Plom: entre la transgressió i la sàtira política (1985–2015) [Xavi Castillo and Pot de Plom: Between Transgression and Political Satire (1985–2015)] (Gabriel Sansano)
  • Abstracts
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

←viii | ix→


Fig. 4.1. A design by Lluís Cobas for a striptease (labelled nº9) for the production by Fabià Puigserver of Quiriquibú, by Joan Brossa. Teatre del Casino de l’Aliança del Poblenou, February 1976. Companyia Teatre de l’Escorpí. Source: MAE, Centre de Documentació i Museu de les Arts Escèniques, Institut del Teatre, Barcelona. © Lluís Cobas.

Fig. 5.1. Rehearsal of an amateur production of Assaig general at the Orfeó Canigó (1960). © herederos de escobar.

Fig. 5.2. Performance of A dos quarts de set, rapte! at the Ateneu Catòlic de Sant Gervasi (1960), including Josep Escobar (far right) reprising the role of Sr Codina. © herederos de escobar.

Fig. 5.3. Illustration of the proposed set design for A dos quarts de set, rapte!, with contact details for the designated company, Germans Salvador. Source: Josep Escobar, A dos quarts de set, rapte!: farsa còmica en dues parts, cada una dividida en dos temps (Barcelona: Millà, 1963).

Fig. 5.4. Cover of Editorial Millà’s publication of L’altra cara de la lluna. Source: Josep Escobar, L’altra cara de la lluna (Barcelona: Millà, 1968).

Fig. 6.1. The wine makers try to bring the drunken government minister back to coherence in the first production of Josep Tolzà’s El vi de l’Anton (in 1977), directed by Roger Payrot. Source: Sant Joan i Barres 100–1 (1988), 39.

Fig. 6.2. Felip (Francesc Manent) and Marieta (Martina Roŀland) come back to life in order to reminisce about the past joys of French Catalan society in Pere Guisset’s Hem de casar en Baptista, directed by Francesc Manent (in 1974). Source: Sant Joan i Barres, special issue 2 (1975), 28.←ix | x→

Fig. 8.1. Caricature of Joaquim Montero by Bon (Romà Bonet i Sintes). Source: Papitu 259 (12 November 1913), 747.

Fig. 8.2. An example of the photographic reporting on the Montero family. Source: El Teatre Català 84 (4 October 1913), 696.

Fig. 8.3. Photographic reproduction of the chromo of Chocolates Brotons d’Elx [1927].

Fig. 8.4. ‘Postal XVIII’, from Per Catalunya, premiered in the Teatre Català Romea, 15 April 1921. The photographer is probably Josep Badosa. Source: MAE, Centre de Documentació i Museu de les Arts Escèniques, Institut del Teatre, Barcelona.

Fig. 9.1. The child-garrotting scene from La torna. Source: Archivo Els Joglars. © Els Joglars.

Fig. 9.2. Excelsito (Montse Puig) in Ubú President with Ramon Fontserè’s Excels in the background. Source: Archivo Els Joglars. © Els Joglars.

Fig. 11.1. Xavi Castillo as one of his most popular characters, the Capità Moro d’Alcoi, in Això …, això …, què val? Això ho pague jo!!! Source: Companyia Pot de Plom, 2016. © Companyia Pot de Plom.

Fig. 11.2. Poster for the show L’estrany viatge, before and after undergoing censorship by the local government (Generalitat Valenciana), dominated by the Partido Popular. Source: Companyia Pot de Plom, 2011. © Companyia Pot de Plom.

Fig. 11.3. Rather like Braveheart, Xavi Castillo in the sketch La fallera anticatalana, there to defend paella, the Valencian falles celebrations, and the Lady of Elx. Source: Companyia Pot de Plom, 2016. © Companyia Pot de Plom.←x | xi→

The editors and contributors have made every effort to contact the copyright holders of the illustrations. We apologize in advance for any omissions which will be corrected in future editions of this book.

←xii | xiii→


To be publishing a book on comedy during a pandemic and a war could justifiably be considered bad taste or an attempt at distraction. We hope it is simply a gesture towards establishing humour in Catalan theatre as a valid field of study. The contributors to this volume have certainly had to maintain a sense of humour as they dealt with our numerous inquiries and patiently awaited the completion of the project. They were exemplary in demonstrating how to treat comedy seriously while not smothering its spirit.

These chapters originated from a selection of the papers given in a conference hosted by the Centre for Catalan Studies at Queen Mary University of London. The authors subsequently expanded and revised their papers for publication following editorial scrutiny and the independent reports of the external readers. The conference committee consisted of specialists in the fields of comedy or Catalan theatre: Sharon Feldman (Richmond, Virginia), Ramon Rosselló (Valencia), and Veronika Zangl (Amsterdam). Ester Pou graciously assisted with the administrative organization of that meeting and the Grupo Freixenet sponsored the reception. We are grateful to the Centre for Catalan Studies and the Institut Ramon Llull for financial support for the conference and the production costs of this book. We extend our thanks as well to the anonymous readers employed by the publisher for their extremely detailed, helpful advice and the staff at Peter Lang who have seen this book through to completion: Alessandra Anzani, Emma Clarke, Hannah Godfrey, Tony Mason, Lucy Melville, Christabel Scaife, Laura-Beth Shanahan, and Laurel Plapp.

John London and Gabriel Sansano

←xiv | 1→
John London and Gabriel Sansano

Studying Catalan Theatrical Comedy: An Introduction

Writing about Comedy without Laughing

Since this book is concerned with what is comic in performance (although it merges the ideas of humour, laughter, and comedy), it is useful to define the field before venturing an analysis. The following approach, combining detailed somatic description with anatomical accuracy, might help in this context:

Humor may […] derive from the distribution of pain among characters whose buffoonery precludes the viewer’s, reader’s or listener’s identification. To cite a familiar example, Moe raises two fingers in a horizontal V-shape and impels them toward the eye-sockets of Curly, who interposes his upraised hand and catches the V at its apex, thereby inhibiting the fingers from achieving their end. After expressing his satisfaction through the repeated utterance of a laugh-syllable commonly rendered ‘nyuk’, the attention of Curly is diverted by the right hand of Moe as it flutters up to and above eye-level while the audience, though presumably not Curly, hears a high-pitched tweeting sound. While thus distracting Curly with one hand, Moe strikes him sharply in the abdomen with the other, at which the audience, though presumably not Curly, hears a strike upon the tympanum. The final ‘nyuk’ of Curly is thus interrupted so that he may retrieve his forcibly ejected breath, and this new breath’s more gradual expulsion is so operated upon by his larynx as to form the sound commonly rendered ‘ooo’.

There are three and a half more paragraphs along these lines and, of course, such comments do not help at all. Or rather, they help to show us how hard it is to write sensitively about comedy. Their author, Sir Anthony Forte-Bowell, does not exist and neither does the journal in which his comments appeared, Cinema/Not Cinema (although you wish they both ←1 | 2→would). The Coen Brothers are just reminding us through their parody – presented as a preface to the script of The Big Lebowski – that talking about comedy tends to destroy it or create a parallel, sometimes unwitting, comedy of its own.1 Cage the bird and the song will never sound natural. As Elwyn and Katherine White put it in their classic anthology of American comic writing: ‘Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.’2 The philosophical comedian Yves Cusset is blunter: ‘Either you laugh or you wonder why, and the two extremes of the alternative are completely exclusive.’3

When studying comedy it is, therefore, a natural step to underplay anything that can be defined as purely comic. Despite or perhaps because of the number of books and learned journals on humour and comedy, it is difficult to think of so prominent a subject the study of which tends to deny its very essence.4 One common approach is to establish comedy as a developing philosophy firmly embedded within history and there are always those who adopt the tactic of arguing that it is as serious and profound as tragedy.5 You have only to reverse the equation and imagine justifying the study of tragedy from a completely comic angle to realize the peculiarity of such assertions.

Even within analyses which acknowledge broader definitions, categorizing subgenres of comedy can verge on the potential relegation of ←2 | 3→those styles apparently lower in literary, moral status. Hence discussion of the ‘destructive laughter’ of farce and of its ‘abasement’ of what is human (and humane).6 The inevitable need to subdivide the field can just as well be identified as a wish to control a beast constantly threatening to break out of its chains. The animal tamer is there either to restrain laughter as the ridicule of some deficiency or permit it for a limited time as festive, fooling, potentially anarchic rejoicing.7

Seen from the perspective of what makes us laugh, one can perceive a similarly lofty remove – that of the policeman or the doctor – in the three principal theories of humour:8 (1) the Superiority Theory, encapsulated by Hobbes as the ‘Sudden Glory’ (‘Gloriatio Subita’) of laughter produced by ‘the apprehension of some deformed thing in another’ whereby, in a theatricalized metaphor, those laughing ‘suddenly applaud themselves’;9 (2) the Relief or Release Theory according to which laughing, in Freud’s terms, lifts an ‘inhibition’;10 (3) the Incongruity Theory whereby to laugh we must see something absurd and, as Kant had it, undergo ‘an expectation which is suddenly reduced to nothing’.11 Even a four-word gag, thought through, is ripe for all three approaches: ‘Take my wife – please!’12 And ←3 | 4→variant explanations can sometimes combine these theories without ever entirely avoiding the implicit notion that, by putting Jack back in his box, he will cease to shock or surprise us.13 (Unfortunately, this Introduction is not immune to that notion.)

Comedy and Nation

Needless to say, these views do not automatically seem to lend themselves to rigid definitions of national and linguistic contexts. The ramifications of their formulations are just too general, contradictory or messy. They also tend to rely on an assumed gelotophobia (a fear of being laughed at). More confusing still, under different circumstances, many of the scenarios conceived of as comic could also induce pity or sympathy.

Taking a slightly different approach, a clinical psychologist claims that all humour and all theories of it can be summarized according to polarities. Here are the ‘polarities compared solely by feeling tone’:14


XIV, 308
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (December)
theatre comedy Catalan literature teatre còmic literatura catalana Acting Funny on the Catalan Stage John London Gabriel Sansano
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XIV, 308 pp., 8 fig. col., 8 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

John London (Volume editor) Gabriel Sansano (Volume editor)

John London is Professor of Hispanic Studies and Director of the Centre for Catalan Studies at Queen Mary University of London. Gabriel Sansano is Professor of Catalan Studies at the University of Alacant (Spain).


Title: Acting Funny on the Catalan Stage
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