What Is the Difference between Comedy and Satire?

C. Mitchell

Satire is a form of comedy that is designed primarily to poke fun at specific foibles or flaws in people or institutions, largely in an attempt to draw attention and, in some cases, evoke change. Comedy is a broad genre in literature, theater and art. It is often broken down into “high” and “low” designations based on the sophistication of the humor. Satire is usually considered a form of high comedy.

Thalia, the Greek muse of comedy.
Thalia, the Greek muse of comedy.

Comedy and satire are different in that comedy is a much broader genre. All satire is comedy, but not all comedy is satire. Comedy includes everything from intelligent, witty repartees and dark humor to slapstick and baseline jokes. Satire, on the other hand, is a literary genre primarily focused on highbrow social criticism.

Comedy writers use comedic devices to get their message through to audiences.
Comedy writers use comedic devices to get their message through to audiences.

Most satire is directed at politicians, religious leaders, and others in the public sphere. It often features characters who represent exaggerated versions of the person or persons being targeted. Satire is based on truth, but depends on irony, wit, and sarcasm to expose weakness and other flaws. The tone is usually light, and the overall message is designed to be entertaining. Unlike other forms of comedy, however, satire carries a serious message thinly veiled beneath its surface.

Satire in literature typically needs to be written with irony, sarcasm, and hyperbolic parody to be effective.
Satire in literature typically needs to be written with irony, sarcasm, and hyperbolic parody to be effective.

It could be said that satire is a means of using comedy and high humor to expose social problems and ills. The genre is often lauded as an intelligent form of criticism. Artists and writers use comedic devices to get their message through to audiences without resorting to bald statements. In this way, comedy and satire always go hand in hand. Most satire is witty, drawing on common perceptions and exploiting them in clever, high-handed ways.

The larger sphere of comedy and satire often overlap, as most satire incorporates other comedic elements. It is common for a satirical work to include some parody and exaggeration, for instance. The main goal is to use biting humor to make some statement or criticism of social life by capitalizing on literary form — but more often than not this cannot be achieved without at least some crossovers between genres.

This crossover goes both ways. Comedy and satire also converge in works that are not primarily satirical. A farce or a piece of dark comedy may include certain satirical elements without being characterized as full-fledged satires.

Much of how a comedy is defined depends on the overall message and larger tone. The sensibilities of the audience are also important. Comedy and satire often go hand in hand, but in order to actually be satire, the overall motive of the piece must be more serious, and the piece must be presented in such a manner that its comedic leanings are not as readily apparent as they would be in a more directly comedic genre.

Social problems are often exaggerated in satire.
Social problems are often exaggerated in satire.

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Discussion Comments


If you ask me, simply put, comedy doesn't always have an underlying message or purpose, but satire does.

The only purpose that comedy has is to make people laugh. For example, I watch slapstick comedies frequently. I laugh a lot and have a great time. But when I turn the TV off, nothing stays with me from the film. It doesn't make me think, in fact, slapstick comedy requires leaving my brain at the door because usually, it's silly and illogical.

Satire, on the other hand, makes me think, even after the show is over. And sometimes, the message is very powerful and I feel like someone turned a light bulb on in my head.


@SarahGen-- I don't think that's true. The purpose of satire is to expose something. So the audience doesn't necessarily need to be aware of an issue to understand satire. That's actually what satire does, help people become aware through humor.

Of course, whether satire fulfills this purpose depends on the artist. If people don't understand the satire because it's poorly constructed, that's the fault of the artist.

I think that for the most part, satire reaches people with different social backgrounds successfully. Satire is easier to understand and more enjoyable than dark comedy in my opinion.


Would it be correct to say that comedy can be understood by everyone, but satire by only those who have some awareness of social and political matters of the day?

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