5 Essential Comedy Plays You Should Know

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The raucous stage comedy—which began in ancient Greek theater and was later adopted into the boulevard comedies of late 1800s France—once enjoyed a considerable heyday, with shows such as “She Stoops to Conquer,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and “Blithe Spirit.” The plays were wacky, often filled with wordplay, and were created purely to entertain audiences.

Such shows are in short supply these days, but if you’re over the drama, there are options out there to revisit, learn for the first time, and, most important, make you smile. This mix of classic and modern stage comedies from diverse points of view and intent are great options for your scene work—not to mention your pure enjoyment.

“Bootycandy” by Robert O’Hara

O’Hara has made quite a name for himself as a Tony-nominated director (“Slave Play”), but don’t sleep on his bold, marvelously skewed takes on Americana as a playwright. This 2011 play, a series of vignettes on the Black gay male experience, features everything from a wacky churchgoing excursion to the prospects of a young girl named Genitalia. The play, an inimitable blend of absurdism and social commentary, never accelerates in quite the way you think it will. “Bootycandy” is more than due for a revival as it’s only gotten more timely and funny with each passing year.

“Fleabag” by Phoebe Waller-Bridge

You’ve seen and loved the Emmy-winning Prime Video series, also starring Waller-Bridge, so don’t pass up the opportunity to peruse the 2013 originating solo show, written and performed by the British sensation. The musings of the unnamed protagonist, a young woman with a distinctly haphazard sense of self-fulfilling prophecy, sting with recognition. Waller-Bridge’s gloriously funny prose, duplicated brilliantly in the series, is comedic gold for anyone needing the best of the best on female-identifying monologues.

“Noises Off” by Michael Frayn

Frayn’s all-out, line-stumbling, scenery-falling delight, written in the tradition of the classic farce, has never lost its ability to knock audiences out of their seats with astute visual dazzle and perfectly penned pandemonium, even after four decades. This look at the rehearsal and opening of a boulevard comedy called “Nothing On”—where anything and everything goes awry—was the original “The Play That Goes Wrong,” and everything in that small subgenre owes it all to Frayn’s frazzled masterpiece

“The Odd Couple” by Neil Simon

Any number of Simon’s timeless standards could have made the cut here, but this exuberant mismatched NYC roommate rumination is so ingrained in American culture that the phrase “odd couple” is still tossed off in casual parlance. Felix Unger and Oscar Madison are among the most matchless duos in stage comedy history. Best of all, Simon’s 1965 play can be interpreted by a diverse range of pairings (Broadway even hosted Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers as the leads at one point in a 1980s revival). It’s just that durable.

“The Thanksgiving Play” by Larissa Fasthorse

Having just enjoyed a Broadway run starring Katie Finneran and Scott Foley, Fasthorse’s sharp, satiric look at a white community grappling with political correctness while trying to stage a Thanksgiving performance during Heritage Month is already a keeper. Riotously funny, with just the right jabs of awareness and invective, it’s a shrewd example of how to honor American humor at a specific moment in time while balancing the rigors of character-based comedy in a way that will work in every era, every time.

Jason Clark
Jason Clark (he/him) has over 25 years in the entertainment and media industry covering film, television, and theater. He comes to Backstage from TheWrap, where he’s worked as an awards reporter since 2021. He also has bylines in Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, Vulture, the Village Voice, AllMovie, and Slant Magazine, among many others. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in cinema studies from New York University.
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