There is no TV show that quite makes use of fast moving, high level, intellectual bantering as “Frasier”. Perhaps one of the most successful spinoffs of all time, “Frasier” took a beloved character from an equally beloved tv show and built a small and lively world around him.
If there is one area where “Frasier” truly shines from a writing perspective it is through the comedy of manners; a unique form of satire that mocks the quirks and eccentricities of high level society through the use of two faced and somewhat shallow characters. Though the characters of “Frasier” often show levels of depth and strong character, their desire for social recognition and intellectual one-upmanship frequently end in squabbles and petty vendettas.
For any student of fiction writing, one must look no further than “Frasier” to learn just about everything necessary for a comedy of manners. Here are five key points to make note of:
Establish the Characters’ Place in Society
One of the defining characteristics of the comedy of manners is that it pokes fun at the quirks and customs of society. With this being the case, it is necessary to establish early on exactly what level of society your story takes place within. In the case of “Frasier”, there is something of a dual society presented: the upper class, or financially well off, and an elevated echelon of learned individuals; an “intellectual upper class”. Being that the main character, Frasier Crane, is a successful radio psychiatrist, his position gives him access to both circles of society, allowing the writers great freedom to poke fun at the wealthy and the educated alike.
Establish the Main Character’s Reaction to Society
One of the key factors to determine early on is if your main character is a spectator or participator in the society which is the focus of your satire.
–Does he/she engage in or mock the society of your story?
— Will your protagonist be the witty observer of the antics of others, or will you leave the role to your narrator?
The distinction is important as it will establish the point of view through which the audience will engage in your story. In the case of “Frasier”, Frasier himself toes the line between spectator and participator in the comedy of manners. Often, he will begin by making witty observances of the absurdities of others, only to engage in the same pettiness himself soon after. This unnoticed hypocrisy is a clever and humorous tool that you should consider making use of.
The Wise Mock the Foolish…
A telltale sign of the comedy of manners is the hidden barb: a double-sided comment that allows one character to mock another, with only the audience aware of the insult. This often occurs when an intellectually superior character offers a slightly denser character a backhanded compliment; jabbing at them through their own disability to understand that they are being slighted. In “Frasier”, both Frasier and his equally intelligent brother Niles are notorious for subtly criticizing their “less refined” companions through the use of clever wordplay.
…And the Foolish Mock the Wise
Equally important in a comedy of manners is to allow the “foolish to mock the wise”. Let your simpler, or socially “lower” characters have their moment of glory over their intellectually superior companions. In the case of “Frasier”, Martin Crane, Frasier’s father, is often the brunt of his sons’ playful ridicule for his more down-to-earth take on life. Frequently however, Martin is able to turn a phrase back on his sons, exposing their petty and sometimes foppish tendencies. Providing this “role reversal” in a comedy of manners allows the entire ensemble to be the subject of your satire, rather than a select group of individuals.
The Common Threads
Finally, no comedy of manners is complete without the inclusion of common threads:
Anything that all of the characters universally share can serve as a common thread. After all, one of the key factors of the comedy of manners is to poke fun at the airs and pretenses humans take on to try to appear more important than others. Creating variables and situations that reveal the true humanity of your characters provides not only a humorous unmasking of social facades, but can bring your story full circle in a relatable and satisfying way. In the case of “Frasier”, Martin, Niles, and Frasier, though somewhat dysfunctional, never lose sight of the common bond they all share as family. This theme provides a depth which is not always seen in a comedy of manners.
Satire provides the writer with a fun and creative way to express their views and criticisms of modern life. In the case of a comedy of manners, the fiction writer should look to sharpen their skills in the areas of fast paced dialogue, double meanings, and wordplay. Lovers of fiction writing should take cues from shows like “Frasier” and push themselves to craft creative situations, conversations, and social interactions that allow you to make observations on modern society from your own, unique point of view.