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The very earliest films weren't very funny, but it didn't take filmmakers long to discover that one of the things that audiences liked to do was laugh, and once that discovery was made, comedy became one of the primary genres of film. Some of the earliest movie stars - Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin - were comic actors, and more than a century later, some the biggest stars of today - Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Melissa McCarthy - earned their stardom by making people laugh.

Those early Keaton and Chaplin movies were hits long before films even had sound, so getting giggles from moviegoers wasn't as easy as telling a funny joke. Comedy had to be physical, and the more spectacularly physical the better. Audiences learned to love the sight of actors falling down and doing improbable and embarrassing things. And physical comedy has never gone out of style, from Peter Sellers' Pink Panther movies in the 1960s to the clumsy bumbling of Will Ferrell and Melissa McCarthy.

A step up the intellectual scale - but only a small one - is the current trend of uncouth comedy. Bawdy, grungy comedy is nothing new - look back to Cheech and Chong or any National Lampoon movie - but contemporary stars like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and, again, Melissa McCarthy have taken the gross-out laugh to new heights.

Truly intellectual comedy is much harder to come by. Laughs are biggest when they come from someplace visceral, but some filmmakers know how to make you think before (or after) you laugh. The Coen brothers do it in their funny movies (as opposed to their bleak ones), and Wes Anderson's films are so intellectually funny that, if you?re not paying attention, you might not realize that they're funny.