Comic relief: A humorous scene or passage inserted into an otherwise serious work. Comic relief is intended to provide an emotional outlet and change of pace for the audience, as well as to create a contrast that further emphasizes the seriousness of the work.
EXAMPLES: William Shakespeare used the gravedigger scene in Hamlet (1602), the drunken porter in Macbeth (1606), and the character of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (1596) to provide comic relief. Ratso Rizzo, played by Dustin Hoffman, provides comic relief in John Schlesinger’s darkly disturbing film Midnight Cowboy (1969).
Jim Crace’s novel Quarantine (1998), which chronicles Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness, contains numerous scenes that provide comic relief, such as one in which Musa, a trader whom Jesus has healed, orders that a dead donkey be pushed over a cliff above the cave in which Jesus is awaiting a sign from God. Disney movies typically contain sidekicks or other characters who provide comic relief, such as the crab Sebastian in The Little Mermaid (1989), the genie in Aladdin (1992), and the snowman Olaf in Frozen (2013).