I see Commedia dell’Arte as the roots to all western popular comedy. There are naturally roots to Commedia dell’Arte as well, but if we see it as the first professional form of theatre in Europe and if we consider that we must start somewhere in time, Commedia dell’Arte is a good starting point for all western popular comedy. It is also the first international theatre phenomena.
When I talk about “popular comedy” I mean Vulgar comedy. I rather consider the Thespis version played to the all people from a cart on the street then the official Greek comedy that excluded women, slaves and foreigners and was a literary genre.
The old Commedia dell’Arte groups is said to be the first professional actor troupes in Europe and what use to be the date said of the birth of Commedia dell’Arte is taken from the first professional contract among actors that we have fund in Europe.
Naturally there were other professional theatre groups before Commedia dell’Arte. There have always been professional actors around, but we know very little written about them. Often they were jugglers, charlatani, storytellers or acrobats as well.
The major part of comedy before Commedia dell’Arte was played by amateurs, politicians in Greece, slaves in Rome and so on…
Another reason to speak of Commedia dell’Arte as the roots to all western popular comedy is the influence it has on popular comedy today. It is so much jokes, scenes, attitudes and ideas of today’s comedy we can trace back to Commedia dell’Arte. Even though Vulgar comedy has roots way back before the official theatre it is not really documented before Commedia dell’Arte. Everyone in the business like Shakespeare, Chaplin, Marx Brothers, Brendan O’Carrol and so on owe it to Commedia dell’Arte.