Slapstick is a type of comedy involving physical action. One classic piece of slapstick comedy is to have a person slip on a banana peel and fall to the ground with limbs flailing. The style was explored extensively during the "golden era" of black and white, silent movies directed by Mack Sennett and Hal Roach and featuring such notables as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and the Keystone Kops, reaching perhaps its fullest and most hilarious flower with the Three Stooges in their series of talking short films. It is also common in animated cartoons like Tom and Jerry and The Roadrunner.
The style is derived from the Commedia dell'arte which employed a great deal of physical abuse and tumbling. The phrase comes from a device they used composed of two wooden slats which looked like a bat and which, when struck, produced a loud popping noise with very little force. This battacio, or slapstick as it was called in English, allowed the actors to strike each other repeatedly while causing very little actual damage. It was a very early form of special effect.
In recent times, violence in comedy has been decried by many, but many modern films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Scream combine violence and comedy, not to mention Itchy and Scratchy and it is unlikely that this traditional source of laughs will ever disappear.
Modern comedy films often use elements of slapstick, such as Dumb and Dumber
See also: laughter