In the Commedia dell'Arte, actors would perform repeated comic routines called lazzi. The lazzi were unique to each character (although not to each acting troupe) yet common enough to be recognizable. They could be a comic phrase or physical gesture; the desired result was always a laugh from the audience. For example, the character Arlecchino the servant (aka Harlequin) would stand behind a speaker and move his arms dramatically (in place of the speaker's own arms) in response to what was being said; this technique is often used today in comic improv (e.g. Whose Line is it Anyway?)

The most well-known example of lazzi today are seen on The Simpsons. Homer's "D'oh!" and Dr. Nick's "Hi, everybody!" are good examples of verbal lazzi. Examples of physical lazzi include Barney's burp and Mr. Burns's "exxxxcelent" motion. Actions such as these still achieve comic effect after ten seasons because they are the well-known lazzi that have come to define the comedy in their characters.

lazzi is the plural of the italian word lazzo that currently means "verbal joke". The word is falling out of use, its original meaning is "bitter, astringent"; one famous use is in the Divina Commedia:

ti si farà, per tuo ben far, nimico;
ed è ragion, ché tra li lazzi sorbi
si disconvien fruttare al dolce fico.

(Inferno, V 64), meaning, "because of your good deeds, they will become your enemies/which is reasonable, since among the bitter rowans/the sweet fig should not bear fruit". Here Brunetto Latini is foretelling Dante's future; the Florentines will become his enemies (and exhile him) because of his integrity and honesty.

In Italian, lazzi is often used in the idiom frizzi e lazzi, which means "jokes of all types". I do not know in what a "frizzo" would be different from a "lazzo"; it could be just an alliteration, like "cazzi e mazzi" or "flotsam and jetsam".

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