Friday, July 13, 2007

ON ACTING: More on Comedy: "The Absence of Laughter"

To be a good comic film actor, one requires great could even call it the obliviousness to instant judgement. The great actor Jack Lemmon ("Some Like it Hot", "The Apartment", etc.)--like all actors who do film comedy--never ONCE heard a laugh when he did something funny. He performed comedy, did extremely funny things (or so he hoped) over and over again, from film to film, without ever literally hearing a a positive reinforcing laugh until long after the on set performance. (No one on the crew is allowed to laugh on a film screws up the sound track.) So Jack had to be funny, and funny, and funny again without ever knowing for sure (eliciting an instantly responsive laugh) that he was comically succeeding.

One of his great directors, Billy Wilder, once described making a film as someone who makes love...than has to wait six months to find out whether he had an orgasm. Jack made funny...then had to wait six months--or at least until he got into a screening room or a preview room with an audience to absolutely verify (by finally hearing the sound of laughter) that he was funny.

Jack had guts, courage, and a high degree of confidence in his abilities. (A few garnered Academy Awards didn't hurt maintaining those comic acting aspects!)

Lesson to the actor: discover in your traiing and work what 'makes your character funny' (primarily the hyper-serious, extravagantly emotional involement of the character, the total acceptance of the situation of the piece, and the character's emotional need to quickly, finally and thoroughly resolve that situation in his/her favor); then ride the dialogue and physical action of the piece all aimed at absolutely necessary and difinitive goal-achievement, and remain innocently oblivious to the foolish aspects of what you are needing, saying and doing. One of the central rules of 'funny': The last person who thinks the character is funny is the character him/herself. Perhaps that's why Jack didn't need to hear laughter when performing. It would have been inappropriate; he (his character) thought very little of what was going on was funny-at-all!


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