Friday, January 25, 2008

ON ACTING: Comedy: More Style than Substance

Comedy is a matter of style over substance.

Comedy shows generally plan a much more rigorous rehearsal schedule than do drama shows. Drama shows may only have only one or two quick scene rehearsals before shooting, whereas comedy shows often will schedule days of run-through before shooting.


Comedy is a very unforgiving medium. There is little tolerance for missing the quality mark: you are either funny or you're not. Laughter (or the absence of it) is a harsh and precise judge. Humor is an unforgiving taskmaster.

Therefore actors must spend extra time in comedic rehearsal.

Comic characters are not complicated. They are simply emotionally constructed. They almost always have very obvious and revealing emotional-obsessive characteristics (hence: 'types'). Their appeal is in their intensity, not their complexity. (Unfortunately I often find students using the week's rehearsal time between classes working on the wrong thing: they spend too much time complicating the characters profile--a very unproductive effort-and too-little time on precision/perfection of style: precise line learning, precise blocking, precise utilization of props.)

The demands of precise style--just exactly when to deliver the 'punch line' (at the moment of highest intensity), the need for pace and intensity in general, the absence of long pauses where the audience can realize the characters are 'about nothing' very profound, etc.--requires require precision. Dialogue must be precisely said as written, physical 'gags' must be clearly and cleanly done (you can't 'sort of' pull the chair out timing-wise when executing a funny pratfall on late and the victim's butt is already in the seat...too early the victim sees it coming) and movement must be bold, precise and uncluttered.

In comedy you live and die on two things: simple and obvious emotional intensity of character, and precision and pace of execution. The former requires emotional guts, the latter, practice and perfection.


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