Monday, November 29, 2010

ON ACTING: The Timing of Comedy Dialogue

On stage, the actor says the line. The audience erupts in laughter. The actor has a quandary: when does he or she say the next line? Does she ignore the laughter and say the next line in the rhythm of the character inter-exchange? Or wait until the audience ceases all laughter (the actor maintaining character reality by being engaged in other activity) before speaking again?

Most all actors are instructed (properly) to "ride the wave of laughter": that is, wait until the explosion laughter of the audience peaks...then wait even further until the laughter begins to diminish (I would argue at an accelerating pace), and then...and only at that moment...before the laughter has fully played out...say the next line.

Comedy (the joke, the funny line...the funny action or reaction) is a release of tension. And if the actor waits too long for ALL the laughter to be released, the tension in the piece, the energy of the performance not to mention the whole piece, will dissipate, disappear, like a wave crashing to a foamy but basically un-energized frothy puddle.

Comedy (for that matter, good drama too) requires sustained tension. That tension can be relieved, modulated, played with during a performance by the good actor ...but it should never disappear. When it disappears, the audience 's involvement disappears.

Let the audience have their laughter/release, but never let them off the tension hook. May their sides hurt from laughing too much, getting no relief, than cease laughing entirely (all tension released) and be bored.

The great comedy writer/director Billy Wilder when responding to a similar question concerning whether he was not leaving enough time in his editing of The Apartment (it may have been Some Like It Hot) for the audience to laugh before he moved on to the next line (the questioner said "they may not hear the next line because they were still laughing..."). "Great," Wilder interjected. "I hope they laugh after the first joke and never hear any of the remaining film dialogue for the next two hours. It would be a great success."


Post a Comment

<< Home