Comedy Basics

Posted on 23 March 2015

I may be teaching acting for comedy classes at the Australian Centre of the Performing Arts come this May. As such I am re-examining the basics in order to pass that knowledge on to my students. If you are interested in attending my course, keep an eye out here for further announcements.

A performer is comic in three ways. Often these are combined in a variety of manners, but they can and frequently are worked independently.

1) Saying funny things.

Comedy does not require vocalisation. However, people can be funny by the jokes and stories they tell while standing perfectly still at a microphone. Get a performer like Elliott Goblet or Steven Wright on the stage and people are laughing even with the absence of facial expression.

2) Doing funny things.

Making faces, awkward body movement, strange vocal inflections and noises, pratfalls—basically clown comedy—has always been received well by audiences. Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks is well remembered. Police Academy’s Michael Winslow continues to be a crowd pleaser. Exaggerated reactions, peculiar methods for achieving everyday results, alien behaviour are also well loved. This is the sort of comedy that travels well across cultures. Mr Bean is a favourite all over the world, as is Jacques Tati and even our own Umbilical Brothers.

3) Dropped into a funny situation.

This comes in a number of flavours. You can have funny characters in funny situations: think Austin Powers or Ace Ventura. You can have deeply flawed characters in a funny situation: think Seinfeld. You can have completely normal characters (who are also going to be flawed, but in a less exaggerated manner) tossed into the deep end: think Little Miss Sunshine.

The situations will run from absurd to highly stressful, but not actually disastrous. The humour comes from people trying to cope with their circumstances: how they get it wrong, and the strange and ingenious means by which they may ultimately get it right. An audience will respond either with empathy (I know what that is like) or surprise (that was weird!).

Keeping these three possibilities in mind should make it easier when structuring your comedy. Making conscious choices about the tools you use and how always sharpens the resulting creative work.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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