I’ve always had a love of comedy, both watching and performing it. I grew up on the likes of Only Fools and Horses, The Two Ronnies, Wood and Walters, Blackadder and far too many more to mention. Fast forward ten or so years and I’m watching Smack the Pony, French and Saunders, anything with Peter Kay in, Little Britain, Gavin and Stacey and I could go on and on…
As I’ve gotten older, and since performing comedy myself, now I can’t watch a sketch or sitcom without quietly analysing it and asking myself questions like “Why is this so funny?” “How are they making us laugh?” and “What’s the method behind it?” Comedy is arguably the most difficult genre to perform and to get right. I’ve come up with some pointers or things that I’ve learnt to improve on myself as a comedy performer. Please note that these apply to character comedy and not stand-up.
-Don’t, in fact, play for laughs. You as an actor know that your character is funny but THEY don’t, that’s what makes them funny! I’ve fallen into this trap before and felt disheartened coming off stage after Act One, spitting “They’re not laughing at me!” I’ve gone back on for Act Two and gone so over the top that it just gets worse and worse. Play the truth, and the gags will do the job for you.
-If the audience aren’t laughing with you, don’t push the funnies. Your performance will become untruthful and ultimately, very unfunny. This tip is for live performance mainly.
-Think about the pay-off, but don’t give it away. Let’s take a show like Only Fools and Horses. We as an audience know that the outcome is going to go terribly wrong because we understand the format. But the characters don’t. That’s what makes the pay-off so funny. Getting the audience to invest in their journey means that the pay-off is more gratefully received.
-All comedy is subjective. I have countless debates with my fellow funny peers about what we all find funny and it always differs. Some like the more straight, dry, fly on the wall type stuff and some like just plain bonkers. Stick to your guns, practise your craft and you’ll find an audience who enjoys the stuff you’re creating. Some won’t, but that’s fine.
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