Updated: Jun 27, 2019
As we are gearing up for our new intensive, Improv Your Comedy (no that's not a typo), I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about finding your funny as an actor.
You've probably heard the old saying 'funny is money'. If you think about it, humour is what gets us through life. There is humour built into almost every moment of our day and without it we'd all be miserable (side note: even Les Miserables brings the humour, "Master of the House...Keeper of the Keys...you get it).
As actors we are expected to know how to bring the funny. If you are jonesing for sitcom work, improv comedy, and/or the next Adam Sandler movie, you best learn some comedic skills and timing. If you are more of a dramatic actor, adding comedy to your repertoire is necessary to add realistic depth to your characters (I've never met a humourless person). If you are taking your acting career way too seriously, comedy may be your window into a more enjoyable journey. Either way, here are some tips on finding your funny as an actor.
Don't Try to Be Funny
One of my all-time favourite books is called Truth in Comedy. Not only is it the improv bible, it also builds around a very important principle: the truth is the funniest thing we have. Think about that for a moment. Nothing is funnier than the truth. As actors we need to find the truth in ourselves and play the truth in our characters. When we do improv in our classes, I ask my students to play the most obvious response to their partner's offer. This is often the funniest thing they can do because it is so truthful that we all relate to it. Comedians are funny because they speak so candidly about their lives that we all laugh in recognition. Playing the truth is like saying "I know exactly what you're going through and it's hard for me too."
Play The Opposite
Audiences also laugh at things they don't expect. Don't count your chickens before they are.....nuggets.
Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and....lacking a social life. Where there's a will there's a..... William. Baa baa black sheep have you any...time to talk about my past?
If you laughed at any one of those (thank you, I made them up), it's because you experienced an unexpected ending to a familiar phrase. Comedy works the same way. A 3 Act Structure that often leads to a very opposite place than where we expect. As an actor, look for these moments built into the writing and/or include them in the story-driven character choices you make. Also, playing an opposite choice on a line can evoke a humour response. For example, if the line is "I am happy!" and the character shouts it in anger (justified by the script of course), the result can be very humorous.
No character ever wants to get messy. It's us as actors that like to be complicated and serious in our performances. But in life, people try to stay on the light side until the dark is too much to handle and bursts out of them. It's always a good idea to play the scene as light as possible until the dark pulls through. In comedy we have to learn to bury our character's pain as deep as possible and play light, happy, and/or neutral moments. Drama is "My life is falling apart" and we see the character's pain and sorrow. Comedy is "My life is falling apart' said matter of factly as the character is smiling and burying all the pain underneath. We laugh because we know the truth of the pain, we see the opposite of the line and we love how light the character is playing it.
This is just the tip of the comedy iceberg, but I hope you are beginning to see that the principles of comedy are very important to explore as an actor. If you'd like to go deeper into finding your funny, join us for Improv Your Comedy on July 6-7, 2019.
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