Today’s blog is a Guest Blog on Comedy Acting, written by our Guest Blogger, Mr Ian Watt.
I noticed the subject of corpsing was raised in Mark’s blog recently. The practical solution was for the actor to focus on their essential action and it got me thinking about other banana skins which can trip up an actor in the serious matter of comedy acting.
Playing the lines for laughs
Laughter is a powerfully seductive sound of to a performer. It both comforts, and confirms the audience likes you! It’s addictive quality however, can tempt the actor to play the lines or action for laughs. They then find they’ve stepped beyond the imaginary circumstances of the play and turned it into a sketch show destroying the focus on the narrative or “story”.
My own experiences as a Stand Up comedian taught me to look audience members in the eye, and that it was often very useful to carry a big stick! Comedians make direct contact with the audience; if and when the laughs come they can enjoy them with them. The comedian’s sole aim is to rack up the laugh count and squeeze as many as they can from their material. The actor should match their performance with the author’s intent and the overall context of the story.
An audience comment after a play I performed in recently was it was good because the actors didn’t laugh at the same time as the audience.
Anticipation and signalling
Especially on long runs, the actor runs the risk of “showing” the audience something funny is about to happen. The actor knows what is coming next, anticipates the joke and the riotous laughter to follow. The audience picks up on the signal and the potentially side-splitting moment the writer has crafted is reduced in the process. Comedy is devious. It often depends on surprise and misleading the audience.
Ignoring the audience reaction
Another common pratfall for the actor is to disregard the audience’s laughter. This can result in important lines being drowned out. The actor has to pause the thought and action until the audience is ready to continue. Laughter can break the actor’s concentration of being in the moment.
Mark’s solution to the corpsing problem is probably the best advice to take with you on stage – focus on the other actor and concentrate on achieving your essential action. Finally, a Polish director once commented to me “Fucking stand up comedians!” Yes – comedy is a funny thing.
Ian Watt is an experienced actor, comedian, teacher and designer. He appeared in Mark Westbrook’s production of The Emotional Life of Furniture at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. He also attends Mark’s Acting Classes in Practical Aesthetics and Monologue Preparation.