In the article on Comedy Acting we looked at the structure of the gag, and the basic principles, which govern comedy performances. Let’s move on to the tools and skills required implementing the telling of the humorous story.
In the articles on acting styles, we set up several parameters for implementing the style of comedy. To review, we determined that in comedy, reality is at a suspended level of believability, distorted, lacking balance and proportion, yet founded on a real truth and real character values.
The general behavior is exaggerated, usually with high energy and a definite positive attitude. Among characters, a wide contrast of types is prevalent and their behavior is readable, definitive, precise, open, and outward.
Emotions are light, decisive, readable, and usually played on the surface. Intentions, while usually meaningful, are pursued with considerable vigor and enthusiasm. The simplistic objectives, apparent and obvious, are played, for the most part, externally.
Pacing in comedy is quick, energetic, fast, and rapid, to limit exploration of transparent stories where logic and reality are distorted; to maintain focus on lighthearted wit and humor; to replace dissipating information with the new. Pace is also intense to drive up sense of urgency or importance.
Timing is highly calculated, highly responsive, building on audience reactions. Sharp accents are also used to emphasize, control focus, and/or punctuate intended humor.
The dramatic flow is much more informational than emotional. The rhythmic pointalistic flow builds upon a simple singular line of thought. There is almost immediate clarity of wants/opposition-hero/villain polarizations.
The premise or theme of a comedy is moderately worthy in ultra serious pursuit, sometimes seeking ridiculous and irrational goals. But comedy is affirmative in spirit with the protagonist almost always being triumphant. And the point of view of life is from the outside, an external observation on human nature, and at best, displays a distortion of a reality to provide higher insights, a better understanding of ourselves, and the truth within us.
In comedy, the goal of the creative team should be to tell the story in a humorous manner. To surprise the audience and make them laugh. To make them feel that life, with all its frustrations, is still worth living. To stretch the soul toward heights where laughter and understanding triumph over hate and fear. And by observing from the outside, the audience forms a new perspective on human nature.
SKILLS FOR IMPLEMENTING COMEDY
As you can see from these requirements, comedy requires a range of abilities. Foremost is the agility to make quick and articulate changes in behavior. Comedy is usually written around fast-moving plots, spirited dialogue, and sudden surprises. Therefore, behavior must be immediately readable for there is little time to question or search for underlying meanings.
This agility extends to the tempo, emphasis, rhythm, and enunciation of dialogue. Much of comedy revolves around the meaning and nuances of the words and if they are unclear or the delivery is off, both the story and humor suffer as a result.
Quick articulated changes are what sets up the plausibility for surprises. A character is moving in one direction and ding; something sets him off in another direction. It could be changes in emotion, intention, attitude, movement, and/or behavior resulting from external or internal dramatic forces. It’s a clear distinct transition jumping for one attitude/intention/etc., to another.