Do you know how to act in a comedy?
A lot of actors think so until you see them performing on stage. Acting in any role can be difficult to perform, but comedy is another art form entirely.
Though it’s not as easy as you think, you will be amazed at how good you can get with the right approach.
A comedic production should produce humour, but that does not mean every character, every scene, and every line or moment is intended to generate a laugh.
In this article, we will highlight everything you need to know to become a good comedy actor. So let’s talk comedy!
How to act in a comedy
Don’t use the actor’s process
One of the major reasons that comedy is hard is because of the actor’s process. That’s because it wasn’t made or intended for comedy.
It was instead aimed at making the audience think that what they are watching is real and therefore emotionally engage with it by caring and feeling.
Therefore the audience will not laugh while they are already engaged in more serious emotions like anger or sadness.
How do you make the audience laugh then? The answer is surprisingly simple.
You the actor have to find the comedy or idea funny first. In most cases, actors and directors will start coming up with ideas that they think will make the scene funny or make the audience laugh. This is a huge mistake.
What they are forgetting and you shouldn’t is that the only thing that will make the audience laugh is the idea that really makes the actor laugh first.
In dramatic acting the actor has to feel and connect with the emotion that he/she wants the audience to feel. The same principle applies to comedy.
Actors have to feel that the scene is hilarious to them first before they can convince the audience to laugh.
Pro tip: Stick to the script when auditioning for a comedy be it a sitcom, sketch comedy or something else.
Start with the fundamentals
Yes, acting in a comedy is a bit different from other forms of acting, however, the basic principles of acting still apply to comedy.
Truly understanding your character and their objectives, personality traits, world view, and circumstances is essential. You should also be very familiar with the setting, time period, and cultural norms, and nuances of the story.
- Comic characters are based on the idea that adults are just children in grown-up bodies. This is a humorous notion that can be seen in cartoons and comics across all cultures.
- In comedy, an offended character is funnier than an angry one.
A comedy is a genre of film where laughter is the predominant response. A successful comedy should blend these elements together and bring them to life in a way that elicits laughter from the audience.
Relaxation is key when acting in a comedy
Relaxation is an absolutely necessary ingredient of any good performance and it holds true for acting in a comedy as well. There are several ways to relax during a performance but one of the easiest yet powerful techniques is breathing.
The audience can easily pick up anxiety or stress in an actor’s performance by the energy they give off when they are breathing.
Breathing calmly and naturally helps you be more natural in your acting which allows the audience to enjoy and believe the story.
This might sound counterintuitive, but before you can be funny, you must be natural.
When acting in a comedy be spontaneous and engage with the other actors in your story.
When you are breaking down your scene or creating a backstory for your character pretend that you are in a drama instead of a comedy. No matter how talented you are if your acting comes off as phony it won’t be funny!
The only way your comedic performance will be hilarious is if the audience believes that your character is natural and believable.
How to approach a comedy script
1. Understand your character’s journey
Familiarize yourself with your scene by reading it 3 or 4 times.
Think about how the story makes you feel emotionally and jot down your first impressions.
Map out the arc of your character: what is their emotional and physical state at the beginning and at the end.
Focus on this journey that your character goes through in your performance.
2. Identify your brand of humor
It’s always good to know what type of actor you are when you’re looking for roles, so that you can find the best roles.
Have a good knowledge of the type of humor in your jokes and check if it matches what you have written in your role or script to make sure it gels well.
Are you more of a dynamic and memorable type like the “Mask” character played by Jim Carrey or more of a laid back stoner character like James Franco in Pineapple Express?
Now you want to study the different types of humor done successfully by other actors and figure out how to mold yours to fit your material. You shouldn’t try to copy the style of other comedians, but you should find one that is best suited for your own personal comedic style.
3. Find out what your character desperately wants
Your character can’t be content with their life as it is- they need something so badly, it’s physically uncomfortable.
For example, your protagonist could be a 16-year-old boy who has a crush on a girl and he’s terrified that she’ll reject him.
When a guy really likes a girl, he might feel nervous or embarrassed. That can make it hard to breathe or make eye contact. It can even cause muscle tension in your face.
The more intense the character’s want is the funnier the comedy will be.
3. Raise the stakes
The risk is what you will lose or gain from not being able to get what you want.
When the thing that is lost becomes equal to the thing that is gained, then the stakes are much higher.
Its Life and death.
That’s what makes you, as an actor or actress, exciting to watch in a movie or TV show.
4. It’s not about you
It’s important to pay attention to the reader because they might be saying something important. You should make sure you take time to read their reactions to what you are reading.
This is the only way you will know what type of character they are and what they want from the scene.
5. Spot the funny
When a comedian tells a joke, they’re trying to make you laugh. Sometimes the humor is in the form of an exaggeration of a known truth, sometimes it’s an ironic statement about life, and sometimes it’s just something that amuses people.
Be able to say in one clear statement why something is funny to you.
It made you laugh because?
6. Increase the funny
Knowing the reason for something being funny is essential to understanding how each moment heightens the comedic effect.
The reason a joke is funny has a lot to do with the context and background of the person hearing it.
If you don’t know what it’s about, then the joke loses some of its humor.
The person telling the joke also has to set up an expectation that will be ultimately be thwarted, as well as switch from one frame of mind to another.
Comedy acting tips
- Make a funny face for the audience or camera.
- Get excited and get your energy up.
- Pick up your cues.
- The best way to be funny is to make sure you’re having a good time!
- This is where all the magic happens. Comedy, act!
- Trust your instinct and then be open to what it brings. It’s true, there may be confusion at first, but in the end, it will all come together beautifully.
- Humor is powerful because it can relieve stress, make people laugh, and help break down barriers. However, the most successful humor is personal-based. It’s guaranteed to be original and can be easily practiced and perfected.
- Find the fun part. Writing comedy isn’t about writing, it’s more about editing. It’s about what you don’t say. What are the fewest words I can use to get to the punchline?
- If you’re a standup comedian, you might have to rely on your material to make people laugh. But if you’re giving a presentation, the jokes are right there for you on the screen. Why not take advantage of that?
- Comedians spend a lot of time recounting the details of a scene, but there is such thing as too much. You want to paint the picture for people to see, but if you do too much then they can’t add their own imagination to it and it will be less funny.
- One of the most popular ways to create humor in presentations is by using misdirection. This is done by drawing the audience’s attention away from the main point, and towards something else.
What comedy can teach you about acting
The world of comedy is a vast and complex one. The art of comedy is an ever-evolving one, with comedians constantly pushing the boundaries to see what they can get away with. It’s this willingness to experiment that has helped the art form develop and grow.
The skills of a comic actor can be applied to a variety of other professions.
The three most important skills that a comic actor needs are:
- The ability to improvise and think on their feet.
- The ability to read the audience and know what they want.
- The ability to understand the character they are playing.
The modern comic needs to stand out from the rest, and in order to do this, they need to develop a unique comedic persona.
This means that the individual comedy act is doing something that the public isn’t used to seeing before, and because of this, they are easily memorable.
Watching a good comedian at work is exhilarating.
They make us laugh, they make us cry.
The way they seamlessly switch from one mood to the next in the blink of an eye, and the way they move their audience with their words and gestures is nothing short of magical.
Comics learn how to get an audience to like them so they can have creative freedom. Audiences are willing to give comics a lot of leeway, but following certain guidelines can help them maintain creative integrity.
Comics spend a lot of time learning skills which they can go on to utilize when developing a multi-faceted character.
It goes without saying that comedy is a risky business.
There’s no way to predict how audiences will react to an act.
It doesn’t matter how smart or funny you are, there will always be someone who just doesn’t get it.
A comedian worth their salt knows this and acts accordingly by taking risks on stage.
Acting in a comedy is no easy feat and has many layers to it. One thing you should always remember is that basic acting fundamentals hold true for comedic acting.
Another key takeaway is comedy happens when you are being natural, so don’t try to force it. You should also stick to your script as much as possible, and perform in a relaxed manner by working on your breath.
Take note of your first impressions of the project you are working on as they are crucial to your performance.
With a dedication to the right approach and techniques as mentioned in this article anyone can improve their comedy acting skills significantly. It will take lots of work but it can be done.
Which comedy-acting tip will you be using today? , Let us know in the comments below…