How to have a great comedic performance: 5 tips
How fun that we are in a business in which we get to play on stage and on set – and spread joy and humor through our performances. Throughout your career, you will likely play a variety of dramatic and comedic characters, but for today, let’s talk about comedy. If you are an actor wishing to improve your comedic chops, we at 3-2-1- Acting Classes in Los Angeles have some advice for you! Here 5 tips on how to have a great comedic performance.
- Look for juxtapositions, or “opposites,” in the material.
Comedy is full of what we call juxtapositions, which is when one character’s behavior contrasts sharply with another’s, creating a a fun and interesting rhythm and dynamic that makes people laugh. As you are examining your comedic character, look at the other characters in the scene. Are you the zany and silly character, where as your scene partner is the “straight” and serious character? Or are you the serious character in the scene, which really makes a nice contrast with your wacky scene partner? Know your place in the scene. Know that, even if you aren’t the character saying the most words, or making the wildest gestures, that your part is still so important. For example, check out this scene from the 1968 film The Odd Couple (adapted by Neil Simon from his original play of the same title).
In this scene, it is clear that Jack Lemmon’s character is the goofy character, making funny noises, sounds and gestures throughout. But in order for this to be heightened and funny, Walter Matthau’s character must remain “straight” or serious. In fact, he barely says anything at all! So, know that, even if you remain straight-faced, saying only 3 or 4 lines in the entire scene, you are creating comedy!
- Make smart, supported decisions.
As you go through the material, make specific decisions about each aspect of your character. Have a reason (that is justified by the script) that your character has a specific characteristic. For example, let’s say your character receives a bouquet of red roses in the scene and is absolutely overjoyed. Perhaps your character has always dreamed of receiving a bouquet of roses — she used to pick them from her mother’s rose bush as a young child — and this is the very first time she is ever receiving roses as a gift! How exciting! The more specific and truthful, the better.
- Stay grounded.
Comedy is silly and fun and inspires us all to make goofy choices, which is GREAT. But always, always, always remember to stay grounded. Your character must be totally grounded in his reality, totally immersed in his circumstances — and connected to his scene partner, moment to moment. It all comes back to collaboration. This is collaboration between you, the script, and the rest of your team, right? Any and all your choices have to come from what you’ve seen, experienced, imagined, or researched in your lifetime. If not, it won’t be grounded in reality. In order for an audience to relate, your character must be grounded in a reality that they recognize.
- Explore physical comedy.
Physical comedy never goes out of style. We always laugh when a character gets nervous around a person he or she finds attractive and stumbles into a wall. Or when the cartoon character slips on the banana peel. Physical comedy isn’t always about stumbling or falling, though! You can make specific choices about how your character walks, sits, holds her shoulders and turns her head. It’s all in the details. Does your character play with her hair when she’s nervous? Tap her foot when she is impatient? Walk with slouched posture?
If you need inspiration, you can go to the mall or a public place and search for someone who has a physicality that speaks to your character. Then, mimic their walk (from a polite distance). When you take on a unique walk and posture, you’ll find that you start making some unique choices.
- Explore vocal quality.
Let’s face it: vocal choices can be hilarious. Voice actors, especially on cartoon films and TV shows, make a great living (that’s a topic for another article) and there’s a good reason for it! Explore your voice. Warm up your voice every day. Does your character have an accent? Does he speak in a higher register than you do? Does he talk super fast? Or is he slower – more thoughtful. Think about rhythm and pace. Again, go back to juxtaposition. See where your character fits in.
Most of all, have fun. Follow your instincts. PLAY. Try different approaches. Comedy needs to be worked on out loud and in collaboration with others. Enjoy the process of discovering your character and of building a fun rhythm with your scene partner.