Comedy Voyeurism 101

Experienced actors beware! The following is directed mainly at newer folks who ask the age-old question in online forums “How do I get started in Acting?” Read on at your own peril!!!!!

Mad ScientistWhen it comes to things culinary it’s often said that “cooking is an art, baking is a science.” I think a similar thing is true with acting: Drama is an art, Comedy is a science. A great place to study the alchemy of comedy is the live stage. But here’s the deal, you don’t even have to be the one performing it to reap many of the benefits. In fact, in some ways you can learn more by watching and listening than by doing!

In keeping with my recent theme of appreciating the value that life’s free lessons can offer to actors, I’d like to suggest that there is a ton to be learned by studying how other gifted actors interact with a live audience. Now I don’t just mean attending a single standup show or play, though it can’t hurt. What I’m talking about is seeing and hearing the same material performed multiple times for different audiences. Over time you’ll gain an appreciation for how subtle variations in timing and emphasis can have a huge impact on whether or not a line or bit of stage business works. You’ll see how the performer uses the words to set up an expectation, then reverses or undercuts that expectation to mine that nugget of humor. You’ll learn that physical comedy is it’s own skill set that people devote lifetimes to try to master. Okay, this is getting a bit too woogie, but you get the picture.

For any beginning actor I suggest enrolling in Comedy Voyeurism 101. Find ways to see good comedies more than once. Audition for smaller roles that might give you time backstage to linger in the wings or near a monitor. Volunteer for a crew job at the best community theatre in town. Usher for a company that offers comps in return, then put your name on the call list for the next time they need somebody on short notice. But the most important thing is study the other actors at work.

However you can manage it, spend a semester or two at the College of Comedy. You be amazed at how much it can help your own work.