Whether you believe it or not, you don’t have to be a comedian to be a good comedic actor. In fact, a good portion of the best comedy actors would be fish out of water if they ever tried stand-up comedy. Take Steve Carell for example, he’s one of the biggest comedy actors in the world, but he has expressed in numerous interviews how he would absolutely bomb if he ever tried stand-up. The point is that comedy acting is another art form in itself that even the most dramatic of actors can become great at. So even if you don’t find yourself to be particularly funny, you can still improve and unlock your comedy acting chops.
Here are some ways to improve your comedy acting performance:
Find the extremes in the character you’re playing: If you look at any great comedy show out there, the main characters will always have very extreme points of view. For example, Raymond in Everybody Loves Raymond was your typical guy’s guy who always got into domestic disputes with his wife and had a very rigid and narrow look at the world and his relationship. He was your classic simple man that every guy out there could identify with. It was his very stubborn and one-dimensional view of the world that created conflict, as well as humour in the show. So with every comedy character you play, make sure you pinpoint the extreme point of view that your character looks at the world from. It’s the character’s perspective that usually brings about pain and conflict, which is what makes it hilarious watching them. We’re just thankful that we’re not the ones going through what they are, but yet we’re so entertained by their misery. It’s also through this extreme point of view that you will be able to find and create physical comedic behaviour that you can connect your character with.
Always play the truth and believe in the character’s stakes: The truth about comedy acting is that it requires just as much, or even more commitment than drama. It’s not a walk in a park, and not something that you can just coast through to get laughs. The way that you’re going to get the laughs and be funny is by whole-heartedly committing to the stakes and truth of whatever your character is going through. Your job isn’t to try and put on a show for the audience to get the laughs, your job is to be completely committed to the world you’re living in. It’s going to be the writer’s words and circumstances that create the humorous world that you live in, and from there it’s up to you to find what’s funny about your character and their behaviour and commit yourself to it.
Find your funny: One of the first things you want to do before you even try and tackle comedy scripts or other comedy characters is by first unlocking what it is that makes you funny as a human being. We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies and those personal pressure points are going to be where your own comedic hilarity comes from. Also by focusing on your own personal comedy character, you will begin to recognize what makes you funny, and thus what qualities about yourself you can bring to the characters you play. It will also be important that you figure out what your potential limitations are for comedy as well. Are you the type of person that has a very unique way of moving that would you make you good at physical comedy? Do you have a razor sharp wit that would enable you to improvise lines? Or are you just great at delivering the punch line? All of these are important questions to ask yourself before you tackle comedy roles.
Find your character’s comedy behaviour: In the beginning of rehearals, or even preparation for a role, go through your scenes without worrying about being funny. Just concentrate on finding the truth of your character, how they move, how they talk, and who they are. After spending some time getting identified with your character, then you can take steps to exaggerate and elevate the behaviour in a comical way that’s based from your character’s comedy persona — based on the truth of their needs and defenses. Great comedy comes from very real and honest behaviour in situations of anger, pain, and frustration. Also remember that comedy gold is often found in silent behaviour as well, particularly how your character reacts to certain people and situations.
Study the masters: Like with anything, you want to watch and study those that are successful at what it is you’re trying to do. Watch as many videos of some of the top comedy actors and see how they go about their work. Pay attention to the brave comedic choices they make in scenes and how they feed off, and work with the other actors. Most highly successful comedy actors are very giving to the other actors with the material, as well as willing to take themselves and the scene to some pretty absurd places. So whomever you admire and find funny, study as much of their work as possible.
Focus on the physical: So much of great comedy is based on the physical. The way in which our bodies react in certain situations — how we shield ourselves when we’re uncomfortable and awkward, how we completely lose it and thrash our body around when we’re angry and frustrated, or how our body reacts when we’re happy and excited. This is also another reason to study the masters — particularly the likes of Charlie Chaplin who had to convey all his emotion and inner dialogue completely through his body’s movement and facial expressions. Jim Carrey is also one of the greatest physical comedy actors who are known for using wildly outlandish facial expressions to depict character. Bottom line — your body and the way you use it is one of the greatest tools in your comedy performance.
No unscripted movements: It has been well documented in the comedy realm that any unscripted movements will kill the scene. This means that you need to remain static (or do you best to) whenever there isn’t a movement that’s specifically stated in the script. This will mean holding for laughs if you’re in a live performance, and not moving during someone else’s speech when you shouldn’t be. This is why it’s so crucial that you become aware of your body’s movements so you can control it and use it in a way that adds to the scene, not take away from it.
Practice your comedy: If you’re brand new to the world of comedy acting, it would definitely be beneficial to take comedy acting specific courses to expand and improve on your craft. Taking classes will allow you to relax, feel more comfortable, as well as help to develop your comedy character. You will also begin to understand some of the comedy techniques that are used, how to break down comedy scripts , as well as build your comedy repertoire and have more to bring to your scenes and performances.
Let loose and have fun: Comedy is supposed to be created in a fun environment. You won’t be able to bring out the best in yourself if you’re nervous and uptight, or unwilling to make a fool out of yourself. You have to check your ego and pride at the door and be willing to look and feel silly. Be prepared to commit to the ridiculous circumstances that are going to be thrown in front of you and create a world that is full of quirks, but is ultimately real and honest. If you can manage to do that, comedy performance will be your new addiction.
Even if you don’t become one of the next great comedy performers, you can still gain a lot of skills from the comedy art that will relay into your dramatic acting. And of course, comedy acting is a whole lot of fun and something that becomes a real ensemble with the cast you’re performing with. So give it a try, look inside yourself, and get outside of your comfort zone to find your funny!