The story ran around my mind and dislodged some old gems of wisdom I picked up by playing comedy on stage. And since I just blogged a bit about comedy and timing, I thought I would share some these nuggets of wisdom since they relate back to comedy and timing.
As you may have noticed, I called this blog "Waiting For The Laughs or training an audience" - and you many have thought, "I understand the first part, the 'waiting' part, but what in the world do you mean by 'training an audience'?
Actually these two concepts go hand in hand - waiting and training. Really, they do.
First: "Wait For It"
A wise older actor once took my aside during a particularly funny play we were in and explained how to "wait" for the laughs.
Now, you have keep in mind that actors rehearse plays for long periods of time.
We rehearse in front of no one but ourselves and because of this fact, we develop a certain timing: I say my line, you say your line, I say my line, ad nauseum.
And if we're rehearsing a comedy, the lines are supposed to be funny.
Sure, when we first read through the play, the lines were funny. Most of us laughed. But by week 2 or 3, it's not that funny anymore and no one is really laughing now. (Well, there may be a few that still laugh. Those are the actors you need to keep an eye on. I'm just saying.)
Anyway, the issue with rehearsing a comedy is that you can forget that it's a comedy. You can forget where the 'laughs' are. You're so programed into the robot timing of I say my line, you say your line.. the laughter of a live audience can throw a wrench into your robot clockworks.
Laughter can completely discombobulate some actors. They forget their next line because their timing is thrown off. Some actors aren't sure how long to wait. Some actors wait too long. Some actors don't wait at all and just plow into their next line, laughter be damned!
Back to that wise older actor I was telling you about - here's what he taught me.
Like a wave it will peak and slowly begin to descend. Ideally, you will wait for the peak and as the wave begins descending; there - about halfway down on the back of the wave, come in with your next line. And come in louder than normal so they can hear you.
The story goes like this: A couple were in a play on Broadway. During a particular dinner scene each night, the actor would ask "for the sugar" and get a tremendous laugh from the audience. After a few more nights the actor playing this same dinner scene noticed that the audience wasn't laughing when he asked "for the sugar".
After the show one night the actor mention this to his fellow actor, "I don't know what happened. I used to get laughs on that line."
The other actor simply said, "I know what happened. Before, you were asking for the sugar and getting laughs. Now, you are asking for the laughs and only getting the sugar."
If you are playing comedy on the stage and the audience begins reacting with laughter, how the actors respond at first sets the tone for the rest of the show. You in essence "train" the audience how to respond. They will adapt to the timing you set. These simple rules imparted to me by a wise older actor when I was a noob on the stage really helped me. Now, I guess it's my turn to be the wise older actor and impart this knowledge to others.