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Becoming An Actor: What's funny?

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In the approach to Christmas it’s time for drama school showcases to really get going. I’m currently involved in a one of Shakespeare’s “comedies” (I use speech marks not derisively but because the comedies/histories/tragedies were classifications used by publishers hundreds of years ago, that just happen to have stuck), but as we near performances it got me thinking about what makes something funny?

It has struck me that trying to be funny inescapably will make a performance unfunny. It sounds like a bit of a cliché now but I think it stands true to say that comedy is a serious business; the act of playing something with truth will bring more humour than playing something with an eye on the laugh-o-meter… or at least that what I’m discovering.

The humour in, Twelfth Night's, Malvolio putting on yellow stockings doesn’t come from the ridiculousness of the stockings (though, I’m sure they always get an laugh of surprise) but from the situation – Malvolio genuinely believes that he is about to win his Lady’s heart. To play that with an air of knowing or a whiff of trying to make yourself look silly would only undercut the writing. Honesty, in this case, is the key to making something funny.
I think that’s what I’ve been finding so funny about @westendproducer on twitter recently. They are being brutally honest in their satire of the industry:

“Actors - the most important thing to learn at drama school is how to sit in a circle, #dear #circlesittingisessentialfortheRSC”

Who @westendproducer is, is another question. I’ve heard Cameron Mackintosh’s name be mentioned, but that surely can’t be true, can it?

That’s not to say that exaggeration can’t provide humour too. One Man, Two Guvnors, for example, isn’t naturalistic at all but finds the funnies in its caricatured performances and extra-ordinary situations – and it is very funny. It’s something of a summer pantomime, and so the same sentiment would be applicable to the Christmas pantomimes I saw last year, and will see this year.

I think that’s the best way to look at Jeremy Clarkson: like an offensive pantomime. His comments weren’t my kind of humour, but there was nothing hateful in them - he was just being a silly old man. Admittedly an offensive old man, but offensive comedy is just another strand in what could be funny.

I think I’m coming to a very boring conclusion that there is no rule to what makes something funny. It’s subjective. Again. Sometimes I wish there were some hard and fast rules in acting. Maybe I should do physics like my sister? Though apparently that’s not all black and white either.

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