Direct And To The Point: Finding The Funny

This post is the juncture of having just seen my first production of She Stoops to Conquer and having just read The Brain That Changes Itself.

First the production. The production I was good, but I walked away thinking it could have gone much further. Comedy is difficult to pull off successfully. Some comedies have additional meaning layer on top of the funny business. This script is purely in search of the laugh. That’s not to say that the characters don’t need to be grounded in truth. They absolutely do. The moment a character becomes aware of or comments on their part within the whole, is the moment that they stop being funny. The characters have to be singularly focused on their pursuit, so that we as the audience can laugh at what they are ignorant of and revel in the moment that it is revealed to them. In a comedy like She Stoops, a whole slew of outrageous events occur and it is the productions job to make it seems as though they were completely accidental – to make the artificial seem like a natural happenstance. The same must be done for each mini-moment of comedy added to the performances. The key is to stuff as many of these moments as you can sustain into the production. And in order to do that, it helps to have some comedians on hand.

There is a difference between a comedian and someone who can be funny. A comedian is someone who is wired to continually look for (and play) the joke. For a comedian, finding the funny is a lifestyle. It’s the filter that they view everything through. They talk about being in situations where they knew a joke wouldn’t be well received, but they just couldn’t resist telling it because the humor was there for the taking and they just couldn’t resist. The performers in this production had the ability to be funny but it hadn’t been run through the filter of enough comedians.

We talk about people as either being funny or not, a view which is not accurate or particularly helpful. Certainly some people are more skilled at it than others, but it’s a skill just like any other. And the only way you get better at a skill is by practicing it. The Brain That Changes Itself details how the things that we think quite literally shape and change the way that our neurons fire. If we are continually looking for the comedy around you, your brain will become better at finding it. Most of the people we regard as funny don’t lead lives that are significantly funnier than anyone else’s. Instead they are better at noticing the incongruities and absurdities that surround us. They have worked at honing these observations their entire life. So, if we want to create a production that is as funny as it possibly can be, and we’re not thoroughly versed comedians ourselves, we have to do every thing we can to compensate. The most fundamental of which being the way we view the world.

Groucho Glasses

In order to up our comedy game, we need to eat, sleep, and breathe comedy. Watch comedy, read comedy, listen to comedy. When you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, think about what the funniest thing (or assortment of things) you could purchase would be. When you’re waiting for the elevator, think about who the funniest person to be on the other side of those doors could be. What if you went to your production meetings wearing Groucho glasses? The comedy doesn’t need to be in the style of piece. It just needs to have you continually looking to exercise the funny circuits in your brain (and the brains of everyone involved). A coach who I really enjoy recommends writing the thing that you want to keep at the forefront of you mind on a rubber band and then wearing that rubber band on your wrist until you can train your brain to drift in that direction on its own. Try that. If you’re a post-it fan, try that. The point is to do anything you can to sharpen your eye for comedy.

With regard to the rehearsal process, obviously if we can cast actor-comedians, that’s helpful. But short of that, we can recruit the cast to be thinking in the same direction that we are and be on the lookout for moments where jokes can be added – not just when they’re onstage, but at any point. Invite your stage manager, your designers, and anyone sitting in rehearsal to look for missed comedic opportunities. Every suggestion might not make the final cut, but the more you’ve fully explored the options, the better. You know the shenanigans that sometimes make their way into the last leg of a run – things like “work the word ‘banana’ into your dialogue” or “insert the Usain Bolt ‘Lightning Bolt’ gesture into one of your scenes”, or other idiotic challenges? What if those were intentionally added to the rehearsal process so that the stumble through of Act One also involved passing a balloon animal around onstage as inconspicuously as possible?

Obviously, everyone has to be on their game in order to do this. You have to make sure that safety comes first. Everyone has to know their lines and blocking. You have to be able to be able to wrangle and structure the fun-times so that work is still being done and it doesn’t just devolve into everybody goofing off. And you have to be able to edit out the bits that aren’t working. But in a piece like She Stoops where the amount of fun that the cast is having only increases the amount of fun audience in having, fostering an environment where everyone can play fully and completely can reap great rewards. And having more options to play only adds more fuel to the fire.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more, the merrier.

Direct And To The Point: Specifically Sexy

In any given system, the better the input, the better the output. You ask the right questions, you get the right answers. You give the right note, (in theory) the better the actor is able to implement it. Now granted, when you’re trying to communicate something you may think you’ve described it with absolute clarity but your recipient may have no idea what you’re talking about, so a dialogue between both parties is clutch for ensuring that the message you think you’ve sent is actually the message that’s been received. This whole process works better if we are specific with our language.

One particular concept which might feel specific but is actually incredibly vague is the word “sexy”. This includes any note like “do you have anything sexier?” (with regard to audition material), “she needs to be more appealing”, “can you seduce him more?”. (This is just one example. The word “funny” is another. I’m sure there are many. But for this post I’m going to focus on “sexy”.)


There’s no one set way to be sexy. If there were, we would all just do that and everyone would sexy to everyone all the time. Which sounds kind of fun until you realize that this would mean your husband/wife now finds that person you can’t stand equally as attractive as you. Suffice it to say, sexy comes in many different forms. When the feedback that goes into the system is solely “be sexier”, it often results in attempting to do our best imitation of someone widely considered to be sexy. Maybe we speak a little lower or we make our voice a little breathier. Maybe we twirl our hair, or make more eye contact, or smile more. But those are general attempts, rather than a specific embodiment.

I would argue that people are not sexy. People exhibit certain qualities which we as the viewer (or the scene partner) then find enticing. If you’ve read Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction (not as steamy as it sounds, but very interesting food for thought), this is largely what he’s talking about. Sexy is the result, but not the cause. It results because of other characteristics. Perhaps the character is sexy because of their confidence, or their innocence, or their intelligence, or some kind of impressive skill. They can be sexy because they’re the life of the party or they can be sexy because they’re dark and brooding and just out of reach. So when we’re looking to arrive at a desired destination (sexy), we need to provide directions on how to get there. We can tell someone “bring me my pogostick” and let them hunt for it or we can say “bring me my pogostick – it’s at the back of the closet by the front door”. How to find the pogostick is crucial information. If we can articulate how a character is sexy, then achieving that becomes significantly easier.

I would also argue that sexy is a defined relationship, similar to a chemical reaction, where are parties are in agreement with regard to what the triggers are. If you pour vinegar on baking soda, there will be a reaction. You’ll see the foam bubble up instantly. If you pour vinegar on powered sugar (something that looks a lot like baking soda), all you’ll get is a really gross mess. But that doesn’t mean something was wrong with the powered sugar (or the vinegar). It just means we haven’t paired up the right chemicals to create a reaction. So, if we’re not getting the desired “sexy” effect, perhaps it’s not because the actor (male or female) is doing it wrong but because we haven’t agreed on what the make up of “sexy” should be within the given world. It has to be equal parts what-one-character-is-doing and how-the-other-character-is-responding. Both parties have to be on the same page with regard to what sexy means specifically. We want to create a situation, which is true to the text and suited to the actors, that tells the story of two characters being drawn to each other.

If you’re getting general output, refine your input. God is in the details.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more the merrier!