The Friday Free For All: The Serious Business of Comedy

Tragedy tomorrow, Comedy TONIGHT

There are several things I still need to do for The Friday Free For All. First off I need to start posting on Fridays and not at 1am in the morning Friday night/Saturday morning as I am right now. I also need to come up with some kind of logo or picture similar to what I have for the Monday WIP and Wednesdays With Will.

I do apologize for getting this so late, I started working on it this morning and then a series of events and my volunteering to help with my community theater groups float for our 3 Homecoming parades pressed me into service this afternoon. Yes 3 Homecoming parades; local private school, local public school, and local college. Next two Fridays I’ll be busy I’m sure.

I’m also in very early pre-production of our community Christmas play, on which I’m helping with publicity and stage managing, and I’m entering chrunch time for the workshop I’m assisting directing and acting in, BONE WARS, written and directed by a good friend of mine Shley Snider.

That brings me to this weeks topic: The Serious Business of Comedy. There is an old axiom “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Though the person who quoted that statement is unknown (although many have been credited), it still holds true. Comedy IS hard. Edmund Gwenn, best known for playing Kris Kringle in 1947’s Miracle On 34th Street

Edmund Gwenn with Maureen O’Hare in Miracle on 34th Street

(and one of those rumored to have said that axiom) said this:

All the honors go to the tragedian for chewing up the scenery, while the comedian, who has to be much more subtle to be funny, is just loudly criticized when he doesn’t come through. (Act Your Way to Successful Living, Rau, 1966)

Comedy is one of the hardest things to do. As difficult as Hamlet is to do (and it is), in my opinion, Dogberry, Bottom, and Falstaff (Shakespeare’s three greatest comedic creations) are even more so. And not getting laughs is much more noticeably then not getting tears.

I bring this up because the two shows I’m working on and prepping are both comedies. Comedy is more then running around and laughing and then trying to pull it together in the last minute. It requires discipline, listening to your director, listening to your audience, and perfecting your timing. Pratfalls get laughs, but you can’t just fall to get a laugh, you have to know WHY you’re getting a laugh.

as Oscar in The Odd Couple, with Jeremy McGuire as Murray

One of my “signature” roles is Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple. It’s a show I love to do and have played the role twice now and could play it every year for the rest of my laugh and never get tired of it. I did a production where the actor playing Felix had a very easy going nature about him. He could get laughs very easily, but he didn’t earn the laughs. Laughs earned provide you with a greater satisfaction then easy laughs. A pratfall because your character has been drinking a lot and has built up to that moment is funny because the laugh has been earned, a laugh gotten by carrying out the wrong prop because you weren’t paying attention is funny because you’ve obviously screwed up. It’s the same as the “laughing with you” vs “laughing at you”.

Comedy has to be earned and earning it is hard work and serious business.

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