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You know the feeling when you’re in a movie theatre or at a show or even a meeting at work, something makes the entire audience laugh out loud? What is it that sparks a group of strangers to burst into laughter…dialogue, the actor’s interpretation, physical action, or some synergistic combination of the above? Colleagues have a larger shared frame of reference, and so would be more likely to be amused by the same thing.
How do directors, writers and performers capitalize on what audiences know and share to make them laugh?
One of the first things I learned when I took improv was not to try to be funny. Humor develops from the situation, the characters, and being in the moment. If you’re trying to think of something funny to say or do, you’re not fully listening to your scene partner or participating in the scene. IMO, improv can be even funnier than other forms of comedic performance because it’s created on the spot.
With standup, sketch comedy and writing, the creators have time to rehearse or rewrite. So if the result isn’t funny, what went wrong?
And how much is too much? When does funny cross over into silly or slapstick?
I’ve performed in shows where something gets a huge laugh one night, but not the next. What makes one audience laugh at something, but not another?
Last week I was in a video for The Onion’s ClickHole (I’ll post a link when it’s available). One line seemed particularly funny to me, but I wasn’t sure how I’d say it to get the most out of it. I rehearsed it several different ways. When the time came, I said the line. When I finished, everyone present burst into laughter. The director then asked me to try a couple of different things on the next takes. One involved more physical action. Did that make it funnier, or detract from the humor inherent in the words? Which was the funniest, to whose eyes and ears? Which will they use? The audience is the ultimate judge.
What makes you laugh in general? What sparks you to laughter when you’re reading a book?