Each genre of TV and film requires different styles of auditioning. This column will be one of several in a series and first up is multi-camera sitcoms. When I first cut my teeth on sitcoms, “Frasier,” “Friends,” and “Seinfeld” were the norm and not the oddity on network TV that they are now. I learned from the best—Jeff Greenberg and all the writer-producers who ran “Frasier”— and quickly discovered that actors who trained in theater had the discipline and inherent theatricality best served on these shows.
Multi-camera sitcoms rehearse for four days, teching and shooting on the fifth day in front of a live audience. Current network shows in this genre are “2 Broke Girls,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Last Man Standing.” Cable channels such as TV Land, Disney, and TBS are where most of the sitcoms now broadcast (“Hot in Cleveland,” “Jessie,” “Sullivan & Son”).
Here are three things to keep in mind when auditioning for multi-camera sitcoms.
1. Energy level is heightened naturalism. Since multi-cams are most like plays, the energy necessary to “pop” in these auditions are brighter than normal, but not so big that you are overacting and/or trying to be “funny.” This is not sketch comedy a la “SNL,” where the characters are over the top to the point of absurdity. You audition with a heightened version of yourself that is carefully calibrated while seeming spontaneous. If you are naturally neurotic, you can bump up your neurosis. If you are optimistic or happy, you would bump up your perkiness. Whatever traits you have in your real life, you can use those in creating the character you bring in—your comic persona that is discovered and refined as explained in a previous column.
I was witness to countless auditions in which actors would try to make their auditions unique by adding an accent or creating a larger-than-life character that was a caricature. Some actors used strange gestures in order to make the material funnier. Some wore funny glasses or a funny tie. These tactics always flopped.
2. Stick to the words. This is true for multi-cams more than with any other genre. The writer-producers run the show in TV, remember, so when you mess with their words, especially with multi-cams, they will not hire you. The writers of multi-cams harbor over the creation of each phrase, figuring out which word to place at the end of a sentence to make the line funnier. If you add extraneous "ahhs," "ums," or "you knows," you will destroy the rhythm of the line. You cannot invert a line or change the syntax or punctuation of the line. If you do so, you will sabotage the delivery the writers painstakingly labored to achieve. Think of it as witty repartee in a Noël Coward play. You would not paraphrase Coward’s lines. You would not paraphrase Shakespeare’s lines. It is all about rhythm and comic timing. The timing is quick and witty, like the dialogue in a Woody Allen comedy. You cannot take too much time within the scene. Once it slows down, you will kill the energy and the quick-witted pace. The lines need to overlap each other, like a funny conversation in real life.
If, in those rare cases, the writer-producer wants you to improvise, either they or the casting director will let you know usually before the audition begins. If they say nothing, assume they want you to say their words exactly as written…and save your excellent improv skills for the single-camera comedies.
3. Remain focused and calm in moments of stress. Since multi-cams are performed in front of a live audience, the writer-producer needs to feel in the audition room (or on the tape) that you are smart on your feet and confident in your skills. It is like doing a play, but without the six weeks of rehearsal prior to opening. The writer-producers can and will change the lines as they see fit at anytime during the process, whether it be right before a run-through or during the shoot, and you will have to go with the flow with ease and a positive attitude. The last thing the writer-producers want to worry about is an actor—especially one who is a guest just for the week. More than likely you will be working on a show that is a well-oiled machine and you don't want to slow down the process in any way, whether it be asking too many questions or messing up the lines. You can’t be too casual on the set with the rest of the cast just because the series regulars are acting like it’s no big deal. They’re under contract, secure in their jobs on the show, and often won’t know their lines until the day of the shoot. You are a visitor in their world. You must be a perfect person and know your lines, even when they change constantly. You must not challenge the director or be too friendly with the stars.
Actors must be graceful under pressure…and naturally funny as well.
Next week I’ll discuss my advice for auditioning for single-camera comedies.
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