Each genre of TV and film requires different styles of auditioning. This column will be about single-camera comedies. I’m extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work on an Emmy-winning multi-cam sitcom (“Frasier”) and a single-camera comedy (“Arrested Development”). When I look back, it seems like a dream. I wish I would have appreciated my experiences more while they were happening, but such is life, I suppose. You don't know what you've got ’til it’s gone. “Arrested Development” is now like the granddaddy of the modern single-cameras.
Single-camera comedies are shot in five days, but unlike multi-cams, they’re shot like short indie films and usually directed by the hottest indie film directors. They endure hectic shoot schedules with long days and no time for rehearsal. They are shot out of sequence, as all films are, and it’s easy to get lost in the mayhem. You most likely will not get too many notes from the director if you get any at all. But first, you have to do extremely well in the audition.
1. Embrace short scenes. The sides you will be asked to prepare for this type of show are short and staccato-like. They are not like scenes from a play, or even from a sitcom, where there is a normal exchange between one or more people with some momentum within the scene. There is usually no beginning, middle, or end to the scene, which might be only five-lines long. Remember, Justin Grant Wade (Steve Holt on “Arrested Development”) only had two words at his audition! The comedy in the single-camera show is in the style and the situation, not in the jokes. Hilarious inserts and quick cuts, juxtaposing one scene with the next, elevate the humor but have nothing to do with acting. You will not be the setup of a joke that the star will deliver. The language is not witty. You might have one line here and one line on the next page, with a silent bit at the end of the scene in reaction to what the star has just said or done in the situation. You can find humor in the silent reaction to what the other characters are saying. You can find humor in just a look or in the quality you bring into the audition—the non-verbals.
2. Don’t get lost in your sides. Because the non-verbals are so important in these auditions, it’s all the more essential that you don’t have your nose in the sides during the audition. Obvious, I know, but if we can’t see your eyes, we can’t see your reaction. The humor is found in the thought processes you reveal and not so much in what you say. But because you might have one line (or more likely one word) on one page and then another line on the next page, you can’t be looking down in order to keep your place in the scene. Acting is reacting, right? All the more important in this kind of comedy. You must be so prepared with the material that it’s second nature to you and yet spontaneous. A good general rule of thumb: Always be connected to the person you're doing the scene with, whether it be a reader, another actor, or directly into the camera a la “Parks and Recreation.” If you're truly connected, we will not only see your reaction in your eyes, but the scene will have an emotional life—an urgency.
3. Don't try to be funny. Although Aubrey Plaza, Tony Hale, and Rainn Wilson are hilariously funny, they achieve the humor by revealing their own quirky selves. The roles are meant to be funny in an idiosyncratic way. You need to bring your own individual idiosyncratic self into the audition without trying to be funny. Trying to be anything means you are working way too hard. You just have to be. The comedy needs to be played with great subtlety. Go watch Mae Whitman and Judy Greer in old “Arrested Development” episodes if you want to learn from the masters of the guest star roles in one-camera comedies.
And check out the first installment in this series, “3 Tips for Nailing Multi-Camera Sitcom Auditions.”
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