5 Comedy Tips for Actors

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I love comedy! It’s one of my favorite things in the whole world. Honestly, wouldn’t the world be better off if we all just laughed a little more? So let’s talk comedy. Lots of people come to me to help with their comic “schtick” (funny business bits). I do lots of Disney audition tapes. I had tons of fun doing Debby Ryan’s (“Jessie”) tape that got her into her first Disney show. She has natural gifts, but she learned to be funnier. And you can, too!

Being good at comedy will afford you a ton of benefits. First, it’s just plain fun. Second, you’ll get more work. My philosophy is: A pretty girl in Hollywood is a dime a dozen, but a pretty girl that can do comedy... now you got a job! This obviously applies to men and kids as well. If you can do good comedy, you can get lots more work! As an extra bonus, commercial timing is basic comic timing, so you'll improve your commercial auditioning skills.

But before you can be funny, you must be natural. Everything in acting starts with being natural and real. When I ask Nickelodeon and Disney casting directors what they are looking for in auditions, they always say, “natural, real kids.” So create your reality and character, be spontaneous, and connect to the other actor. Right! Just like when you are doing drama—make all the same choices and backstories, and break down the scene just like you would if it weren’t comedy. Nothing is funny if it looks fake. It's funny if we think your character is really just like that.

Here are five tips to nail your next comedy performance.

1. Most comedy has clean beats: make a face, then say a line

It’s simple. Make a face, then say a line. It’s good to move first before a line anyway, as it makes a cool beat. And, on camera, it makes for a better edit. Plus, it forces you to have reactions. The beats can be quite fast or a slow reaction that you “milk” for laughs. This is great for basic commercial timing, too.

2. Make your funny face toward the audience or camera

This one seems obvious but the No. 1 thing I tell people when they ask me why they’re not getting their laugh is, “We couldn't see your face.” Always cheat your reactions toward the audience.

3. Get your energy up!

I always make people run around the room before I put them on tape for comedy. We have an old saying for theater: “Always hit the stage running!” Comedy has an energy to it. Even if you’re doing very laid-back humor, there’s a buzz to it. Plus, you have to be having fun to do good comedy, so you need to get your “juices” flowing. You can’t do comedy tired or dragging. And you don’t want to have fake energy. It will make you feel and look forced and unfunny. So really jump around and get the blood pumping in your body and your brain. Everything will happen faster and more easily.

4. Pick up your cues

Comedy has a buzz to it. If you aren’t getting your laughs, try just picking up your cues. Almost feel like you are overlapping your cues and it will put new life into the scene. Never let the audience catch up to you! Obviously, there are places where you need a beat or a bit of business but, in general with comedy, pick up your cues.

5. Have fun and play the moment

The most important tip for being funny is to simply have fun! Set yourself free to just play with whatever is right in front of you. This is where all the magic is. Connect to the other actor, trust to live dangerously, and set yourself free to just go with the moment.

Looking to put your comedy skills to good use? Check out these auditions!

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Cathryn Hartt
Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt & Soul Acting Studio, is known to many as “the UN-Acting Coach.” She coaches all ages (children through adult) and all levels (from beginning through masters).
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