5 Tips for Building Funny Characters

We are lucky to work in an art and business that is all about playing with others. Of course, we think of collaboration when it comes to our team in production. We build performances with fellow cast mates and our director, but collaboration begins even before we walk into the room. As actors, when we read a script, our imagination immediately begins building a character. Whether it be drama or comedy, the first collaboration is with the writer and the blueprint they have given us. When receiving a script, you should think of it as a source of clues and inspiration to take the writer’s idea to a whole new level. Here are a few tips to take funny ideas on the page and turn them into fleshed out funny characters.

1. Look for clues. The first thing you want to do is read carefully through your script. Search for any clues that tell you something about the character. This can be something your character says or something that is said about your character. Even a slight mention of something like, “and they brought me a bag of peanuts” can send your imagination on a roller coaster. Perhaps your character brought a bag of peanuts because they were raised on a peanut farm and they were raised to always show up to any occasion with a gift of peanuts. That’s weird, but if you believe it, we’ll believe it, and that’s when the funny starts.

2. It’s all in the details. Make specific decisions about each aspect of your character. Have a reason (that is justified by the script) that your character has a specific characteristic. OK, so we’ve decided our character was raised on a peanut farm. Well let’s delve deeper. Perhaps whenever they get nervous they habitually pick at their teeth. Why? Perhaps it’s because peanut shells always used to get stuck in their teeth and their mom always yelled at them to have a clean smile. Weird, but it’s specific. And when it’s specific it becomes believable…and so the funny continues to grow.

3. Walk the walk. Discover the physicality of this character. Find specific elements of the way your character moves that you can emphasize. If you need inspiration, you can go to the mall and search for someone who has a physicality that speaks to your character. Then, mimic their walk (from a polite distance). When you take on a unique walk and posture, you’ll find that you start making some unique choices.

4. Talk the talk. Let’s figure out how this character talks. Do they have a different voice than you? Were they born in a different place? If so, that will affect their dialect. Perhaps they lost a tooth eating all those peanuts. That’s sure to bring on a bit of a lisp. If your choices are specific and supported by the text, you’re headed towards relatable Funnytown.

5. Stay grounded. It all comes back to collaboration. This is collaboration between you, the script, and the rest of your team, right? Any and all your choices have to come from what you’ve seen, experienced, or researched in your lifetime. If not, it won’t be grounded in reality. In order for an audience to relate, your character must be grounded in a reality that they recognize.

We can make the strangest choices possible if we build from the script and the ground up. If we have a concrete logic behind our “crazy choices,” we allow the audience to relate to our bizarre character. When we hit that balance of strange and relatable, we get an audience that thinks we’re funny, and the collaboration between performer and audience may be the most important collaboration of all.

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Mae Ross
Mae Ross has directed and produced one of Hollywood’s most celebrated talent agent showcases for over 15 years, guiding thousands of aspiring young actors to agency representation and career success. In 2006, Ross founded 3-2-1 Acting Studios in Los Angeles, which garners consistent recognition as one of Hollywood's finest on-camera acting schools for children and teens and young adults.
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