Playing comedy is no laughing matter. It’s hard. Comic timing can be extremely valuable; for some it comes naturally, and for others it doesn’t. And for those who haven’t been blessed with an innate understanding of comedy, you need to work. And it can take time. However the biggest tip for playing comedy is playing the truth.
Neil Simon is Broadway’s most performed playwright, and perhaps one of the greatest comedy writers of all time. However, his comedy derives from the tragic. All good comedy is based on truth – and this is how it should be played. Never pre-empt a laugh, never play the comedy – play the truth. If you’re having trouble with a line, go back to the script. Look at the intention, the given circumstances, the punctuation, and find honesty in the line.
It is common for actors to realise they are performing in a comedy piece and play up to the laughs. Let the comedians play the comedy, actors play the problem. Comic timing is often misunderstood for how you should be inflecting or pitching a line – in fact it is purely reacting naturally to the situation a character has been put in. Audiences don’t laugh at an actor being funny, laughter is a reaction to the comedic truth in a tragic situation – laughter often sprouts from realisation.
Actors who set themselves up for a laugh, or pre-empt a joke, are often detrimental to other actors on stage, and themselves. Good comedy relies on the actors on stage supporting each other – make your colleagues look good. If you are in total support of the actor across from you and they give you the same – that’s when magic happens.