A lot of people think they know how to act comedy, and when you see them on stage you realise they don’t. I really hope I’m not one of them. Acting comedy well is really, really hard. That’s not to suggest it takes effort. In fact, it’s more likely to be the opposite. Great comedy actors say that true hilarity is found in relaxation. So sit back, relax, and let’s explore how to act comedy.
Relax on Stage
There are three things that will help every actor relax on stage: Breath, the script, and the people. For a more in-depth look on relaxation check out this page.
Breath is the key to a relaxed performance. Breathing naturally will allow you to respond naturally. We breathe while we listen and our breath is our first response to new information. We support our thoughts with breath. When an actor holds their breath because of performance anxiety or nerves, the audience picks up that energy. When an actor breathes calmly and responds naturally, the audience feel secure in their seats and the story. Relaxing on stage isn’t about feeling sleepy, it’s about not allowing your nerves to get in the way of your character and the story.
Having faith in the script is essential to relaxing on stage. Read every play before you audition and make sure you believe in the story. If you lose faith in the script during rehearsals, find one element of the story that needs to be told and focus on that. If a play was funny before you start rehearsals, and then loses it, you only have yourself to blame.
Trusting the people involved in a production will definitely help you relax on stage. Imagine a window washer trying to relax if they didn’t trust the guy holding the rope. When you’re acting in a comedy it’s even more important to trust your cast mates and director than in drama. Setting up jokes and paying them off is impossible without trust. Share a meal or a few drinks with your cast mates to help gain their trust, because without it you’re stuffed.
Knowing how to act comedy isn’t just about knowing how to tell jokes, it’s about knowing how to react. A character’s reaction to an insult or a compliment is often the punchline of a joke. Audiences look to see how one character’s lines land on the other characters. These reactions are a physical and/or verbal demonstration of the relationship between the characters in that specific moment. Audiences thrive on these ever changing relationships, they love the hero and hate the villain. So, now that you are reacting to the other characters, try reacting to the audience as well.
Does the villain love to be hated? Does the hero absorb confidence from a supportive audience? Does a slave search for pity in the stalls? Have fun and your audience will too.
The best way to improve your comedy acting skills is to know absolutely everything about the play you are in. Know it back to front. Know your lines inside out, and know the other characters even better. Understand their motivations. Know what makes every single character tick. Know their strengths and weaknesses. When other actors talk about their characters in rehearsal, don’t switch off, listen. Listen for anything that you can use to create a moment of unexpected juiciness. These little moments of magic from the rehearsal room are what makes each production unique. Knowing everything about the play you’re in will give you the confidence to play on stage. A play is a huge part of acting comedy.
When you are relaxed, in the moment, reacting confidently and playfully – You know how to act comedy.