Here’s is a really simple way to get a laugh in almost any scenario… on stage, film or animation.
I am going to call this technique a “transition”.
So how does it work? There are 3 simple stages.
Part 1: Be Emotional!
Reacting to something with a clear emotion will really help a gag work.
Watch how Friends actors Courtney Cox and Matthew Perry get big laughs from their intense panic.
For TV, Cox and Perry clearly emphasise the emotion with their faces.
For stage work, use your whole body to physicalise the emotion.
eg. being embarrassed could mean looking at the floor with your feet turned inwards
being terrified might mean hopping from foot to foot very fast
be revolted might mean trying not to wretch!
Part 2: The Transition or “Change of Emotion”
“Transition” is the term I use for a physical and emotional change.
It works by having a completely different emotion before your emotional reaction at the laugh point.
The trick is to anticipate the emotion you’re going to use for your reaction – and then setting yourself up for a really strong change by having a very different emotion before the reaction.
It sounds complicated, but it isn’t!
About 10 secs into this clip, David Schwimmer does a wonderful change from resigned to angry :
Using the examples above…
you could be confident before you become embarrassed when you drop something
you might be enchanted before you become terrified when you see a cuddly toy
you could be excited before you become revolted when you look inside a box
For stage work you should again have a completely different physicality before your physical reaction at the laugh point. The more different your body shape before the reaction, the easier it is for the audience to see the change. Emotions with different speeds are perfect (eg enchanted is slow, terrified is fast).
Look at the wonderful Cirque du Soleil actor in yellow physicalise his transitions perfectly. (Thanks To Jonathan Lyons at comedyforanimators.com for this link.)
So, to conclude, using the examples above again…
– You start slow and confident, with hands on hips, chin up, chest out.
You drop something.
You suddenly become embarrassed and look at the floor, with your feet turned in.
– You start enchanted, floating around dreamily.
You see a cuddly toy.
You suddenly become terrified hopping from foot to foot very fast.
– You start excited, quickly rubbing you hands together, grinning wildly.
You look inside a box.
You suddenly freeze in revulsion and slowly try to hold back a wretch.
Part 3: Sharpness
We’re putting our money where our mouths are and creating films of our own. To have a look at the attempts so far, click here: