Creating Simple Double Act Material

This blog should help you create some funny material quickly and easily.

This Martin and Lewis routine is a really good example of one of the ways you can generate some great content.

I want to concentrate only on the section from 2.23 to 3.03

Here are the 9 steps:

1. To make things easy: one character should lead the action. The other gets things wrong. In this case, Dean Martin leads, and Jerry Lewis gets it wrong.

2. The routine will be about both characters trying to achieve something specific. The clearer the point at which “success” happens, the easier it is to create good material leading up to it. In this example video, the first “point of success” is Lewis getting over to his dance partner.

3. The leading character must take responsbility for stopping and starting the attempts at achieving success. The foolish character must allow lots of space for the leading character to do this. Watch how much time Jerry Lewis spends just listening to Dean Martin telling him off and giving him more instructions.

4. The lead character must clearly state the success point for the audience. In this case, “Walk over to her and ask her to dance.”

5. For really great gags, the foolish character must do as asked, but “in the wrong way”. In this case, Lewis first walks over trying to look proper, but ends up doing a ridiculous version of a “posh” walk.

6. The leading character then stops the fool before he reaches the “point of success”.

7. THE MOST IMPORTANT PART! The lead character then suggests “how” the foolish character should have done it. Preferably suggesting something that has an emotional content. In this case, Martin says, “Relax, relax!”

8. The foolish character does what he is told, but again, “in the wrong way”. In this case, Lewis does an overly-relaxed walk.

9. Repeat parts 6, 7 and 8 as much as you feel appropriate. Always pay attention to stopping and starting the action cleanly.

That’s it!

This is a simple structure that provides a really strong foundation for double act interaction and is great fun to do.

Think of examples for the following situations:

1. PLACE: A quiet library. AIM: Go and get me that book of the shelf.

2. PLACE: Climbers on a steep dangerous mountain side. AIM: Get something out of my back pack for me.

3. PLACE: The middle seats in the row in a crowded, rowdy sports stadium. AIM: Go and get me some food.

Have fun!

 

We want New Slapstick is a resource for everyone involved in visual comedy of any kind.

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:

http://www.thesillyseasons.com

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Why Do Visual Comics Use Weird Voices?!

Shut up. Shut UP. SHADDUP SHADDUP. SHUUUUUT UUUUUUUP!

That’s the standard reaction I get when I do my (terrible) Jerry Lewis impression.

It’s not just my Jerry Lewis. It’s my Norman Wisdom, my Peewee Herman and my Jo Pasquale.

I have always wondered why  so many comics use these high pitched (some might say annoying) voices But after a few years of live shows, I found myself doing it. This wasn’t a planned decision. It just happened.

One reason is that high pitched sound can be sharp and surprising – perfect for comedy. But from my own experience, I am convinced that the unusual character voices of Wisdom and Lewis emerged for more practical reasons.

BIG STUFF

Large arenas like circuses or big theatres can get noisy and chaotic. In these arenas, routines can get lost beneath the audience reaction. Sharp, punchy noise is good punctuation for a routine.

And it’s not just about noise. More importantly, it can be due to the audience “falling about”. In my experience, very large audiences can take a while to “get back on board” after big jokes – they are catching their breath, they are wiping their eyes, they are telling their kids to get off the floor.

By using a variety of tactics – including high pitched noise – a performer can re-establish order. Jerry Lewis is a big proponent of saying “Hey!” to an audience. Norman Wisdom laughs hysterically – or uses a baby-like “waaah”. Both used to regain focus.

IS IT JUST ME?

Why then, are strange voices so particular to comics?

Firstly, there is rarely as much audience rowdiness during other styles of performance as there is in the wild chaos of a clown show.

Secondly, higher pitched voices indicate low status, so that is appropriate for clown characters.

Thirdly, a high pitched voice upstages a low pitched voice in the same way that the clown’s physical antics can upstage a straight man’s stillness.

Finally, it’s so weird, other types of performers would avoid it!

JUDGEMENT

Unfortunately, vocal noise is often used in place of good physical technique. There is no reason why most performers shouldn’t be able to maintain sharpness and rhythm through the accurate movement of their body.

My feeling is that once established in a live setting, using high pitched noise can become habitual. In Lewis and Wisdom’s careers, it was probably never questioned as to whether this type of voice was suitable for film. They had had hugely successful live stage careers with these voices. In fact, because they were very mimickable, it made those characters more memorable – even if, for some, they were annoying.

In film, we don’t have to worry about audience control. One of my greatest revelations about film comedy was the first time I watched a Chaplin film as part of a large audience. Because we knew no one would speak, we realised we didn’t have to listen. We could make as much noise as we liked. We all guffawed, gasped and shout out loudly – happily knowing that we wouldn’t miss a thing. What an experience! What a release!

Overall, I would recommend avoiding the weird voice – and let your body do the work. (If you want to look into this more, have a look at some mask work. Try www.trestle.org.uk)

The main points again:

Sharp punchy noise can punctuate a routine

Sharp noise can help “reset” an audience after a big joke.

Noise is NO SUBSTITUTE for good physical technique.

We want New Slapstick is a resource for everyone involved in visual comedy of any kind.

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:

http://www.thesillyseasons.com

Performer Analysis: Jerry Lewis

A few years ago, someone gave me a DVD of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in a 1950s TV show called “The Colgate Comedy Hour”.

I didn’t know much about Jerry Lewis, but having seen those shows, it’s of no surprise that so many huge US comics hold Lewis up as a legend.

What he is doing so well? I think it’s because he’s really good at mucking about!

In those Colgate shows energy pours and sparkles out of the young, skinny, wild Jerry Lewis. He leaves Dean Martin in his wake, who, for large sections of the show, is just standing there in gleeful awe!

But this is not the Jerry Lewis that most British people would recognise. Most Brits would only know Lewis as the weird character in The Nutty Professor.

There was quite a change in Jerry Lewis over the years and it’s worth looking at what happened.

Have a look at these 3 clips of him performing the same routine at different stages of his career.

I am sure you are already drawing your own conclusions!

It’s tempting to say that the change in his performance is just because he’s getting older.

But the real issue is what he’s thinking as a performer.

In the 1950’s he is just there for fun. The sketch content is almost irrelevant – not nearly as important as his connection with the audience.

In the second clip, he appears to be straining for energy, leading to a slightly awkward over-playing. And he is making less of connection with the audience.

Performers moving into their 30’s will often strain to reach the same energy levels as before. (I have done this.)

The temptation is to use gimmicks like more costume (I have done this too) – and worst of all you start shouting when you should be “speaking with energy”. (Oh the shame!)

In the last clip though, he is hardly making any meaningful connection with the audience. He seems to be trying to underplay it – or maybe he’s trying to show the audience that he is aware that this is an old routine?

Legendary clown teacher Angela de Castro says “Lack of charisma can be fatal”. And this clip shows how careful you have to be to use energy even when trying to “underplay” something.

This is probably at the heart of the difference between clowning and comedy. “Clowning” in its many forms is all about performance, connection with the audience, and the emotion journey of the character.

In the 1960’s, Lewis put himself under a lot of strain to produce, direct, act and finance his own films. It is no wonder that performance energy was difficult to muster.

This is a fascinating area, and I’d really appreciate hearing your thoughts, so please leave a comment.

MAIN POINTS AGAIN:

Energy can carry a performance.

A performer needs to have high energy AND control.

Over reaching for energy can result in an awkward performance.

Under-selling a performance can result in a damp squib.

We want New Slapstick is a resource for everyone involved in visual comedy of any kind.

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:

http://www.thesillyseasons.com