A reader wondered how in an audition you could tell if an actor’s funny? The simple answer – does he or she make you laugh? The long answer -- there is no long answer.
It’s hard to explain but truly funny people just give off a vibe. Their attitude, the way they walk, their look – they seem to possess an innate sense of rhythm and timing. And you know it. That’s how we felt when Katey Segal first walked into our office. And Robert Pastorelli. And especially Jenna Elfman.
It gets tough when you're casting a network pilot. The people who audition are all at a certain advanced level. They’re thoroughly professional. They know how to cold read. They know how to sell the jokes. Any one of them would be okay.
But you’re looking for special. The actor who doesn’t have to work hard to get the laughs. The one that just projects a natural comic persona, whether it’s goofiness, or pomposity, or frustration, or in the case of Robin Williams, every emotion known to man and three that aren’t.
Example of “good” vs. “special” – Jim Belushi…John Belushi.
And appearance is important. Check out these photos. Would either of these guys even have to read for you to know they’re funny?
Harder to find are good looking actors who also have comedy chops. It's especially tough finding guys. That's why Paul Rudd and Jason Bateman get seven pilot offers a season. CHEERS with William Devane would have lasted thirteen episodes.
Here's what's not funny: making dolphin noises, mugging, wearing Fruit of the Loom costumes, being in on the joke, crossing your eyes, putting corn stalks in your ears, snorting, splitting watermelons with a sledgehammer, referring to all women as ho's, dropping the "n" bomb, imitating Helen Keller, being loud, did I mention making dolphin noises?
At the end of the day, I’ve always gone by the Nat Hiken test. Hiken, a brilliant comedy writer, created and wrote THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW and CAR 54 WHERE ARE YOU? He used to say that if an actor auditioned and he wanted to go right home and write twenty minutes of dialogue for him, THAT’S the actor you hire.