Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The Comedy Actress Litmus Test
So how do you know? How can you tell the professional actress from the true comic actress if they both get the same laugh?
It’s an inexact science to be sure. Some you just know. They have the physicality, the look, the timing, the whatever Carol Burnett has. But those are few and far between. Sorry, Whitney.
For me there’s a way to separate the Lucys from the Lose-ees.
Can they cry funny?
This is a very unique skill. You have to get the audiences’ sympathy while still getting laughs. If you play it too real the audience just feels sad or uncomfortable. If you play it too broad there’s no emotional connection. You have to walk a very fine line between reality and exaggeration. When it works it’s magic. When it doesn’t it’s like catching your grandparents humping.
I’ve mentioned before how Kirstie Alley is fabulous at this. She did a great scene in CHEERS in an episode David Isaacs and I wrote called “Finally Part II”. She’s heartbreaking and hilarious all at the same time. (I had the scene posted but YouTube took it down. You’re going to have to actually watch the show.)
Nancy Travis is great at this. So is Jenna Elfman, Patty Heaton, Lisa Edelstein, Suzanne Pleshette, Shelley Long, Jennifer Aniston, Wendie Malick, and Christina Applegate.
But the all-time champ -- the woman who set the gold standard -- was Mary Tyler Moore. This is a clip from an early DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Feeling the romance has gone out of their marriage, Laura Petrie (MTM) is talked into bleaching her hair. She has second doubts, decides to dye it back. It starts about 7:00 minutes in. Her explanation monologue to Rob is a comic tour de force.
That makes me laugh and cry every time I see it.
Unfortunately, this Litmus Test does not extend to comic actors. (Except for Stan Laurel.) I really don’t want to see Larry David cry. Ever.
So I’m still looking for that Litmus Test for guys. I just have to watch more film on Herman Cain. But I’ll get back to you when I have something.