Ready for some Friday Questions?
Sarah has one regarding a recent post on how you don’t have to write jokes to get laughs.
In the second scene, Jen is prattling on and on and on. Two 120-plus word speeches without interruption. So I've got this question in my head now: How do you make this work as comedy? Do you expect to have pauses in there where the audience will laugh? Lots of cross-cuts that show Ben getting more and more nervous? I can see how it works on paper but not how it will work on camera. Thanks.
Yes. We expect pauses and behavior. So much of this scene depends on reaction shots of Ben. He will get most of the laughs. This is something some actors don’t understand. They will get the script and count the number of lines they have vs. the other cast members. In addition to the fact that they will never work for me, they miss the point that comedy comes from playing attitudes not just firing off one-liners.
If writers job is to provide the dialog and to leave the stage direction to the director, then how does a scene which is mostly mime (like this Niles Fire) come about? Do the writers describe the details of the action in the script, or do they put down "Niles tries to iron his pants and sets fire to the couch" and leave the rest to others?
In a case like this where there is a silent physical comedy bit the writer will be as specific as he possibly can. Once the scene is on its feet it will often be modified as the actor makes it his own, but the more detailed the writer can make the description the better. Now I should mention that that’s a general rule. I suppose if you have an actress like Lucille Ball she might just prefer the writers say, “Lucy stomps on grapes” and she’ll take it from there. But how many Lucy’s are there? Or were there?
Actors generally dislike when writers give them a lot of interior directions on what attitude to play in dialogue. (pensive) (angry) (suspicious) They like to find it themselves and believe that if the script is written well the intent of the lines will be clear enough that they don’t have to instructed. How annoying would it be for you if someone sat behind you while you drove and kept saying, “turn on your left turn indicator”, “check your rearview mirror now,” etc. In two blocks you’d be yelling, “I’m not an idiot! I know what I’m doing!” That’s how actors feel and their point is well taken.
Recently on Two and a Half Men Ashton Kutcher, after a wild party, says: "Uh. This looks like Charlie Sheen's house".
The studio audience went crazy.
Why do you think breaking the fourth wall and going a little surreal like that usually gets such a warm response from the audience?
Because it feels like an inside joke that the audience is in on. And who doesn’t love to feel included on an inside joke? It’s also a line the audience sure didn’t expect. The downside is you tamper with the reality and integrity of your show. But you have to decide whether that’s important enough or not.
Janice has a FQ:
I was recently watching on YouTube the auditions of several cast members for "Freaks & Geeks". During the auditions there is a person in the room laughing incessantly after each line is read - whether it was funny or not. Is this common practice during a reading? I would imagine the laugher must feel like an imbecile.
No, that’s not common. And I imagine it would be quite disconcerting for the actor. Hopefully that laugher was thinking he was encouraging the actors and not just in hysterics because he loved his lines so much. Or has the worst short-term memory ever.
I love when actors make me laugh in auditions. That means they’re nailing it and are genuinely in the running for getting the part.
What’s tough is when an actor comes in and is so off-the-charts bad that you want to laugh at how absurdly terrible he is. I never want to embarrass an auditioner so I have to bite my tongue. But ohmygod is it tough sometimes. There have been a number of instances when an actor will finish, we’ll stoically thank him, he’ll leave, and we’ll fall on the floor laughing.
And finally, one from Patrick:
As a showrunner how much stock do you put in the so-called "showkiller curse"? Some actors get stuck with the nickname but is there any truth in that being part of the equation when casting? Or is the "showkiller" title purely a fabrication of the media?
Part of the problem is that we're always looking for someone fresh and new and these so-called showkillers feel recycled and too familiar. How many times have you watched a show and said, “Oh, him again?”
But as a producer I have to look past that. There are some terrific actors who haven’t broken out simply because they haven’t been fortunate enough to get the right parts. George Clooney did tons of pilots and failed series before clicking with ER. How stupid would a producer have to be to just dismiss George Clooney because he was a “showkiller?” Same with Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston.
The truth is if an actor keeps getting pilots then he must have something. How else does he always get hired? You’ve seen my post on how hard it is to land a pilot. So you have to weigh a lot of factors.
For me? I’m just looking for the best person for the part. Period. Known. Unknown. As I conceived the part. Different but better.
Looking back, I can’t tell you how many times I was casting a pilot and WISHED that George Clooney came in and auditioned. I’d probably be a much richer man today.
What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks much.