Andy Goldberg. (Notice I've never mentioned whether or not I’m any good?) Recently we’ve had to change theaters. Even though we are very sentimental, we opted not to stay in our original theater once it was torn down. Still, we had been there for eight years and were a little leery about making the change.
But the new theater had ample street parking and an oriental massage parlor next door so it definitely had its pluses. And it wasn't going to be a restaurant in six months.
The new theater was laid out differently. Our original venue was a little larger with a very wide stage area. The new place was narrow. A deeper stage and six rows of seats instead of three.
I could have predicted it. Why?
Because of its shape.
Comedy plays better in confined spaces. Laughs are louder when they don’t drift away.
Now you may say this is a superstition and I just want to be near that massage parlor, but (1) they don’t give group on’s, and (2) being in close quarters amplifies the laughter and laughter is infectious.
Whenever a sitcom episode goes into production the first order of business is a table reading. Several large tables are set up, the actors sit across from each other and read the script aloud as the writers and executives sit around them. Many shows I’ve worked on just hold their table readings right on their cavernous sound stages. On shows I’ve produced I insist we hold the table readings in conference rooms. Yes, it’s a little cramped, and chairs are pushed up against walls, but the difference in the reaction is startling. Laughs are so much bigger when you’re not at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Jokes are so much funnier when they don't echo.
Lest you think it’s just me, the table readings for CHEERS, FRASIER, WINGS, THE SIMPSONS, and BECKER were all held in conference rooms.
Do we get an unfair reading as a result? Do the scripts appear funnier than they really are? Sometimes. There are producers who won’t change jokes later if it worked at the table reading. I’m not one of them. If a joke doesn’t work when it’s on its feet I cut it. Table readings can always be deceiving.
But way more often, I’ve seen bad table readings done on the stage then gone back to the room and changed the shit out of the script. Later that day we'd have a runthrough of the original table draft and 70% of the stuff we planned to cut suddenly worked.
I’d rather err on the side of the table reading going well. Especially since you have the network and studio there as well. The less nervous they all are about the script, the better it is for all concerned.
Comedy can be effected by many outside factors. Room temperature, audience fatigue, visibility, traffic, distractions, level of alcohol, time of night, and the intimacy of the venue.
So I invite you to take seriously the notion of comedy geography. You could be in for a happy ending even without the massage parlor.