There’s an old expression that goes something like this: The difference between a comic and a comic actor is that the comic says funny things and the comic actor says things funny.
Not to take anything away from comics – stand up is truly an art and if you think it’s easy just telling jokes sign up for an open mic night one time; your next stop will be jumping off a bridge -- but there’s a big difference between delivery and acting.
As a writer and producer I’ve always believed that the best comedy comes from attitude. Put people in awkward or difficult situations and see what they do. How do they handle pressure? How do they protect their pride? How do they overcome adversity? Flaws and weaknesses are exposed and those are the elements that writers use to construct screen comedy.
The contrast between funny actors and comics is most apparent in the early episodes of SEINFELD. Jerry is clearly the weak link. And I’m sure he’d admit it. I give him credit for allowing himself to be surrounded by comic actors who were spectacular and he learned and grew along the way, but who are we kidding? He’s a kazoo player in Wynton Marsalis’ jazz combo.
When David Isaacs and I are running a show and need to cast a guest role we have a saying, “Always hire the actor.” The role may call for a newscaster. Hire an actor. The newscaster might have to do jokes. Yes, some can. But it’s better to hire an actor. If the part calls for an athlete – hire an actor. Or a fashion model, or five-star chef, or pope. It’s a lot easier for a trained actor to fake being a newscaster than the other way around.
And as I mentioned in the previous article, there’s the fact that most actors are out of work so why give away one of their coveted jobs to a newscaster who will see it as a lark?
A good comic actor will get laughs from reactions, body language, a raised eyebrow, the way he shuffles his feet. The truly great ones can get laughs just by standing in place. A comic says funny things, a comic actor doesn’t even have to say things funny. That’s the guy you want.