Thursday, August 27, 2015

Actors breaking up in the middle of a scene

Here’s one of those Friday Questions that became an entire post.

It’s from Tyler:

Do sitcom directors tend to be more amused or irritated by repeated takes being blown by one or more actors in a scene laughing and giggling? Have you worked with any actors who got irked by co-stars who repeatedly did so? I've just been re-watching all the Seinfeld blooper reels (often as funny as the show itself) and Michael Richards at times gets clearly annoyed with blown takes.

Actors infrequently get the giggles so when it happens it’s generally amusing to all concerned. And studio audiences LOVE it. When I direct and it happens I just give the actors a few minutes to regain their composure, well aware that it will still take a few more takes before they can get through the line.

Sometimes these laughing fits come as a result of something so funny in the script or a performance so hilarious that the other actors just can’t hold it.  That's a good thing!

I remember once on CHEERS we used Tony Shaloub as a waiter and he just pulverized everybody. Yes, it resulted in delays but boy was it worth it.

In an episode of FRASIER I directed, two characters came to dinner who had huge noses. I told my camera operators to stay with whoever they were shooting if they were about to lose it. Some of the shots we ended up using were priceless. No actor I’ve ever worked with had more concentration than David Hyde Pierce, and even he was about to explode.

Ray Romano, on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, was so quick and every so often would toss in a hilarious ad lib that would crack up Patty Heaton. But that was on purpose.

I imagine if an actor breaks up habitually it can get old to his fellow cast mates, but I haven’t seen any instance of the cast getting annoyed (although it sounds like Michael Richards did get annoyed.  

Here’s a sheepish confession: There used to be network specials that aired G-rated bloopers. The director would get a nice royalty if a clip from his episode was used. I was the happy recipient of a few of these checks. So when something goofy occurred like an actor with the chronic giggles, one of my first thoughts was “Ka-ching!”

Harvey Korman was a gifted comic actor who was part of the ensemble of THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. Fellow cast member Tim Conway could always break him up. I’m going to leave you now with one of the funniest sketches ever on television. Conway is the dentist, Korman is the patient. Watch Korman. This has me in stitches every time even though I’ve seen it twenty times.

42 comments:

Peter said...

"This video contains content from WMG, who has blocked it on copyright grounds."

:-(

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

We love watching actors break up during a scene, and love trying to spot an actor holding it in or hiding it. When they know that we know that they are in on the joke it makes it even better. Laughing is contagious. When a character does/say something funny I would expect the other character to laugh or be amused. When they don't respond with a smile or annoyance, depending on the scene, I think there's something wrong.

Barry in Portland said...

I was hoping you would have a clip from the Frasier 'big noses' episode, which I still find myself laughing about all these years later. Maybe someone can post a link here - it's the line referring to the couple's dogs. I will say no more.

Barry in Portland said...

Found it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7clRrOCsEA

Graham Powell said...

I read about how Conway used to crack everyone up. Apparently the Carol Burnett show was taped, and they always did two takes. Conway would do the first take as scripted, and if it went well, then he might... change things up just a bit. I gotta say, those were the funniest bits in the whole show.

Michael said...

Graham Powell beat me to it. Two things to add:

1. Conway would ask the director, Dave Powers, if he got everything in the first taping. If Powers had told him they needed to do the dentist sketch again, Conway wouldn't start winging it. So, even then, Conway was professional about it.

2. Go to You Tube for Conway's elephant routine during "The Family" sketch. Just do it.

Tom Quigley said...

I remember the episode where Roz's boyfriend's parents come to for dinner (didn't know you directed that one, Ken) and how genuine the reactions of the other cast members seemed to be at the size of their noses -- and as it turns out, they were. I worked on a Thanksgiving episode of MAD ABOUT YOU where Jamie threw a cooked turkey out the living room window, and you could see John Pankow starting to break up over it -- and they left his shot in the scene. It really heightened the level of comedy and absurdity over what she had just done.

The flip side of the coin is where actors can't control themselves and start laughing for no reason at all, and the audience begins to get bored and loses interest. I worked on a short-lived show one time called NEW YOR BOYS where one of the two main characters only had to say the line "That's right. We're bad poobahs" and they both broke up over that line to the point where over 25 minutes was wasted. In the interim while they were trying to get through just that line (let alone the whole scene) without laughing, two groups that had been booked to attend the show as part of the audience got fed up and left. Needless to say, the producers weren't thrilled with either the delay in shooting or losing a large chunk of their audience.

Daniel AH said...

Actors with a theatre or improv background have a tendency to get annoyed or not react at all at fellow actors breaking, I think. Oscar Nuñez of the office is an example of this

Brian Phillips said...

This seems to have taken a couple of takes to get through:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASEhCNLtRfM

Also, was the Tony Shalhoub footage from Cheers ever used? I could see him playing the grief-stricken waiter from the "Rescue Me" episode.

John in Ohio said...

I had read that the end of Mork & Mindy was really bad, both for break ups and for just throwing the script out of the window. Robin and Jonathan were having a ball and everyone else was miserable.

Al said...

I used to do a lot of extra work when I was younger and living in Los Angeles. I never did Seinfeld but I met a couple of folks who did. They consistently said that Michael Richards was particularly sensitive to blown lines and people out of place and that sort of thing.

They thought it was pretentiousness, but after I heard the story enough I began to think differently. What Michael Richards was doing was something that perhaps took a different type of concentration than what other folks were doing. Pulling off Kramer was a high wire act and took some amount of precision in timing, performance, gesture, etc. I would imagine it was difficult to do it under the best of circumstances and so having a distraction or unusual take could be quite annoying.

Although, it also seems this sensitivity in performance led him to a very dark place during that unfortunate incident at the Laugh Factory. I'm an African-American, so I was indeed, pretty offended by the things he said. Frustration in trying to get through a performance is understandable, but how you react when frustrated can be quite telling regarding who you are as a person.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I recall hearing or reading that the FRIENDS cast sometimes read the scripts and just knew there was going to be trouble getting through certain lines. ISTR that one of them was "smell-the-fart acting".

I'm glad Ken posted the Korman/Conway clip. They were a miraculous pair. But a sketch/variety show is a different situation than a scripted series. Breaking up still can break character and the situation, but on a variety show it also suggests the actors are having fun and if anything engages the audience further (since the CAROL BURNETT SHOW always also had a live audience), whereas on a sitcom I think it kicks the viewer out of the story.

wg

Harry said...

Can you blame Michael Richards for what he said? Some people can't keep their mouths closed. They get told things they don't want to hear. Bravo, Michael.

Glenn said...

The Seinfeld DVDs clearly show how annoyed Michael Richards could get when people messed up, especially Julia Louis-Dreyfus (he mentions how repeatedly breaking up was "unprofessional" to him). Though in Michael's defense, on Seinfeld, whatever scene they were working on was usually much funnier than any blooper.

Boomska316 said...

TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes hosted by Dick Clark and Ed McMahon. I remember those.

mmryan314 said...

I wouldn't say " Bravo" about Richards comments at the infamous comedy club act but, in saying that, he doesn`t appear to have a pattern of behaviour that would indicate any type of racist sentiment. Plenty of celebrities have said or done things that stir the public`s ire. ( Won`t cite them here). In my opinion if, if it`s a momentary lapse of good judgement and a sincere apology, it`s easily forgivable.

emily said...

Re: Tim Conway and the elephants. FNORK!

vicernie said...

by contrast, I hate it when characters produce a funny line and the other has no reaction. not so on Frasier.

benson said...

@Tom Quigley

You mentioning Mad About You reminds me how much I'd love to see the outtakes of the Mel Brooks episodes, when he appeared as Uncle Phil.

The Mad About You DVD releases have been inconsistent, at best. And no features.

James Prichard said...

Frasier is my favorite show ever, and that particular episode with the big-nosed parents of Roz's baby daddy is one of the very best. ("Pardon my wife, sometimes she gets a little nosey." "Me nosey? You're the nosey one in the family." "Anyone who knows you knows you're nosey!" "Anyone who knows *you* knows you're nosier!") Well done!

Question Mark said...

As an avid watcher of YouTube blooper reels, it really did seem like a lot of those Seinfeld crackups stemmed from (ironically) 'nothing.' I understand that anyone can get the giggles, but in some of those clips, it's taking multiple takes to get through a simple line since someone (usually JLD) can't keep a straight face. In her defense, some of those scenes are so hilarious that nobody could be expected to keep straight...for instance, that scene with Elaine and Frank Costanza about to throw down.

DANIEL AH...it's funny you mentioned Oscar Nunez, since I think his ability to keep a straight face was actually a running joke within the cast. The rare couple of times he laughs in those blooper reels, everyone goes "Oscar broke! Oscar broke!"

One of my favourite bloopers that made the final cut of a show was from Friends. It's when Ross is playing "Celebrate" on the bagpipes and asks everyone to sing along, leading Phoebe to sing not the actual lyrics, but "EEEE, EEEE, EEEE" like a bagpipe herself. Apparently this was an improv from Kudrow and you can see Jennifer Aniston's face just light up in the background and then cover her mouth to hide her laughter.

Karl said...

Actually, what made me laugh out loud in that clip of Tim Conway telling the elephant story wasn't Conway. It was Vicky Lawrence's ad-lib (in character as Mama) when Carol Burnett prompted her to give her next line after Tim finally finished his yarn.

Joe Hamilton, producer of "The Carol Burnett Show," (as well as being the star's husband at the time), said after the series ended that he was always careful to limit how much of Conway's ad-libbing and Korman's breaking up he allowed into the final cut of the show, his theory being that a little of it was funny, but too much, and it would get old fast.

I'm too young to remember his show myself, but I've heard my Dad talk about watching Red Skelton's series and getting impatient with Red constantly breaking up at his own material. My Dad thought it passed the point of being amusing and crossed over into being a little unprofessional.

Conway himself has said that Korman was almost too easy to break up. Carol Burnett much harder, and Vicky Lawrence hardest of all, particularly if Vicky was "in character."

Anonymous said...

There is a great scene in Dr. Strangelove near the end when Peter Sellers goes off in the War Room as the mad Nazi doctor with his uncontrollable Heil Hitler arm and Peter Bull who plays the Soviet ambassador in the background is breaking up. He is trying so hard not to laugh but if you know to watch him you can see him laughing to himself.

Andy Rose said...

Conway often did the dress rehearsal straight, but not always. That's why the famous "elephant" Family sketch blooper has two different versions. One was the story he told in dress rehearsal about the elephant and the dwarf being lovers, and the other was the air show about the Siamese elephants. Although the cast laughed about it later, it appears from watching that Burnett was getting tired of Conway's digressions, begging Vicki Lawrence to move on to her next line so Tim would stop. Instead, Vicki just called Conway "that little asshole."

Sarah said...

I can tell you that my folks attended a couple of Carol Burnett tapings back in the '70s, and my mom still remembers one particular sketch where the taping dragged on so long because of Tim Conway's fooling around that she said it stopped being funny after awhile. She remembered someone (the director, maybe?) breaking in at one point and telling Tim that the rest of us would like to get out of here before dawn, so could we maybe just get this in the can?

MikeK.Pa. said...

Nothing related to this post, and I might have missed it, but did Carl Reiner ever get back to you with notes on your DICK VAN DYKE SHOW script? He and Mel Brooks have dinner at Reiner's home 2-3 times a week. Getting Mel's notes on top of Carl's would be a bonus.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,
Just wondering if you had seen The Brink at all and what you thought of it?
cheers
Dave

Curtis said...

I got some "Carol Burnett Show" DVDs from the local library. These are complete shows, as originally broadcast, not the "Carol Burnett and Friends" highlights half-hours that have been in syndication for years. The funny stuff was still, for the most part, funny, but I have to tell you, I'd forgotten what a heavy concentration of music those shows had, a lot of which has not worn well, at least for me. (Dinah Shore singing, "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover"?) I'd also forgotten the tendency that show had to wind up the hour with big, lavish (by television standards), fifteen minute musical production numbers.

Terrence Moss said...

That elephant story is the best outtake EVER.

David Goehner said...

RE: The "Carol Burnett Show" Dentist Sketch: It's long been told that Tim would play a script as scripted in the first taping, then would have fun with it in the second taping. So what I've been wondering for y-e-a-r-s ... and because what we've long seen on TV seems to be the ONLY way that sketch could have possibly have been done ... can anybody answer what was SUPPOSED to happen (as in what was scripted to occur) in that famous "Dentist" sketch?

cadavra said...

One of the glories of live theatre is waiting for someone to crack up (if it's a comedy, of course); not even the great Nathan Lane is immune. They're rare in classic movies but not uncommon, and occasionally there are even scripted break-ups, the most famous being the "Gimme the water!" bit in ABBOTT & COSTELLO IN THE NAVY. I put a couple in the Biffle & Shooster shorts and audiences are always shocked when I tell them afterwards that they weren't real.

tavm said...

While Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz were notorious for breaking up on "Saturday Night Live", during the early '80s, Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy did that too (they were on when Lorne Michaels took a leave of absence). Theirs weren't too loud or frequent compared to Fallon and Sanz but they did crack up and even acknowledged it like during the "Gumby and Pokey Reunion" sketch, Joe says they can't see me laughing when in the horse suit!

Rashad Khan said...

I might have mentioned this before, but the most bizarre sitcom episode I have ever seen was the one "Newhart" in which George (Tom Poston) dated a woman with an extremely large behind. I wonder whether the cast were able to get through THAT taping with straight faces.

Loosehead said...

Thank you Barry in Portland. I had forgotten all the "who nose" jokes that were in that episode. I love Roz's expression throughout.
That episode, and the parrot on Niles head, were two standouts.

Judith said...

"I remember once on CHEERS we used Tony Shalhoub as a waiter and he just pulverized everybody."

Wait, what? I didn't recall Tony Shalhoub on Cheers (I'm a Cheers & Tony Shalhoub fan). I checked IMDB and there's no Cheers entry. Maybe you meant Wings?

Andy Rose said...

Curtis, that's one of the things I found interesting when I heard that Me-TV was supposedly airing full episodes of The Carol Burnett Show. Are they *really* full and uncut? Because parts of that show were downright ponderous when watched in full. The later sketches tend to run about twice as long as they should. This Mr. Tudball sketch is funny enough, but is it really worth TEN MINUTES of screen time, especially since about half of the dialogue seems to be ad-libbed asides from Conway?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bf98-fM5kmo

The original dentist sketch runs 9:00, starting with an unnecessary introduction by Carol explaining every single thing you're about to see. The highlight version posted online is barely a third of the full sketch.

Scott said...

I've been watching the Carol Burnett reruns on MeTV, and they're definitely the half-hour "Carol Burnett and Friends" versions. I was too young to see the originals, and I think I would enjoy the musical numbers and such (although the comment above about Dinah Shore makes me reconsider that).

Andy Rose said...

And not to beat a dead horse, but the original Family "Password" sketch that had the elephant story in it ran an astonishing 19:00. I've tried a few times, but I can't force myself to watch it all the way through. Way too much filler.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBQkOKcc2Ko

metrocard said...

I wonder if rather than Tony Shalhoub on Cheers, it was the episode with Diedrich Bader (Season 8, episode 13 -- Sammy and the Professor)?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I loved all the Mr Tutball and Mrs Wiggins sketches, but especially the one where he tries to teach her how to use the intercom.

Scott: if it's any consolation, I watched a lot of the shows when they originally aired, and I often turned the sound down on the musical numbers. I have various recordings, and they still don't do anything for me - even when it's a young Maggie Smith singing - yes, singing! - with Carol. (People who never discovered Maggie Smith until she started getting typecast as the acid-tongued English dowager can have no idea what a range of work she's done in her career, from the self-aggrandizing delusional Miss Jean Brodie to Peter Ustinov's cute but incompetent secretary in HOT MILLIONS (which I think is the first computer crime movie ever made, and very funny with it), to playing Virginia Woolf on stage in a one-woman show.)

wg

Buttermilk Sky said...

I just watched the SEINFLD episode called "The Library." Philip Baker Hall plays a library cop in the style of Joe Friday, and has a scene that's so funny, Seinfeld can barely hold it together. From the number of edits, they must have needed an hour to get it on film. (Fortunately, Michael Richards is not involved.)

Boswell said...

"I wonder if rather than Tony Shalhoub on Cheers, it was the episode with Diedrich Bader (Season 8, episode 13 -- Sammy and the Professor)?"

That's what I was thinking. He was hilarious in this role!