Notes On Comedy

You can open a door funny.

(Think the Marx Brothers)

You can open a funny door.

(Open a door and it falls off its hinges.)

But you can’t open a funny door funny.


Thanks Dave Harris for passing on this comedy koan he had heard in a class. I like it. Sounds perfectly reasonable. The point being something like: You don’t have to exaggerate the comedy.  Trust it.  Don’t push.  Let it play for itself. Don't gild the lilly, comedy wise.


However upon further reflection, why couldn’t an actor open a funny door funny? Why couldn’t the character being doing something funny as they open a trick door?  I don't want to over-think it...  But I get the point. 


The 17th century Russian comic playwright Nicolai Gogol, who is considered the father of modern realism, wrote some great advice for actors playing comedy:

 “Above all beware of falling into caricature.  Nothing ought to be exaggerated or hackneyed, not even the minor roles… The less an actor thinks about being funny or making the audience laugh, the more the comic elements of his part will come through.  The ridiculous will emerge spontaneously through he very seriousness with which each character is occupied with his own affairs.  They are all caught up in their own interests, bustling and fussing, even fervent, as if faced with the most important tasks of their lives. Only the audience, from its detached position, can perceive the vanity of their concerns.  But they themselves do not joke at all, and have no inkling that anybody is laughing at them.  The intelligent actor, before seizing upon the petty oddities and superficial peculiarities of his part, must strive to capture those aspects that are common to all mankind.  He ought to consider each character, what it is that consumes his life and constitutes the perpetual object of his thoughts, his idée fixe. Having grasped this major concern, the actor must assimilate it so thoroughly that the thoughts and yearnings of his character seem to be his own and remain constantly in his mind over the course of the performance….  So, one should first grasp the soul of a part and not its dress.”