Take a moment to think about the great comedians of our time. What is one thing these performers typically have in common – their ability to integrate physical humor, or physical comedy, into a performance. Physical comedy is one of the oldest forms of comedy, and its use within films dates back to the silent film era. An entire story can be conveyed through your physical actions, and your dialogue can be enhanced by your bodily movements. The Actor’s Group Orlando is a great place where you can learn more about physical comedy as well.
Take Jim Carey, for example. He is a talented actor, he can deliver lines that are natural and believable; however, what truly sets him apart from all other comedy actors is the way he integrates physical humor into all of his performances. Even when he’s playing a serious role, such as in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” he carried himself and delivered his comedy through his movements.
Physical humor is an art form within itself. It can take years to perfect this type of comedy, and unfortunately, you will likely obtain several bruises while training.
One of the best ways to learn how to integrate physical comedy into your performances is to watch the masters do it. Watch the classics, and you’ll soon get an idea of what is involved in physical humor.
There are several tips I have gathered throughout my years working in the entertainment industry, and while this is a small list, it is a start for budding physical comedy actors.
Move with Conviction
No matter what type of action is involved, such as getting your face slammed by a cream pie or tripping over a stool, you must make every bodily movement one with true conviction. There is one thing all great physical humor comedians have in common – they perform every gag and every movement with 100 percent conviction. What is conviction? It is performing a movement without hesitation and without consequence. It is knowing that you may be making a fool out of yourself, but it is within this self-mockery you are able to truly let go and become your character.
Do Not Anticipate
Anticipation can ruin any type of physical humor. The best physical comedians are those who are knowingly about to fall down the stairs or trip over a desk but do so with zero anticipation. These actors know what is about to happen to them, but they continue as if they do not. This purposeful disbelief, or purposeful blindness, is what will give your physical humor that extra spark of believability. Remember, if you anticipate what’s about to happen, it will make your comedy look rehearsed and sloppy.
Use Your Actions to Support Your Dialogue
Integrating physical humor into your performance means formulating the scene so your movements actually enhance your dialogue, which is definitely more difficult than it sounds. I think about some of my favorite scenes with Jim Carey in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Remember when he’s trying to snoop out some information so he and Courtney Cox visit a mental institution, and Jim Carey pretends to be crazy. Within this hilarious scene, he integrates outrageous physical movements within this dialogue to create a character that truly looks “insane.” Remember, your movements should have a purpose, look unscripted, and be used to enhance words and silent purpose of a scene.