“I don’t like comedy. I like funny things. I don’t like comedy. Like, comedy movies are just, ‘Oh Jesus.'” – Louis C.K.
I know what he means. I’d rather sit through a bad drama than a B-grade comedy any day.
Cameron and I often “overdub” movies, Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style.
We’ve made fun of Tim Robbins in Arlington Road. Adrien Brody in Splice. Even Gene Hackman in Heist.
What makes it funny is the deadly seriousness of the actor on screen. (And really, nothing’s funnier than an Oscar-winning actor in something really bad.) The more dramatic the film is supposed to be, the greater the opportunity for comedy.
“Sometimes things are really funny if you’re absolutely earnest. If you’re really serious, it’s hilarious.” – Christopher Walken
The funniest people I know are great actors. They may be improvising on stage, but they are also acting. It requires a level of commitment to the scene most of us don’t even aim for.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy goofy improv sets; I do. But for me the biggest laughs, the shows that really resonate, inevitably involve great acting.
One of my favourite movie scenes of all time is Walken as Diane Keaton’s psychotic brother in Annie Hall. (If you haven’t seen it, click here to watch.)
He plays the part like it’s Requiem For A Dream, not a quirky romantic comedy. It’s such a small role, but his commitment to character makes it unforgettable.
Note Woody’s performance, too. Even though he calls out Walken’s character as a freak, he does so in a way that’s understated.
Colbert, Carell, Razowsky, TJ and Dave, Jason Mantzoukas, Steve Coogan, Bob Odenkirk…these people get laughs precisely because they don’t play the scene for laughs.
Subtlety, emotion, and vulnerability, while seldom seen on stage, are all things that elevate good improv to great.
For more inspiration, check out Real Actors Read Yelp Reviews. So many great ones, but #3, read by award-winning actor Brian O’Neill, and #4 by Greg Hildreth are faves. (Canuck improvisers: how much does Hildreth remind you of Jameson Kraemer?!)