Honest Comedic Acting for Singers
Whether singers feel comedically-inclined or not, humor and music often go hand in hand.
Minstrels, jesters, troubadours, and the like throughout history have been required to meld the talents of musical ability and comedy seamlessly, so it’s no wonder that modern singers often have to follow suit.
The reason for this may be due to singers’ propensity for great timing.
Comedy is like choreography in that it requires specific timing and beats one has to hit to achieve success. Conan O’Brien said,
“Music and comedy are so linked. The rhythm of comedy is linked to the rhythm of music. They’re both about creating tension and knowing when to let it go. I’m always surprised when somebody funny is not musical.”
But with so much already to focus on, how can singers bring truth to their comedic acting without drawing too much focus from their singing?
The first way is to avoid playing the joke.
Especially in musical comedy, worrying about getting a laugh can be a huge stressor that detracts from honest storytelling.
Salina Cadell, teacher at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, says,
“The chase is as delicate as catching a butterfly; the spirit of comedy is elusive and that is part of the magic.”
As much as we’d like to think that we’re good at multitasking, the human brain can only focus on one thing at once. Sanford Meisner said, “If you’re really doing it, then you don’t have time to watch yourself doing it. You only have the time and energy to do it.“
Therefore, honest acting and worrying about the audience’s reaction cannot coexist. In order to avoid the trap of delivering a line for the laugh, comedic singers must:
Use your rhythmic sensibilities to deliver the joke appropriately. This rhythm will depend on the genre of comedy.
As Meisner teaches us, “Just say the lines.” Avoid making your lines precious. Trust that the rhythm and the playwright have done the work for you.
The second way to succeed as a comedic singing actor is to find the earnestness in the comedy.
Comedy director John Swanbeck says that the key to comedy is to simply “find it funny.”
He goes on to elaborate that in the same way that bringing a personal sadness to a moment onstage makes your audience feel sad, when we personally find something funny, the audience will also likely find it funny.
To “find the funny” in an earnest way, comedic singers must:
Avoid doing what you think someone else might find funny and instead do something that would make you laugh.
Bring the same suggestibility and daydreaming attention to comedic beats as you would a serious moment. You personalizing it allows the audience to be in on it with you.
The third way to achieve honest comedic acting as a singer is to trust that you are enough.
Singers must trust that they have everything they need within them to perform comedy, especially with their skillful musical timing.
Acting coach Sheri Shaw tells actors to “find your funny.”
What have people told you that they find funny about you?
Is it your seriousness? Your awkwardness? Your dryness? Your bubbliness? Your comments?
For singers to trust that their brand of humor is enough, they must:
Ruminate on both what you find funny and what others have found funny about you.
Avoid trying to imitate someone else and instead deliver the lines with the subtleties that make you uniquely you.
To culminate, Meisner said,
“The interpretation is best found in what really moves you. Not complicated, not necessarily original. You. It’s you.”
Singers, you have it in you to deliver comedic lines, whether in script or song, like a pro.
Just say the lines, don’t complicate them
Trust the rhythm of how the comedy was written
Explore what you personally bring to the humor and truth of the character
You’re funny. Believe it.