Saturday, April 28, 2007

Comedy as Food

Recently a metaphor for stage comedy came to my mind. Comedy as food.

There are many items I find good to eat. (Not always good FOR me, but I digress.) However, mixing one item that tastes good, with another item that tastes good, does not always produce an appealing product.

I like chocolate bars. I also like cheeseburgers. But a melted chocolate bar on a cheeseburger is not at all appealing. Might even make one gag to try it. That is because the two products clash. They are very distinct flavors that may complement other things, but not each other.

The same is true with comedy.

There are of course, all kinds of comedy, for all kinds of people. Highbrow, lowbrow. Subtle, and in your face. Farce. Slapstick. Dark humor. The point is made. Comedy styles can be mixed together in a book, joke, or production. The mixture only works, however, if the components compliment each other. Just as not all food goes together, neither does all comedy.

People often proceed as though “comedy” were an umbrella term. Such people reason that is a play is a comedy, any gag or line delivery that would be funny in and of itself would blend well into the play’s tone. Like our favorite foods, however, there is a recipe to comedy. While an actor/director should be creative, there must be a framework that should be followed. Rules for combining certain gags need to be implemented. The most important of these rules, is that contrasting styles should not be placed together.

To continue the food analogy further, suppose you have the perfect fudge brownie. Then let’s say you dump the freshest, most high quality black pepper on top of it. Two high quality, popular products are combined, but neither is enhanced by the other. The pepper, good in its own right, overpowers the brownie, and nobody wins.

In short, you end up with a mess. And you will end up with the same thing if you assume all comedy is the same.

Take a high concept dark comedy piece, full of biting wit and razor sharp dialogue. (Say, the Lion in Winter). If someone, for extra laughs, were to have one of the characters enter, and fart loudly, it would ruin things. Some would of course laugh, because taken by itself many people find that funny. But adding it to the wrong show will take away from the entire piece. Just as the pepper over powers the brownie.

This fatal mistake of “laughs at all costs, whenever you can get them” is made on all levels. Directors and actors alike. When it fails, or when the audience is not the mood to dole out sympathy laughs, it is an excruciating thing to observe.

Perhaps the obesity epidemic has its counterpart on stage. A “laugh gluttony”, to coin a phrase. All sorts of gags, lines, facial expression, gesticulations, and the like employed by everyone on the stage all the time, in order to squeeze forth laughs that might not otherwise belong. Ignoring the recipe. And just like with food, in comedy, if you try too do too much too quickly, everything and everyone just ends up getting burned. But whether its food or comic theatre, the only thing that happens when people ignore the recipe and crank the heat up too far, is everything getting burned.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


A friend asked me to provide “the voice of God” in a play she is directing.

This meant recording the lines onto a CD, which her tech person will be integrate into the sound plot of the play. I will not actually be present. I may go see it, if my time allows.

It was fun though. I used my computer to make the voice deep, bellowing, and even added an echo to it. Very stereotypical Voice of God. I thought of John Cleese’s pre-recorded Voice of God, as features in Spam-A-Lot. (Though honestly less goofy.)

The play is not a theological dissertation. It is a one act comedy. Nonetheless, it is the first time I have portrayed the Almighty in any given form. And I think I will have it on my resume from now on. Regardless of the situation, I think many people, when reading something, are naturally drawn to the word “God” on a printed piece of paper. I bet most directors would at least look twice at me having God as one of my characters.

And if not, it will amuse me to have it on there.

Monday, April 02, 2007


I am behind my time on reported the end of the show, loyal blog readers. Do forgive me.

But then again, my not hopping right to it to report the end of the show I have been involved in for 6 weeks or so is rather indicative of a certain undercurrent within me during the process.

First, the specifics.

Saturday night's audience was probably our second worst. Nothing against them personally, but the were only sporadically into the play. I could feel the silence and the void of their non-commitment to being a part of the experience. Especially in the last ten minutes. At that point most nights you could feel the crowd. Despite being over 100 people in attendance, it felt just as empty in there as it did during an average rehearsal. Had I not seen them with my own eyes during some of that time at the end, I would not have known there was anyone out there.

I even made a minor flub during my final scene. Very minor. I stumbled over words for a few moments; nothing that the audience would have even had any idea was happening. (Thankfully.) Not to blame that on the lack of audience enthusiasm...but flubs are certainly more palpable when the audience is not into what you are doing.

There was a cast gathering again after the show on Saturday. That was fun. Good food all around. My thanks to the hostess of that event, if she still reads the blog now that the show is over.

I wish I had more to report from Saturday, but it really was a nondescript crowd, and a less than stellar performance all the way around.

So let us move to the closing performance, shall we?

More like a typical matinee. Somewhat better than average, but nothing at all compared to the previous Sunday. I made sure to give it all I had the final time out, and as far is that is concerned, I was satisfied. The void was not as deep as the previous night, but it was still there.

Then strike.

Normally, I am a little melancholy at such a time. This time, however, I did not feel particularly sad. I felt more tired at the end of this show, despite having a small role, than I have other shows. I think it was mostly mental exhaustion.

I had the job of cleaning the downstairs lobby. By the time I had come back up, virtually everyone was gone. No presentation of gifts to the director. No, "nice working with you", no nothing. No suggestion of eating out for one final meal. (Or if any of this happened, I was not notified.) People just high tailed it out there.

Which brings me to the overall undercurrent I previously mentioned.

I always felt like a semi-outsider in this show. I have not been sure if it was my fault, the show's fault, or the fault of certain other members of the cast. In all likelihood it was a combination of factors. The end result, however, is not in dispute...despite my personal success, I was more ready for this show to be over than any show I have been in for a while. I absolutely did NOT hate being in this show. It was a fun, funny, and well received production. I am thankful to have been a part of it. And yet, there was a certain magic missing. Despite the parties thrown, and the time spent together, there was never that moment of cast coalescence. That sudden bonding moment where, despite what you may think of any given cast member personally, you were as one with everybody in the notion of putting on the show, and doing a kick ass job at doing so. We didn't have it.

I don't blame any one person. I very much enjoyed working with alot of the people from this show. I hope I hear from them and work with them again in the future. But there was something about the chemistry of the whole unit which was askew to me this time around.

One of my friend's has a blog, and was also involved in the show. I think she said it best when she noted in the end, it almost felt like work, as opposed to recreation. I think it was worse for her, for various reasons, but I sympathize with the notion. I regret that it had to be that way. But I suppose some shows just end up like that. Chemistry, circumstance, timing, and other things conspire to leave something with a slightly dryer flavor than it otherwise might have had. That was the case with me, (and it seems others) in regards to this show. Listing possible reason why, in detail, would be fruitless now. But I have thought about it, and cannot deny some sad attitudes were present this time around.

I am willing to concede, however, that it was "this time around". I thought long and hard about it over the last day or so, and wondered if my feeling of.."offness" with this show ending was my fault. Had I told one too many jokes? Not joked enough? Was I wrong to be upset about the way some things went? Was my account of the experience as laid out in this blog intrinsically unfair? Is theatre losing its power for me? I pondered all of these questions, and more. I continue to do so even now. But my conclusion is that none of the inquiries can be answered with a solid "yes, that was the reason." I really am leaning more towards the fact that things just did not line up this time in all facets of the experience, and that they very easily could line up next time.

Am I disappointed in some of the perspectives taken, or some of the attitudes displayed, or the lack of courtesy exhibited sometimes throughout the run of "Dearly Beloved"? I am. Do I think it is inevitable for every show I do at the Opera House from now on? I do not. A fresh start the next time around will improve things greatly over what happened this time.

And if I should be tempted to lament at the shortcomings of this production, I can with ease remind myself that I turned in a consistent, acceptable, (and sometimes much embraced) performance each night, in spite of the difficulties on and off the stage. I came out of this knowing I can do what i do, as well as I do it, even in the face of some obstacles. Obstacles which drain a bit of the joy and magic out of the overall experience. I wouldn't want to face such roadblocks each time I do a show from now on, but there is a comfort in knowing I wasn't thrown by them this time.

In other words, I deserve to call myself an actor still. I take that with me as I say farewell to this show. For the time being, that is enough.

Here's to "Dearly Beloved", for all that it was and was not.