Joke telling, pratfalls, the seriousness of silly characters, and many other things are explained in this revelatory guide to the art of comic acting.
Blumenfeld, an actor, director, and instructor (Accents: A Manual for Actors, 2004), covers an extraordinary range of topics in stage and screen comedy (but not stand-up) with both precise detail and intellectual depth. He starts with a classic comic procedural, explaining everything from how to nail a punch line—“When the laughter has subsided, but while some people are still laughing, the right moment for delivering the next line has arrived”—to the proper recipe for a pie in the face. He then delves beneath technique to explore a forthrightly Stanislavsky-an approach to building a believable comic character by elaborating psychology and motivation from the inside out. (It seems one can even do Gilbert and Sullivan by the Method.) The book’s core is a survey of theatrical comedy of different eras, visiting noted writers from Aristophanes to Woody Allen. These chapters contain notes on period dress, manners, and social relations—complete with pointers on correct bowing and curtseying—along with discussions of the major plays, genres, authors, actors, and evolving stage styles. They are studded with intricate set-piece studies of specific scenes in which dialogue is exhaustively analyzed as it relates to the characters’ motivation and the unfolding plot; actors will find in these sections a useful step-by-step template for preparing their own scenes. The book closes with encyclopedic biographical appendices of great comic playwrights and a glossary of terms. Blumenfeld’s fluent, engaging prose is sprinkled with interesting anecdotes—some taken from his own stage experiences—and nicely balances technical but never dull specifics of performance with the cultural background of comic theater. Showbiz professionals will find this an invaluable guide to their craft, but other readers can appreciate it for its fascinating explanations of how their favorite entertainments work.
A superb primer on the machinery behind the laughs.