A superb primer on the machinery behind the laughs.

All the Tricks of the Trade: Everything You Need to Know about Comedy


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.

Pub Date: March 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1502973832

Page Count: 447

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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