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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgements Preface Introduction ................................................................................................................................ 1 CHAPTER 1 - WHOS FUNNY? ...................................................................................... 3 CHAPTER 2 - SITCOM HISTORY ................................................................................ 7 CHAPTER 3 - HALF HOUR TECHNIQUE ............................................................ 13 Rhythm ........................................................................................................ 13 Words .......................................................................................................... 14 Punctuation ................................................................................................. 18 Timing and Pace ........................................................................................ 21 The Turnaround......................................................................................... 22 Triplets......................................................................................................... 27 CHAPTER 4 - ACTING TECHNIQUE ...................................................................... 37 CHAPTER 5 - THE FOUR Cs OF COMEDY ......................................................... 43 CHAPTER 6 - THE CHARACTERS ............................................................................ 45 EPISODE 1 - THE LOGICAL SMART ONE .............................. 51 Who is The Logical Smart One? ...................................................... 52 A profile of The Logical Smart One ............................................... 55 The Logical Smart One ... and more ............................................... 65 EPISODE 2 - THE LOVABLE LOSER ......................................... 71 Who is The Lovable Loser? .............................................................. 72 A profile of The Lovable Loser ....................................................... 75 The Lovable Loser ... and more ....................................................... 85 EPISODE 3 - THE NEUROTIC...................................................... 91 Who is The Neurotic? ....................................................................... 92 A profile of The Neurotic ................................................................. 95 The Neurotic ... and more............................................................... 108

EPISODE 4 - THE DUMB ONE................................................... 115 Who is The Dumb One? ................................................................ 116 A profile of The Dumb One .......................................................... 119 The Dumb One ... and more.......................................................... 128 EPISODE 5 - THE BITCH / BASTARD................................... 13 3 Who is The Bitch / Bastard?.......................................................... 135 A profile of The Bitch / Bastard ................................................... 140 The Bitch / Bastard ... and more ................................................... 150 EPISODE 6 - THE WOMANIZER / MANIZER .................. 159 Who is The Womanizer / Manizer? ............................................. 161 A profile of The Womanizer / Manizer ....................................... 163 The Womanizer / Manizer ... and more....................................... 172 EPISODE 7 - THE MATERIALISTIC ONE ............................ 177 Who is The Materialistic One? ....................................................... 178 A profile of The Materialistic One ................................................ 182 The Materialistic One ... and more ................................................ 190 EPISODE 8 - IN THEIR OWN UNIVERSE ............................ 195 Who is In Their Own Universe? ................................................... 196 A profile of In Their Own Universe ............................................. 199 In Their Own Universe ... and more............................................. 209 EPILOGUE - FINDING YOUR COMEDIC NOTE ........................................... 215 APPENDIX 1 - TEN RULES OF COMEDY ........................................................... 220 APPENDIX 2 - WHO SAID THAT? ........................................................................... 220 APPENDIX 3 - GLOSSARY (FINDING THE FUNNY) ................................... 223 Index .......................................................................................................... 231 About the author Actor Notes Order forms

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First of all, I would like to thank fellow sitcom aficionado Jim Martyka for his dedication to helping me research, edit and selfpublish this book. I would also like to thank my good friend Frank Salamone for his countless copy edits and words of encouragement. Also, I would like to thank my mentor, Judy Kerr, for her support, guidance and help throughout this process. Special thanks to all the teachers at Scott Sedita Acting Studios for helping to make the studio the success that it is: Scott Tiler, Jorge Luis Pallo, Patrick Munoz, Andy Mower and, especially, my funny wingman Todd Rohrbacher and my equally funny wingwoman Kathryn Schorr. I would like to thank my immediate family for being a real life sitcom: my mother Doris, my father Chuck, Helen, Peter, Guy, Samantha and Van. I also would like to thank my family of friends for all their love, support and humor: Nicholas Proietti (for his patience and understanding), Rob Lotterstein, Ed Fitz, Patrick Baca, Ellen Pittleman, Phil Oster, Jed Seidel, Tony Wisniewski, Claes Lilja and everyone else I might be forgetting. Sorry. Finally, my sincere gratitude goes to all of my students who inspire me and challenge me day in and day out to become a better teacher, a funnier person and a more creative human being. You all make me proud, make me laugh and make me remember why Im doing this in the first place. One last heartfelt thanks needs to go out to all those wonderfully talented actors and writers that have made generations laugh in the beautiful medium of situation comedy. Thank you all so much.

PREFACE Im coming out of the closet. For the past twenty years of my career, Ive had a secret, a secret that I was afraid to reveal for fear of being shamed, ridiculed and mocked by my peers. And today the stakes are higher than ever. For I have earned the reputation as one of L.A.s most well-respected Acting Coaches (hey, its what my bio says). And now, I risk everything. Okay, here it goes (deep breath). For many years, actors have asked me Scott, who are your favorite actors? I would throw my arms up and proclaim, Meryl Streep, A1 Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, of course! And that is the truth; they are my favorite actors. But the other truth is that I have not been completely, uhh ... truthful. You see there is another part of me, dare I say, which I have kept secret. But no more! Today, when actors ask me that same question, I now throw my arms up, hold my head up high and proudly proclaim, Bea Arthur! Kelsey Grammer! Jackie Gleason! Megan Mullally! The cast of Friends! (Sigh) ... Oh, how good it feels to finally admit that. I am no longer afraid! I love these actorsthese sitcom actors! For these performers are equally brilliant in their medium as any of those acclaimed, award-winning dramatic film actors. Yes, I know its apples and oranges, but these apples are just as beautiful and delicious as those oranges. And its about time they got their due. This book is a guide, or a How To if you will, for sitcom acting. But it is also a celebration of these incredibly skilled actors. It is for the Lucille Balls, the Carroll OConnors, the Roseannes, the Jason Alexanders, the Sean Hayeses, the Elizabeth Montgomerys and those great ensemble casts like Cheers, MASH and Taxi. It is for the writers that brought us Frasier, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond and all those other shows we cant live without. It is for anybody who has made us laugh over the years, those who continue to make us laugh today and those who will make us laugh tomorrow. I have a great respect for the work of sitcom actors. They are brilliant in their work, their craft, their art form. But no one in the business really talks about those actors who we let into our home day

after day, week after week in the same breath as classic film actors. Oh, we all love them and they make us laugh, but when asked who our favorite actors are, we suddenly become elitists. Im not saying they dont get their recognition, their awards and their big bucks (just ask the cast of Friends). But sometimes, I think they dont really get the respect they are due. There is a specific craft to sitcom acting. It comes with its own rhythm, its own techniques, its own set of rules. And the truth is it may be harder and more challenging than dramatic acting. Dont misunderstand, good acting is good acting. In order to be a successful working actor, you need to be well-trained. But sitcom acting stands alone for many reasons that youll discover when reading this book. How do I know? Well, its an educated opinion that has formed over many years as an actor, writer, agent, casting director and acting coach. I have seen first hand the anatomy of a sitcom. Beyond writing half hour comedy scripts myself, I have worked with very successful writers and show-runners. I have sat at writing tables to see how storylines are developed, how jokes are created and how timing is everything! As a former agent, I have placed actors on a variety of sitcoms. As an acting coach, I have worked with a number of series regulars, guest stars and co-stars. Plus, I spent many hours, days, weeks, months and years of my life watching sitcoms. I am a living, breathing sitcom connoisseur with a collection of TV Guides dating back to the 1960s in my garage to prove it. Most important, I have seen how the success of a good sitcom depends on character. I have learned that comedy should not only come from the jokes, but also from character. Defining a specific character and having them interact with other specific characters, creating conflict, is essential for any good sitcom. The art of sitcom acting and writing has become the object of my fascinationespecially the characters. I have fallen in love with the bumbling, stumbling loser who never gives up his dream, the sarcastic wife who holds it all together, the high-strung neurotic who thinks too much, the cynical and bitchy servant who is frustrated with life, the sweetly, naive overgrown child, the sexy flirt, the pampered princess and that wacky, odd, eccentric neighbor. I have learned how

these characters work, how they bring life to the show, how they bring viewers back week after week and how they keep the sitcom side of the television industry thriving. I have also discovered these classic characters have been around since the advent of the sitcom. While each and every actor in sitcom history brings originality to their roles, I have noticed similarities in overall character personalities, traits, plotlines and even the jokes they deliver. I have great admiration for sitcom writers and am in no way trying to diminish their unique, individual work by stereotyping the memorable characters theyve written. But Ive noticed that there is a definite pattern when it comes to characterizations. This is a pattern that has proven to be successful in making generations laugh. It is these character archetypes, The Eight Characters of Comedy, that are the main subject of this book. I didnt create these characters it was many years worth of gifted sitcom actors, writers, producers, directors, makeup artists and costume designers that brought them to life. But what I have been able to do is identify them and their personalities. This character breakdown makes it easier for actors to distinguish who they are and how to play them, whether in an audition, in a classroom or on a sitcom. This book is a teaching guide for any actor, writer or student of comedy looking to make their mark in the world of half hour television. While I touch on sitcom history and technique, the main focus is on characters and the funny actors who play them. It is a very specific character analysis, complete with personality traits, character histories, physicalities and anything else an actor needs to play a sitcom character. In this book, youll learn how to break down a comedy script, how to identify and deliver jokes and, most importantly, how to incorporate The Eight Characters of Comedy into your work. This will help you find your comedic note, which in turn will help you market yourself and succeed in this competitive industry. This book is a collection of the many things I have learned over several years of experience in the half hour business, my interactions with successful, accomplished actors, writers, directors and producers, my teachings and my endless hours spent in front of the television.

Beyond that, The Eight Characters of Comedy is a celebration of this industry, these wonderful characters and all the brilliant sitcom actors we have seen over the years ... and those that are waiting to emerge.

Scott Sedita
2006

P.S. As much as this book is geared toward the actor, I would like to invite new sitcom writers along for the ride. This book is really as much about writing as it is about acting. This guide is beneficial to all the writers out there, writing those endless, exhausting comedy spec scripts to land a job on the next Will & Grace, Two and a Half Men, Scrubs, Entourage or even a dramedy like Desperate Housewives. You will learn how to write half hour jokes, how to implement age-tested comedic techniques and, most important, how to write characters and characterizations that will help you achieve your goal of creating a sitcom with staying power. As much as the word actor appears in this book, know that all of this material applies to you writers as well

INTRODUCTION

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. Old adage, but so true. But the real question is, are you funny? Can you be funny? Can you do half hour comedy? Do you have what it takes to create a character, follow the half hour comedic formula and make casting directors, writers, directors, producers and audiences laugh and love you? Not everybody can. Why? Because this thing called comedy is a lot harder than it looks. Sitcom actingbeing funnyis not just about performing jokes in front of multiple cameras. Theres a lot more to it. The world of half hour comedy is incredibly fast-paced (more so than film). It comes with its own set of rules, its own techniques, its own rhythm. And guess whose job it is to get a grasp of this very specific half hour format. Thats right. Yours! This comedic formula has been passed down from generation to generation, and its up to the well-trained actor and writer to not only be able to recognize it, but also follow it to the letter and make it funny. Sitcom acting requires training in a very specific technique. It requires you to be energetic, to always be funny, and to commit to the character, the dialogue, the jokes and the interaction with other characters. Are you scared yet? Dont worry. If you are funny, if you are dis ciplined and if you practice, practice, practice, you can work in this high-pressure, but incredibly rewarding business. And I can help you. So, first things first. Do you have a sense of humor? Its actually a serious question. The first step to being a successful sitcom actor is having an innate ability to be funny, to have a sense of humor about yourself and to find the comedy in everyday life. As an acting coach, I cannot teach someone to act if they are not born to act. No acting coach can. I call this innate ability the Acting Gene. And yes, I know its not technically a gene, but rather, its your inborn, intuitive ability to act or to pretend. And a good acting coach can help you tap into this gene, discover (and uncover) your gift and teach you techniques that will help you access your emotions and your imagination. Comedy is no different. To the left of the Acting Gene is the

Funny Gene (yeah, another made up word). If you have the innate ability to be funny (Funny Gene), no matter how developed it is, I can teach you to do comedy. Its like any other skill or craft. You need to have a physical gift to play basketball, a good ear to play the violin or a keen mind to be a mathematician. You need to have the Funny Gene in order to do half hour comedy. And if you do, I can teach you what you need to make it as a sitcom actor. So, buckle up. Here we go, into the world of half hour comedy and into your future career.

CHAPTER

WHOS FUNNY?
Comedy comes from a few different places (some of which may surprise you). As I just mentioned, in order to be funny you must tap into your Funny Gene. And where does your Funny Gene come from? It didnt start with you. Trust me, you inherited your sense of humor from either your mothers side of the family, your fathers side or both. Or, if you cant look back into your biological family history, look to your environment (your upbringing), which also plays a major role. But more on that later. Whether your sense of humor was inherited or comes from your environment or both, it all starts with family. So look to the family that raised you. Is your mother funny? Is your mothers mother funny? Is your father funny? Is your fathers father funny? Do you have a great aunt with a wicked sense of humor? Do you have a cousin who likes to play practical jokes? Do you have a flamboyantly bitchy uncle? Who made you laugh? Its important to know. Because funny begins with your family and it goes back generations. But what is the primary source of their humor? Where does it all ultimately start? Well, comedy starts with pain. Thats right, comedy comes from conflict, oppression, repression and persecution. It comes from unadulterated, horrific pain. And this pain is often played out through desperation. Good comedy is somebody desperately trying to overcome odds, make their dreams come true, see their big ideas succeed, find the perfect mate, etc. Its about a characters desperate attempts to get what they want. And what makes this even funnier is that they never get what they want (in fact, youll learn in a later chapter that this comedic desperation is a defining characteristic for one of The Eight Characters of Comedy). So, comedy comes from pain and desperation? What?!

It is a fact that many of yesterday and todays top comedians and comedy writers come from generations of disenfranchised and persecuted people, be it for their cultural differences, beliefs, philosophies, whatever. The history of the world is made up of groups of people who have faced oppression at some point in time. And one way to deal with it is with a strong sense of humor. The idea is either you die or you laugh about it. They could have chosen to be miserable and depressed about their situationtheir individual and ancestral experiences (some have and continue to do so). But others chose to find the humor in their hardship. This can be said for any group of people thats faced generational oppression and persecution. Every race and culture has something painful in their ancestry that can be tapped for comedy. But our sense of humor doesnt just come from our ancestral pain. It also comes from the pain we experience on a daily basis, going all the way back to our childhoods. Our individual sense of humor comes from our environment, our upbringing and our personal experiences. All of these play a major factor in how we perceive life, death, family, society, ourselves ... all of those wonderful comedic topics. Growing up, I had two parents who were funny. I had a mother who was smart and sarcastic and a father who was kind of a lovable loser. Before they were divorcedthe second time that isI remember them constantly arguing. It wasnt funny to me as a child, but looking back now as an adult, its hysterical. If I were pitching this to a network, I would say my childhood was kind of a cross between Maude and Everybody Loves Raymond. It was at times tumultuous, but there was always humor. At no time was this more evident then it was during the holidays. Ahh yes, those wonderful holidays! In my family, Thanksgiving and football did not go hand in hand. One Thanksgiving, my Dad, once again going against my Moms very strong wishes, not only insisted upon watching the football game but actually rolled the TV set into the dining room! Upon seeing the TV, my mother got so upset that she hurled the whole cooked turkey across the dining room, breaking it into pieces. My fathers response? Well, at least now I dont have to carve it.

Funny. But it came out of pain ... my Moms pain, my Dads pain and my pain (the hungry participant, observer and future storyteller). My parents were characters and they helped me form my own sarcastic sense of humor. This became my weapon, my way of dealing with my pain, and it was formed by my upbringing and my environment. Think of your own life. Whats funny about it? What about your childhood was funny? Whats funny about your life now? Who in your family is funny? Who in your family of friends is funny? Combine all of that with a Funny Gene, some ancestral and personal pain, and you have your sense of humor. You also have the source of where all half hour comedies begin...

2 SITCOM HISTORY
So now that we know that comedy comes from some terribly depressing places, lets see how that translates into the sitcoms youre watching on TV today. It all goes back to vaudeville. Situation comedy first emerged in its most basic form in the old vaudeville acts that were played a lot differently than theatrical comedies of the time. Without going too much into the history of comedy, early vaudeville acts and stand-ups (like Fanny Brice, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, etc.) developed classic set up/punchline jokes, slapstick humor and snappy, witty dialogue that touched on a number of topics including love, life and all those miserable things we just discussed (pain, oppression). There was a certain art form to the set up/punchline joke, the dialogue and techniques used in these vaudeville shows and later by comics and stand-up acts found in New Yorks Catskills circuit. And these acts were so immensely popular that they carried over into radio when that became the new entertainment standard. Radio shows like Amos & Andy, The Burns & Allen Show, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Life of Riley and My Favorite Husband, starring Lucille Ball, are considered the forerunners of sitcoms. Using simple but effective plots, a wide range of funny characters and specific techniques designed to get a lot of laughs, these radio shows had listeners planning their dinners around them, much like popular TV sitcoms todayunless you have TiVo. These shows and many others like them were produced and sponsored by advertisers, who required a certain amount of time in each show to sell their products. Therefore, radio writers at the time had to be inventive. In order to work around sponsors commercials, they had to come up with an engaging, funny, short story with interesting characters and universal appeal in a limited amount of time.

CHAPTER

So when TV made its move as the entertainment medium, studios took these types of shows and turned them into televised sitcoms. They adapted a similar formula to work within a 30-minute format, 22 minutes of story, eight minutes of commercials. And this basic format is still used today. SITCOM FORMAT Credits Story (Teaser / Cold Open) Commercial Story Commercial End of story Commercial Tag Credits With the visual medium of television quickly gaining popularity in households across America, the trick for early comedy writers and producers was finding faces to match their characters. Plus, they had to find jokes, storylines and plots that people could universally identify with and, more importantly, find funny. Those struggles continue today. From the dawn of television to today, I believe most sitcoms are based on the idea of family. What kind of family? Well, whether its ones relatives or group of friends, its a family that loves each other, has conflict with each other and experiences the joy, pain and everything else life has to offer with each other. And every family has different personalities within its structure. There are maternal ones, cynical ones, naive ones, spoiled ones, controlling ones and just plain odd ones. And sitcoms are no different. It is said that many of our television dramas hold a mirror up to everyday life. Well, sitcoms also hold a mirror up, but at an angle so it appears funny. And most of that funny comes from a skewed look at life within a family. Situation comedies are essentially comprised of two sets of families, an immediate family and a family of friends, and the funny situations they get themselves into and out of week after week.

From early television on, you will see immediate families-the mother, the father, the kids-with clearly defined roles (think According to Jim). And many times youll see immediate families with certain roles reversed (think of the family dynamic in Two and a Half Men). And you will always see a family of friends, where these traditional family roles are taken on by friends, roommates, neighbors, co-workers, etc. (think Friends). You will see variations on these themes in all shows dating back to the advent of television. In the early 1950s, when TV sitcoms still had their training wheels on, they introduced these two types of families. The immediate families were featured in shows like Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Make Room For Daddy, Leave it to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show. They made cute, simple humor out of everyday situations in what was considered the normal household. These shows had a patriarchal figure, a smart and patient wife and mother and innocent yet precocious children. The family of friends shows at the time had similar dynamics, taking the immediate family and moving it into a group of friends. And sometimes the roles were reversed. The patriarch became the child, and the logical, smart wife and mother became the endearing loser. Think of casts like Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie in The Honeymooners and of course, Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel in I Love Lucy. In the 1960s, the family theme remained strong. But mirroring the turmoil of the decade, the concept of family took a more realistic twist. Sitcoms opened up to different types of families. Shows like The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons and The Courtship of Eddies Father featured a widower. The Brady Bunch featured stepchildren. Julia featured a black, single mother. Some writers gave the concept of family a fish out of water twist with shows like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. These shows took immediate families and placed them in unusual environments to add to the overall humor. And some gave the concept a more fantastical twist. Remember, this is the decade that gave us Bewitched, The Addams Family, The Munsters, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and My Favorite Martian.

There were also family of friends shows, and even these had twists. Gilligans Island had a cast on a deserted island, McHales Navy set the cast on a warship, The Flying Nun was set in a convent, Get Smart put them in the world of espionage and Hogans Heroes featured a cast in a concentration camp (of all places). The family theme continued into the 1970s, where the subjects of politics, race, religion and even sex were brought up not just at the dinner table, but also on television. And there is one show to thank one that never held back from hitting the issues of the dayNorman Lears All in the Family. This revolutionary comedy about a family headed by a bigoted, yet loving, father is still one of the most popular and controversial shows ever made and one that epitomized the changing times at home, in society and in half hour comedy. Other shows of the time also broached touchy subjects within their storylines including; Maude(abortion), Good Times (struggles of a poor black family), The Jeffersons (inter-racial marriage), Soap (homosexuality) and even Threes Company (sex). The family of friends shows also boomed with hits like The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Welcome Back, Kotter and Mork & Mindy. These families of friends also moved into workplace sitcoms like The Mary Tyler Moore Show (a newsroom), Barney Miller (a police squad room), Taxi (a garage), WKRP in Cincinnati (a radio station) and MASH (a war). Continuing the trend of provocative 1970s shows, the sitcom family in the 1980s became smarter, bolder and more truthful. Storylines, dialogue, characterizations and acting styles became less exaggerated and more realistic. Shows like Roseanne, The Cosby Show, Family Ties and Growing Pains put the emphasis back on the immediate family and the issues at home. They dealt a little more with the real struggles of the everyday family. Nevertheless, the decade did introduce some of the most popular family of friends shows like Golden Girls, a series about a group of mature women sharing their lives at the kitchen table over a slice of cheesecake. And some of these shows took the family of friends out of the kitchen and into a bar (Cheers), a lodge (Newhart), the inner workings of a network news program (Murphy Brown) and

the office of an interior designer (Designing Women), just to name a few.


The 1990s made the immediate family a little more dysfunctional with shows like The Simpsons, Married ... With Children, Everybody Loves Raymond and Frasier. But most of the popular shows of the time took a step away from the immediate family. Why? I believe the 90s was a time when Americans questioned and challenged the meaning of family and what makes up a family. It was a time in life when we as a society seemed to separate ourselves from our immediate families a little more to discover who we were as individuals. With emphasis on disenfranchised families, extended families, single-parents and gay relationships, the idea of family took on a broader and deeper meaning. And once again television mirrored this with shows like Seinfeld, Friends, Sex and the City and Will & Grace. You could say that the family of friends and the immediate family merged in this decade. In the new millennium, it looks like the half hour industry is once again trying to redefine itself with shows like Scrubs, Entourage and Arrested Development. It will be interesting to see what show(s) will define this decade as All in the Family did for the 70s, The Cosby Show did for the 80s, and Friends and Seinfeld did for the 90s. Will it be more of an emphasis on dysfunctional families and individuals like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm? Or will sitcoms turn more to single-camera dramedies like Desperate Housewives? Well have to see what next pilot season brings. So now you can see that while the format and general theme has remained the same over the years, plotlines and the styles of the half hour comedy have gone through (and continue to go through) constant evolutions. But whats certain is that agents, networks, writers and producers are always scouting for comedic actors to star in that next funny series thats going to make them millions and live on in syndication.

Like diamonds, some things in the sitcom world are forever. More specifically, characters, character plotlines and half hour comedy techniques. This is what well spend the rest of the book exploring, for this is what you need to know to make it in the half hour industry. Now that you have at least a partial understanding of where sitcoms come from, I can start showing you what makes them work and how you can work in them. So, lets start giving you what you need as an actor or a writer by taking a look at one of the most important aspects of half hour comedyHalf Hour Technique or what I call, Finding the Funny.

CHAPTER

HALF HOUR TECHNIQUE (FINDING THE FUNNY)


Okay, now that you have a solid grasp on the history of half hour comedy, lets get you ready to do your part so that you can be the next great sitcom actor. Your job is twofold. One part is finding your character, which well explore in the next section. But for right now, lets focus on another important part of the jobhalf hour comedy technique. Let me say right away that this comedy technique is different from any other technique that you may have already learned as an actor. Just like any other medium, half hour comedy has a rhythm and a structure that needs to be followed, and as an actor or a writer, it is your responsibility to be familiar with it before you step into a casting office or a writers room. So let me show you how you can go about Finding the r RHYTHM Comedy is all about the rhythm. The first time you read a comedic piece, you instinctually hear a certain rhythm in your head. And for those of you who watch a lot of sitcoms, you hear it loud and clear. When reading a script or a scene, it is your job not only to hear the rhythm of the piece that the writers intended, but also be able to perform it exactly as the writers intended. Of course, all entertainment writing has some kind of a rhythm, but for comedy to really work, there is a specific kind of rhythm that you must hear and play to perfection. One strategy to help you is to think of comedic writing as a good song. What makes a good song? A good melody. The singers job is to follow the melody as composed. When its sung right, you can tell its working. But when a novice singer strays from the melody, theres a good chance theyll ruin the song. Believe it or not, sitcom writing is

the same way. If its working, it is a beautiful (and hilarious) song. If its not, its like nails on a chalkboardor one of those painful auditions on American Idol. Just as an example, try singing Happy Birthday, changing the notes in the melody of the song, such as going down on the birth and up on the day. Sing it out loud. See, it simply doesnt work. The same is true with half hour writing. COMMON JOKE TERMS Your job as an actor is to identify the rhythm (the 1) The callback melody) in the script and Sure all you actors know what a then make it work. How do callback is in terms of auditioning. But in the you do that? By following sitcom world, it has another meaning. A the words, the punctuacallback is a reference to a joke that happens tion, the timing and pace early in a show. That can mean repeating a and by hitting the jokes. big joke or simply referring to a piece of the
big joke in later jokes or physical actions. 2) The blow or the button

WORDS

The complexity and the great attention to detail in A blow or a button is the last joke in sitcom writing is something the scene. It can either be a piece of dialogue or that actors new to comedy a physical action. You will most definitely find often take for granted. They them at the end of a scene right before a will add words, drop words commercial break. That's because each and or just paraphrase. Although every comedic scene ends on a joke. The idea is there might be more to keep the audience laughing so theyll come leniency in the world of back after the commercial break. drama to play with the dialogue (I dont recommend it), it CANNOT be done in half hour comedy. There is a simple rule to follow when working with written half hour dialogue: DONT CHANGE A WORD! And if you do change it, you better make it amazingso amazing that the writers are actually impressed with what you did. And I can tell you, writers are an obsessive bunch, especially about their words. SO DONT CHANGE A WORD!!

Actors do this all the time, and sometimes theyre not even aware of it. Theyll add words or handles as theyre called in the industry, thinking theyre making the dialogue more conversational, when really theyre messing up the rhythm. The following are the most common words actors will add to the beginning of a sentence: Look Listen Like Well I mean So Or actors will end a sentence with ... you know? Or ... okay? Or they will breathe heavy, they will throw in a sigh, a laugh, a chortle, whatever. DONT DO THAT! This is not about the writers ego. Its about the words. The reason the writing needs to be followed word perfect is because of comedys distinct and unique rhythm. And that comes partially from the words. Make no mistake, no comedic actor could be funny if they didnt have the words. Heres an example of how words make up the rhythm. Please read the following out loud.
PAT: You're the smartest one. KELLY: No, I'm not. PAT: Yes you are. KELLY: No, I'm not. PAT: Yes, you are. KELLY: No, I'm not. (THEN) PAT: You're right. You're not.

This example is a funny little bit. But whats true about it, is that these words make up a certain rhythm. In this example, you can hear the rhythm, cant you? You can hear how the words flow. These specific

words are used by the writer to create this specific rhythm to make the dialogue the funniest it can be. The words simply make it flow smoothly. Now if we just add one word to this piece, lets see how it changes the rhythm and disrupts the flow.
PAT: You're the smartest one. KELLY: No, I'm not. PAT: Yes you are. KELLY: No, really I'm not. PAT: Yes, you are. KELLY: No, I'm not. (THEN) PAT: You're right. You're not.

Doesnt this just change everything? By simply adding the word really, you have changed the rhythm of the piece. The piece no longer flows as smoothly, and therefore, it isnt as fanny. You cant change the words because youll change the rhythm. Now lets see what happens when we drop a word.
PAT: You're the smartest one. KELLY: No, I'm not. PAT: Yes you are. KELLY: I'm not. PAT: Yes, you are. KELLY: No, I'm not. (THEN) PAT: You're right. You're not.

As with adding a word, dropping a word changes the rhythm completely. Comedy casting directors and writers say that changing,

adding or dropping words is one of their biggest pet peeves. Many actors do it, not knowing how much time and effort went into plotting out that specific dialogue to make for the best rhythm. Now you know. DONT ADD, DROP OR CHANGE A WORD!!!

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS


Consonants are big in comedy, more specifically hard consonants. For whatever reason, hard consonants like the letter K" help to create words that simply sound funny when played out in half hour scripts. The letters 5, P, C and T have a similar effect. Check out this example from Seinfeld" where George Costanza (Jason Alexander) has something to say about Kramer's (Michael Richards) latest adventure.
GEORGE: Kramer goes to a fantasy camp? His whole life is a fantasy camp! People should plunk down $2,000 to live like him for a week. Sleep, do nothing, fall ass- backwards into money, mooch food off your neighbors and have sex without dating ~ THAT'S a fantasy camp!

Notice the use of the C and K" sounding words (Kramer.; camp, plunk, week and ass-backwards)'' Even the choice to use the figure of $2,000 (with a T sound) is done intentionally to help bring the most comedy to the dialogue. Also, in order to make a half hour joke work, you often need to emphasize a certain word or words in the set up and punchline. Sometimes the writer will let you know the correct word to hit (or punch) by underlining it, italicizing it or putting it in all caps. But mostly, it'll be up to you, the actor.; to identify and emphasize the tight word (the operative word) to make the joke work. And even though it's you who places the emphasis on the word, its important to let it always come from your character. Here's another example from an episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) and Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are arguing over a lingering odor in his car. See if you can guess what the operative words (or in this case, letters') are.

ELAINE: Jerry, it's B.O. JERRY: But the whole car smells. ELAINE: So? JERRY: So when somebody has B.O., the "0" usually stays with the "B." Once the "B" leaves, the "O" goes with it.

PUNCTUATION Punctuation is something else new actors tend to ignore.


KELLY: Follow the punctuation. PAT: Follow the ... punctuation? KELLY: Yes. Follow the punctuation. PAT: The punctuation, you want me to follow? KELLY: Yes! FOLLOW THE PUNCTUATION!

Think of punctuation as your roadmap to the script. It helps you merge into the flow of the dialogue smoothlyavoiding a traffic jam or worse, a crash. Punctuation tells you when to stop, when to slow down, when to question; everything you need to make the most out of the words youre reading and to keep with the rhythm of the piece. Lets start with the obvious, but still one that actors violate the most. Periods. They are your stop signs, your red lights. When you see one, you need to come to a complete stop. A period is not only the end of a sentence, but also the end of a thought. As an actor, when you see a period, stop talking (finish your thought). And then, with a new thought, start the next sentence ... even if its just a word or two. Along the same lines is a comma, which can quite simply be thought of as a pause (or a yield) in the middle of a sentence or a thought, before continuing with the same thought. It is not a complete stop like a period, but rather a place where a thought simply takes a little break, a little pause.

Ellipses ... are used to let a thought trail off... Many actors will incorrectly use ellipses instead of periods, making their intention in that dialogue weaker and less committed. Ellipses are used for exiting a thought or as a sign for one actor to cut off another actor and interrupt his or her thought... And that brings us to ... Questions marks? Thats right, question marks; which are only used to ask a question. So dont put it at the end of a definitive sentence. Many actors also inadvertently replace periods with a question mark; which not only changes the intention of the line, but also makes the actor sound hesitant and unsure. Also, question marks dont mean that the actor has to put the inflection on the last word of the sentence. (You know what I meAN?) Question marks are for inquiring and questioning only. Got it? Exclamation points! These are used in dialogue to show excitement, anxiety, fear, joy or exasperation! The writer is simply asking you to exclaim the thought, the sentence, the word. Shout it out! Get excited! Punch it! Dont be hesitant! Now that doesnt mean going over the top, but with the right thought and active intention behind it, a good exclamation can be truthful and funny! Also, a bolded word, an underlined word, an italicized word and a word in ALL CAPS is a notation for you to emphasize that particular word in your dialogue. The writer is putting a flag up and telling you that there is a joke present. Whether the word is in the setup of the joke or in the punchline, it is your job to find it and emphasize it in order to keep the rhythm of the piece. Is that CLEAR?! Look, I know this all might sound obvious, but punctuation IS an area that can separate a well-trained actor who understands comedic rhythm from one who thinks the words are merely a guide. Read this example out loud and watch how the punctuation makes the scene work.
PAT: You're the funniest. KELLY: Really? PAT: No. I just said that to make you feel better. KELLY: Oh. Thank you?

In this example, you see that Pat is setting up Kelly for a fall. And Kelly is falling for it. After Pat jabs Kelly, Kellys confusion comes out on the Thank you? The Thank you? implies that Kelly is unsure and questioning Pats intention. We know all of this because of the question mark. Changing or ignoring punctuation can mess up the rhythm as much as adding or dropping words. Even worse, it can destroy the joke. Sometimes changing punctuation changes the entire intention of a scene. And thats disastrous. Now read this example again and take out the question mark at the end. Watch how it changes the scene completely.
PAT: You're the funniest. KELLY: Really? PAT: No. I just said that to make you feel better. KELLY: Oh. Thank you.

See how the rhythm shifts, the scene flattens and the intentions for the character and the scene are completely changed? And its less funny. Here, lets try it again, this time taking out the period after No and the period after Oh as well.
PAT: You're the funniest. KELLY: Really? PAT: No I just said that to make you feel better. KELLY: Oh thank you?

This doesnt work, does it? By not playing the periods, it makes the thoughts run together, once again changing the intention, the rhythm and the humor of the scene. No is a separate sentence. It halts the dialogue for the joke and also sets up the next sentencethe bigger joke. With no period after the No there is less bite in Pats response. The Oh is also a separate sentence that implies Kellys confusion. It also sets up the next sentence, the final joke (Thank you?).

The timing changes if you dont follow the words and the punctuation exactly as they are written. As another quick example, read this bit and make sure you follow each and every period, comma, ellipsis and question mark. In this example, Pat is showing Kelly a new painting.
PAT: Do you love it? Do you like it? (THEN) You hate it. KELLY: No. I don't hate it. I think it's ... interesting. PAT: Interesting?! Kelly, I'm an artist. I'd rather have you hate it. KELLY: Okay, I hate it.

Now read the following and look what happens to the rhythm and the pacing if the punctuation gets changed around.
PAT: Do you love it? Do you like it? (THEN) You hate it? KELLY: No I don't hate it, I think it's interesting. PAT: Interesting. Kelly, I'm an artist I'd rather have you hate it! KELLY: Okay I hate it.

Ugh, what a mess! The timing, rhythm and intentions are completely off when its read this way and its not funny. Just as I emphasized DONT CHANGE A WORD, I will once again emphasize FOLLOW THE PUNCTUATION! TIMING AND PACE When you talk about rhythm, you must also talk about Comedic Timing. Once again, part of it is innate. Some people have timing down from the moment they are born just as there are those who have a strong sense of rhythm. I think that Comedic Timing is a molecule within the Funny Gene. If you have it, I can help you access it and hone it. But first, you need to practice it.

So lets assume you have an innate sense of timing. How can you practice it and get it down? First of all, you need to watch situation comedies and really listen for the various rhythms. Pay close attention to the pace of the dialogue on shows like Friends, Frasier, Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond. You need to acclimate yourself to the rhythm, the unique pacing of situation comedy. Once youve heard it in your head, it will stay with you. In addition, follow the words and the punctuation in a script. The writers have pretty much done part of your job for you. As I said earlier, they can hear the rhythm in their heads and they know how its supposed to sound. They put it down on paper and all you have to do is follow it to the letter, staying committed to exactly what they write. You will often hear acting coaches, directors and writers tell you to do comedy louder, faster and funnier. And you should. Remember, situation comedies are not written by Chekhov; they are not directed by Ingmar Bergman. There are no long, unwanted pauses, no deep, dark thoughts and no shots of a deer grazing in a meadow at dusk. Situation comedies are written by COMEDY writers, directed by COMEDY directorspeople who understand how to tell a story in 22 minutes with snappy dialogue, heightened characters, physical humor, quick cuts and, lets not forget; witty; fast-paced jokes. That said, its important that you are able to find all of the jokes in each and every script. That will prove to be a lot easier for you once you are familiar with the concepts of: The Turnaround AND Triplets THE TURNAROUND The Turnaround is a comedic technique that comedy writers have used for years: in vaudeville, radio, comedy clubs, films and most predominantly in half hour. Actually, I would say it is THE most used technique for telling a joke on a sitcom. What Ive done is simply identify it and name it. So what is The Turnaround?

Essentially, The Turnaround is a type of joke that requires the actor to say a line with a strong intention and then "turn around" and say something completely oppositeand unexpectedwith an equally strong intention, thus getting a laugh. The Turnaround is comprised of two very important elements. The Conviction and The Contraviction. And yes, Im aware that contraviction is not a word. But trust me, this is the best way to help explain how to deliver this popular type of sitcom joke. I also think its important when talking to actors to use a word like conviction, which instills in them that the words they speak and the actions they perform have strong intentions behind them. Heres an easy example to start with to practice this technique. Next time you see your best friend, look at his or her shirt and say, with great sincerity ... I like your shirt. (THEN) But not on you. This is a classic Turnaround joke and one that I always use in my class. Let me break it down and show you how it works and why. Line A: I like your shirt. Conviction (THEN) (THEN) Line B: But not on you. Contraviction Line A is said to your friend as a compliment and you say it with sincerity: The Conviction. Line B is said to your friend as an insult and so you say it with ridicule: The Contraviction. Once again, Line A you say with conviction, and Line B with Contraviction, meaning you go against (contrary to) what you just said with equal conviction. There is something to be said about the comedic forces of positive and negative. As you can see, Line A is a positive statement, and Line B is negative. Line A: I like your shirt. Conviction Positive (THEN) (THEN) (THEN) Line B: But not on you. Contraviction Negative

You put these together in any way and you have a joke. Here, lets flip it around. Line A: I hate your shirt. Conviction Negative (THEN) (THEN) (THEN) Line B: Can I borrow it? Contraviction Positive See, it works the same way. Having a positive and negative flow throughout a script not only gives us constant conflict, but it also makes it funny. All Turnaround jokes are written positive-to-negative or negative-to-positive (no matter how theyre performed). The Turnaround is also about the unexpected. Not only are these two examples funny because youre going against what you just said, but also because we, the audience, didnt expect it. We couldnt predict it. We expected you to continue the thought pattern, following up your initial positive line of dialogue with another positive line of dialogue or vice versa. In the Turnaround, between the Conviction / Contraviction, stands the word THEN in parenthesis. What does (THEN) mean? (THEN) is the bridge from the Conviction to the Contraviction. On this bridge, you essentially go forward and then do a 180 degree turn and go back. It is the point at which you (in your head) form a completely new thought. The (THEN) is the BEAT that needs to be taken in order to turn around your thoughts. Lets talk about the word BEAT, a word Im sure is familiar to most of you actors. The word BEAT placed in parentheses in between dialogue was most commonly used over the years and still is, but writers today seem to be spelling it out more clearly for the actors. It is much more than a physical pause, waiting and holding before saying the next line or performing the next action. There is a lot that happens in that (BEAT). Thats why many writers will now use (THEN), showing how the thought, intention or attitude actually changes. You say this. (THEN) You say that.

In other words, say this piece of dialogue ... I like your shirt. (THEN) Take a beat to change your thought and say this piece of dialogue. But not on you. On sitcom sets across Hollywood, directors will sometimes tell the actor to take a beat. Beyond the physical aspect of holding for a beat, the actor needs to interpret this direction as whats the thought? during that physical hold. What the director is ultimately asking of you is to hold for a second and then go even further with your thought OR change your thought, thereby changing your intention and attitude. In this example, its important to understand that I like your shirt is one thought and But not on you is a completely different thought. The (THEN) is the bridge that takes you from one to the other. Heres another example of a Turnaround joke. For this example, lets say youre talking to two different employees: one you just hired and one youre about to fire. (Talking to new employee) You I see a future with. (THEN) (Talking to old employee) You can get lost. What is your intention for each line? What are the thoughts connected to them? Whats the change in attitude? It seems like, at first, you want to excite the new employee. (THEN) You want to crush the old employee. Even though this piece of dialogue is being said to two different people, it still follows the same rules as the line of dialogue used earlier. With conviction, say the first line to excite the new employee. (THEN) turn around and crush the old employee with an entirely new thought (contraviction). You I see a future with. Conviction Positive (THEN) (THEN) (THEN) You can get lost Contraviction Negative

Now youre getting the hang of it. Sometimes, a Turnaround can be broken up by another piece of dialogue, as in this example. Once again, come up with a back story (this one is a little more obvious). This scene takes place right outside Senator Murphys office. The receptionist has just introduced Tom to Senator Murphys new intern. What are Toms intentions with both lines?
TOM: (To intern) Welcome aboard. Senator Murphy is an honorable woman who only does good for the people. RECEPTIONIST: She's not in. TOM: In that case, she's a conniving bitch who only cares about herself.

I bet youve seen this type of dialogue a million times in sitcoms. Notice how sweet Tom is when he thinks that Senator Murphy is in her office. (THEN) notice how he changes his tune the moment he realizes shes not. The (THEN) is still there, but its spawned from new information via the receptionist. This changes Toms thought so that now he can say what he truly feels. If youre really observant, you might also have noticed that this Turnaround in the dialogue was actually broken up into three parts. This is perhaps the second most common comedic technique writers use in half hour scripts. Its a technique I call Triplets.

HOLD IT, HOLD IT! NOW!


When doing situation comedy, always hold for laughs. Remember that what you're doing or saying is going to be funny (because you and the writers will make it funny). So therefore, whether it's in class, at an audition or in front of a live studio audience, you need to hold for the laugh. Know where the jokes are and be prepared that the audience will laugh. What you need to do when you hear that laughter is hold a moment, keeping the thought and intentions in place until the laughter dies down and then deliver your next line. This way the audience doesn't miss anything.

TRIPLETS Triplets are one of a half hour writers most powerful weapons. It is a great source of comedy and a technique that is used all the time. The basic concept behind Triplets is that comedy comes in threes. Things that happen in threes are just funny. As an actor, you need to learn to recognize them in a script. Triplets are everywhere in half hour comedy. You can find them in words, phrases, dialogue from one character, spoken exchanges between multiple characters and even in physical actions. For you the actor, the first and most important thing you need to do is to be able to hear it. For a moment, put aside intentions and motivations and lets just listen to the rhythm of a Triplet. Heres an easy one to start with. Say the next three words out loud and change the inflection UP on the last word. (1) Right. (2) Right. WRONG.
(3)

Now, there is nothing really funny about these three words, but if you go up on the inflection on the last one, it becomes different, out of sync and therefore funny to anyone listening. The first two are done the same way to set up the change of inflection on the third. Now lets do it again. Say out loud the first two words the same way, but put the inflection DOWN on the last word.
(1)

Right. Right.

(2)

(3) WRONG.

By just looking at these words you can see the birth of a joke. Its humorous simply because it reads odd or different. Its a simple but effective joke. Heres another example for you to try. This time, all three phrases are the same. But once again, say it out loud, changing the inflection on the last phrase and following the punctuation.

(1) (2) (3) Oh my God. Oh my God. OH MY GOD! There is nothing really funny about this phrase, but we decide to twist it a little and change the inflection. If you merge that inflection with a real honest intention, youve got comedy. This happens all the time in situation comedy. The other reason the Triplet works is because of the predictability factor (the unexpected I referred to in the Turnaround section). The idea once again is that comedy simply works when it comes in threes. A character will start saying a series of things that go together and you think you know whats going to follow. Then suddenly the character will say something totally unexpected. Heres an example. In this brief bit of dialogue, picture a flight attendant talking to a male passenger: Would you like coffee, tea or me? What we were predicting was something like soda, juice, whatever. But the outcome was something totally unexpected. By simply replacing the third or last word in a sentence with something unpredictable and absurd, the line of dialogue and the scene becomes funny. How about this one? Imagine two buddies planning a fishing trip. One of them turns to the other and says ... Dont forget to bring your fishing rod, your tackle box, and your pimple cream. Didnt expect that, did you? You expected him to say bait or lures or wading boots, but certainly not pimple cream! There are several ways in which a Triplet can work in sitcoms. Most of the time the set up and the joke (punchline) will come in the words, but there are also times when a physical activity can be part of the Triplet. Either way, executing an effective Triplet requires great skill and understanding from all parties involved. And that is what makes it funny. Here are diagrams of three different kinds of Triplets (keep in mind, a Set up or JOKE can be a word, a line of dialogue or a physical action).

1) Classic Triplet: Set up - Set up - JOKE 2) Extended Triplet: Set up - Set up - Set up (THEN) JOKE 3) Over-Extended Triplet: Set up - Set up - JOKE (THEN) BIGGER JOKE You will see numerous examples of these Triplets in every sitcom you watch and every half hour script you read. They also appear in comedic films. Remember that these can be used in one characters dialogue or between two or more characters. There are many ways to play them, and by the end of this section, youll be able to very clear ly identify them. But for now, lets take a look at each one and follow up each one with an example from a classic show so you can see exactly how they are used. First up ... THE CLASSIC TRIPLET The Classic Triplet once again is: Set up - Set up - JOKE Quite simply, the two pieces of dialogue or the physical actions at the front of the Triplet are used to set up the joke on the third. This is the most basic form of a Triplet and one that has been used for decades. Its an easy and effective way to create comedy in any scene, whether its one person talking or two characters working together like in this classic scene from the show Taxi. In this scene, the offbeat Reverend Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd) and Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conaway) are both taking a written driving test and Jim needs some help.
JIM: Pssssttt ... what does the yellow light mean? BOBBY: "Slow down." JIM: What ... does ... the ... yellow ... light ... mean?

Can you hear how its played? Can you picture the actors doing it? Let me break it down even further and show you why this is a Triplet.
JIM: Pssssttt ... what does the yellow light mean? (SET UP) BOBBY: "Slow down." (SET UP) JIM: What ... does ... the ... yellow ... light ... mean? (JOKE)

You can see how the writers are setting up this particular piece of dialogue to hit a simple, yet effective joke on the third note. And when you see these two skilled actors add their characters and commitment to this dialogue, it makes for great comedy. Next up ... THE EXTENDED TRIPLET Once again, the basic layout of this Triplet is: Set up - Set up - Set up (THEN) JOKE The Extended Triplet works essentially the same way as the Classic Triplet except there is another piece of dialogue (or physical action) added to help set up the joke. There is also a (BEAT) or (THEN) to help heighten the joke. This can be used in one characters speech or between two or more characters, like in this scene from Roseanne where Roseanne Conner is having a heart to heart talk with her daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert).
DARLENE: Were you a virgin when you married Dad? (SET UP) ROSEANNE: Yes I was! (SET UP) DARLENE: Really? (SET UP) (THEN) ROSEANNE: Absolutely, I still am. (JOKE)

By adding the extra piece of dialogue and the beat, the writers allow for more interaction between characters and a bigger build up for the joke, which Roseanne is able to pay off with her trademark sarcasm. And finally ... THE OVER-EXTENDED TRIPLET Once again, the basic layout of this Triplet is: Set up - Set up - JOKE (THEN) BIGGER JOKE The Over-Extended Triplet might be the most fun Triplet to play because it packs in more jokes and gives the audience a bigger laugh. Once again the dialogue (or physical activity) is used to set up the joke, but after you make the audience laugh with the payoff joke, you (or one of your scene partners) get to make them go crazy by following the joke up with an even bigger joke. There are some actors that have perfected this kind of payoff punch. And one of them is Eric McCormack, with his character Will Truman on Will & Grace. Check out this scene where hes telling Grace (Debra Messing) why nobody wants to play poker with her.
WILL: No one can stand playing with you. You're bad. You get taco sauce all over the cards and at this point you're down so much, you're paying people in turquoise jewelry! (THEN) And except for Larry, none of us want it.

Let me break this down and show you how this works as an OverExtended Triplet.
No one can stand playing with you. (SET UP) You're bad. (SET UP) You get taco sauce all over the cards and at this point you're down so much, you're paying people in turquoise jewelry! (JOKE)

(THEN) And except for Larry, none of us want it. (BIGGER JOKE)

All three of these Triplets are used over and over again in half hour scripts. And actually, they can go even further than what I just diagrammed for you. A well-trained comedic actor will use inflection to help make the jokes even more effective. They will A) build up to the joke; B) build down to the joke; C) build up, then down, then up to a joke or; D) flatline a joke, keeping the inflection at the same level, therefore doing it deadpan. For example, a Classic Triplet can read as follows:
( 3) (2 )

JOKE

Set up
(1)

Set up OR
(1)

Set up

(2 )

Set up

( 3)

JOKE OR
( 3)
( )

Set up

JOKE
(2) Set up

OR (Deadpan) (1) Set up (2) Set up (3) Joke

This layout can work for all three of the Triplets (the Classic, the Extended and the Over-Extended) we just discussed. The use of inflection can help in heightening the joke or the scene. Again, deciding when to use inflection is based on many factors, including how your character speaks, your intentions and thoughts, the pacing of the scene and your interaction with other characters. But you need to know there are several ways in which these Triplets can effectively be used.

STAY STILL!
When doing situation comedy, never, ever move on a joke, whether it is your own or someone elses. Never make any unnecessary movement* when a joke is in play, unless specified in the stage directions (which may be done to help with a joke or the rhythm of the piece). There should be no physical static. This includes adjusting your wardrobe, playing with your hair, scratching your nose, stretching your neck, waving your aims, tapping your thigh, shaking your leg, sighing or making any big facial expressions (like rolling your eyes). Any extra movement will distract from the joke and break up the rhythm of the piece. Even though sitcoms are in a heightened reality, and sitcom acting asks you to be louder, faster and funnier, that doesnt mean you should face act or mug (make over-animated or exaggerated facial movements). Many actors new to comedy mistakenly think they can put their characterization on their face, thereby making funny expressions to show their emotions. To be funny, you need real intentions, thoughts and objectives, and you must always have an honest, truthful character. If you don't have all of this in place, you become a caricature. It might work for sketch comedy or improvisational acting, but it doesnt work for sitcoms. Also remember, you re on camera and not on stage, so the audience will see everything you re doing with your face. There should be no bugeyed expressions, dancing eyebrows or wide-open mouth movements. Your face shouldnt be any more animated than it is in real life when you are telling an exciting or funny story or a joke. Trust the dialogue, the jokes and your acting to make you funny!

Triplets can fall right in line with each other or they can be spread throughout a piece of dialogue or a scene. It is important for you, the actor, to be able to look at a script, identify the Triplets and then play the joke. When reading through a script, it is important for you to locate ALL of these comedic techniques because they all play a part in the rhythm of the piece. If you can identify them and you know how to play them, it will go a long way toward landing you a role on a sitcom. Equally important, you must watch sitcoms. Watching sitcoms (especially when youre familiar with comedic techniques and The Eight Characters of Comedy) will put you a step closer to becoming a successful sitcom actor. You need to tape or TiVo your favorite shows and watch them first for pure entertainment value. Go ahead, laugh and lose yourself in the show. Then watch them again, this time as an objective observer, a researcher, a student of comedy. Pay attention to the rhythm and the pace, identify the Triplets and Turnarounds (Conviction / Contravictions) and dont be afraid to hit the pause button and practice those jokes OUT LOUD! Yes, practice them out loud in your living room (youre an actor, you can get away with it). You need to recognize how half hour scripts will differ from scripts from any other medium. Simply put, it is your job to take that half hour script and make it louder, faster and funnier. Thats what makes half hour comedies work. You need to follow the punctuation, recognize the key words and hear the rhythm and pace in your head. You need to be a bold performer with confidence in your comedic abilities, as well as the scene youre playing. You need to be fast and articulate, keeping up with the quick-paced, snappy dialogue and action that makes comedies so much fun to watch. You need to be funny in your delivery and in the dialogue youre playing. And you need to do all this while staying connected and true to your characters wants, obstacles, intentions and emotional life. And to help you do that, let me introduce you to my Acting Technique-WOFAIM.

YOUR COMEDIC TOOLBOX Tool # 1: Sarcasm - The most commonly used tool in the comedic toolbox,
sarcasm, as defined by Webster's Dictionary, is a cruelly humorous statement or remark made with the intention of injuring the self-respect of the person to whom it is addressed, usually by drawing attention to one of his weaknesses and often associated with irony. In the comedic world, almost all characters use this tool for just that reasonto ridicule, to mock, to put people in their place or even to make fun of themselves. Think Audrey Meadows, Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne and Matthew Perry respectively.

Tool #2: Verbal jokes - Other techniques half hour writers use to make verbal
jokes include alliteration, puns, funny-sounding words (think of the K sounds), words that are difficult to pronounce, foreign languages and words that are purposely mispronounced or misused ... a malapropism. Watch Bronson Pinchot as Balki, Wilmer Vladeirama as Fez and Carroll O'Connor as Archie.

Tool #3: The Spit Take - A spit take occurs when a character takes a drink
just as they hear something outrageous, causing them to spit out the liquid in an exaggerated way. Watch John Ritter or Michael Richards.

Tool #4: Double Take - A double take occurs when a character looks at
something, doesn't process it, looks away and then whips his head back and sees it for what it really is and reacts accordingly. Think of the actors playing mortals on Bewitched Did I just see what I think I saw?

Tool #5: Slow Burn - A slow bum occurs when a character hears another
character say something ridiculous and s-l-o-w-l-y turns their head, giving them an incredulous look. Two words, Bea Arthur.

Tool #6: Prat Fall - A pratfall occurs when character's stumble over a piece of
furniture, slip on a banana peel, fall off a ladder or trip on their own two feet, to name a few. Watch the The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Tool #7: Sight Gags - A sight gag occurs when a physical object in a scene
becomes part: of the humor, like something blowing up, something breaking or something catching on fire. Or it occurs when a character relies on physical reactions to something happening in a scene, like making a facebe it surprised, shocked, etc. Lucy, Lucy, Lucy

CHAPTER

ACTING TECHNIQUE
Although this isnt a traditional acting book, it is still important to remember your acting foundation. As you have learned, comedy comes from drama, and therefore, to do comedy, you need to always remember your basic acting techniques. If you havent taken basic acting classes, I would suggest that you do so before you take my sitcom acting class. It is important for all actors to familiarize themselves with techniques like relaxation, sense memory, moment to moment and personal substitution. Its important that you as an actor study the lessons of the masters like Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner. These will help you secure a solid acting foundation that is vital for half hour comedy. In my class, I have students who have developed a strong acting foundation, either by studying at my studio or with the many great acting coaches in L.A. and New York or by attending some formal acting program. But when they start acting in a comedic scene, they will focus so much on the character, the comedy technique and the jokes theyre delivering that they forget about their acting foundation. They will forget that there is a want, obstacle, emotions, intentions and history behind the funny thing they are saying and the situation theyre in. To truly make comedy work, you cannot forget your acting technique. I always tell my classes that to do comedy, you need to merge your acting technique, your comedic technique and a solid character. When all three of these are in harmony with each other within an actor, the result is great comedy. So since this book focuses so much on the comedic technique and the character, I decided to just give you a reminder of your acting foundation. It is a simple audition technique I developed to help actors remember their acting basics when approaching a scene in class, an audition or a cold read. So let me show you how to WOFAIM It.

WOFAIM is an acronym that encompasses basic acting techniques. It is a tool that an actor can use to examine, breakdown and personalize any audition material in less than ten minutes. It can also be used for breaking down scenes in class or even script work if you get a regular job on a series. I am proud to say that many of my actors who work regularly have told me that the WOFAIM method has been extremely helpful in auditions and in their careers. If you learn it and practice it, WOFAIM will give you a head start on any type of reading. WOFAIM stands for: Want Obstacle Feeling As If Intentions Moment Before These are all questions you should ask yourself when first reading a scene or sides for class or an audition. Let me break it down even more. Keep in mind, when I say you, I mean your character. Want - What do you want? What is your immediate want in the scene? What is your objective? Obstacle - What is the obstacle in the scene thats stopping you from getting what you want? Feeling - What are the feelings (emotions) you explore in the scene? As If - What is your personal substitution? How do you the actor relate to the experience of the character and their want? This can come from either your past or your present. Or open up your heart and mind and use your greatest gift, your imagination. As if I what} Intentions - Active verbs. What are the active intentions you use in the scene to get what you want? What are your tactics? Moment Before - What is the logistical moment before and the emotional moment before? What is happening to you physically and emotionally before the scene begins? Where are you coming from?

Ask yourself all of these questions when approaching a scene and it will automatically give you a back story, emotions, intentions and most important, depth to your character. It gets you going before the scene even begins. Im going to break down a scene for you and show you exactly how you can use WOFAIM in your work. EXAMPLE: In this scene, you (your character) want to borrow $300 from your father for acting class. But your father doesnt want to give you the money. He thinks that an acting career is a waste of time. You need that $300 because you know this acting class will not only help you become a better actor but will also help get you the next job. Plus, your agent insists you study with this coach. To make matters worse, the class starts this Monday. What do you Want? You want your dad to give you $300. What is the Obstacle? Your dad wont give you the money. What are you Feeling? Anxious, nervous, frustrated. What is your As If (personal substitution)? Well, maybe as an actor, you could identify with this. Has this happened to you in your past? Is this happening NOW? Or maybe youve never experienced it. In that case, you need to use your imagination. Remember the time that you needed to borrow your roommates car to get to an audition and he said No? Remember when you needed to borrow your friends Prada shoes for a hot date and she said No way? Essentially, remember a time when you needed something so badly and couldnt get it. Either way you need to personally identify with the characters situation, want, obstacles, feelings and intentions. What are your Intentions? What active intentions are you using to get your dad to give you $300? What are your tactics? Here are just a few you could use. You could try to convince, to persuade, to charm, to manipulate, to beg. Any of these could work. What is your Moment Before? Remember this is broken down into two parts. What is your logistical moment before? Lets say youre outside the door of your fathers study or house and youre

about to enter. What is your emotional moment before? Well, you are full of anxiety and youre pumping yourself up, trying to build up your courage and overcome your nerves. Add stakes to all of this. I tell my students to look at three levels of stakes if they can. It will make the character and his or her wants deeper. In this case, the stakes are: that you need the money because you dont have it and you need it by Monday. The higher stakes are: that this money could get you into a class that could get you a job and will satisfy your agent. The highest stakes are: if you get the money, get into class and get an acting gig, you might finally be able to prove to your father that acting is not a waste of time. PRIVATE EYE METHOD And finally, remember FOR SCRIPT ANALYSIS your thoughts. Ive talked a Ask yourself these questions when lot about it in comedy looking at a script or sides: technique and youll read more How does the scene begin? about it in The Eight Who are you? Characters of Comedy chapters, What's your history? but as a general note, Who are the other characters thoughts are extremely involved (in the scene)? important. They are basically What is the time and place? silent thoughts, your subtext, What are your current your inner dialogue, what your circumstances? character is actually thinking. What is the arc of your character In this example, what are and the arc of the scene? you thinking before the scene How does the scene end? with your father begins? What is the thought before you start your dialogue? If you have a good thought that matches your characters intention, it will help you rev the engine and come into the scene strong. Also, what is the thought during the dialogue? Is it the same as whats written? In this scene, the dialogue might read, Dad, please can I borrow the money, but what you might be thinking is You owe it to me, dammit! What thoughts might your character be thinking that he or she cant say? Also, why are you saying what youre saying?

Okay, before we get too heady, let me just remind you that all of this should be done as your homework, whether you get the scene days or moments ahead of time. Answer these questions and WOFAIM a script to the best of your ability with the time you have before your read, and then go into the audition and leave your homework at home, so to speak. Trust that youve done the homework and you KNOW the characters wants, obstacles, feelings, intentions, etc. Keep all of this with you, stay in the moment and have some fun. Now that you know about comedic technique and how to WOFAIM a script (audition technique), let me give you the four most important things you need to remember when doing situation comedy, what I call The Four Cs of Comedy.

AUDITIONING
Here are a few helpful hints for auditioning: Be prepared and do all of your homework. That means breaking down the comedy script and Finding the Funny. WOFAIM it and memorize it as best you can (if youve worked on your sides long enough, you '11 naturally memorize it). Leave your homework at home. Dress like the character would dress, but don V ever wear a costume. BE ON TIME! Don 't chat up the waiting room. Use this time to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically for your audition rather than chatting with the other actors. Don V psyche yourself out and dont let others psyche you out either. Stay focused. Walk in to the casting room with a good attitude, not desperate to get the job. Be friendly and charming with the people in the room, but don't talk too much. A nervous actor will ramble on and end up with his foot in his mouth. Your script is your best friend. Be off book, but hold it in your hand. Dont rumple it, roll it up or shove it in your back pocket. Make eye contact with your reader, but don't stare him or her down.

Be confident and have fun. Know that this is your timeyou were asked to audition and you've earned the right to be there. So enjoy it, because if you're having fun, the casting director will have fun. If you feel like you're off to a bad start, politely ask the casting director if you can start again. But if you're midway through, refocus and finish the job. After your audition, you can sometimes ask (if it feels right), Is there anything else you'd like to see?" If the answer is No, "you say Thank you" and leave with a smile. Even if you think it didn't go well, don't leave the audition looking defeated. Whether your audition was good or bad, the only question to ask yourself is Did I do my best?" Then, forget about it. Learn from your mistakes, pat yourself on the back and get ready for the next one. Auditioning is like catching a bus." If you dont get this one, you 7/ get the next one. Always stay positive. Auditioning is an opportunity to act. And if you love to act, then you need to learn to enjoy the experience. Here's an extra tip. Sometimes, the walls at casting offices are so thin you can hear the actor before you auditioning. Don't listen! Focus on your own sides, your own role, your own job. Move away from the door, if possible. If you hear laughter coming from the audition room, don't get discouraged and say something negative to yourself (or anyone else in earshot) like, I'll never be able to follow THAT." Instead, think positive like, Good, they're warming up the casting room for me. Go to any live taping of a sitcom and there will always be a warm-up act (most likely, a stand-up comic) whose main purpose is to loosen up the crowd and get the audience laughing. Therefore, use the actor auditioning before you as your warm-up act.

CHAPTER

THE FOUR Cs OF COMEDY


As an actor or writer approaching a half hour script, always remember these Four Cs of Comedy. 1) Conflict: Conflict is everything. Without conflict, there is no comedy, because without conflict, there is no drama. Remember, comedy comes from drama (which comes from pain). And in any good drama, we must have conflicttwo opposing sides, two opposing personalities, two opposing philosophies, two opposing cultures. And we LOVE watching this conflict. Just turn on TV and watch any show, be it a crime drama, a reality show or even a game show and there will either be conflict or it will be boring. The same is true for sitcoms, except the conflict is simply written to be humorous. In order for a sitcom to work, it needs conflict not just in the storylines, but also with characters. Characters can have conflict with other characters (how many story lines revolve around polar opposites falling for each other?). They can have conflict with themselves (how do I ask this guy or girl out?), with an idea (how do I get rich quick?!), an evil thought, a machine, an animal, anything. But for good comedy, you need to have conflict. 2) Comedic technique: After reading a script a few times, it is your job to Find t he Funny in the piece. Always remember your technique. As I said, comedy is like a musical score. First you need to hear the music in your head the way the writers intended it, and then you need to implement the comedic technique. You need to identify the Triplets, The Turnarounds, the K sounds, the beats, blows, rhythmeverything that has to do with half hour comedy technique. As I stressed in the last section, it is imperative for half hour comedy to have a sense of rhythm and a sense of

flow. Following this comedic technique will not only help you hear it, but also perform it. Beyond the jokes, this includes not adding lines, not dropping lines, following punctuation and keeping the pace. Remember, this comedic technique is formulaic in nature and it is a formula that has stood the test of time. 3) Commitment: What makes the techniques funny or the conflict real? Commitment. This means, as an actor, you need to be 100 percent committed to the dialogue, the physical actions, the jokes, the technique and, especially, the characters. It takes just as much commitment to do comedy as it does to do drama, perhaps even more so. It is the new actor to comedy that will have that smile in their eyes, that look on their face that says, I know Im being funny. Or they will laugh at their partners joke. Or even worse, they will laugh at their own joke, making it less believable and less funny for us to watch. Check out the great sitcom actors and you will see a committed actor at work. Just think of how committed Lisa Kudrow is to Phoebes eccentric behavior or how Jackie Gleason is committed to Ralphs money-making schemes, how Kim Cattrall is committed to Samanthas unquenched thirst for sex or how Rhea Perlman is committed to Carlas condescending one-liners. Commitment is vital in the world of half hour comedy, especially when it comes to your character. 4) Character: So now we get to the heart of the book and what I think is the most essential ingredient in half hour comedycharacter. The great sitcom actors and writers create living, breathing characters with a life, a history and a personality all their own. And they stay committed to that character whether its for 22 minutes or ten seasons. It is this commitment that makes us fall in love with the likes of Joey, Kramer, Frasier, Lucy, Archie, Jack and Karen, etc. In the rest of this book, I will focus on character. I will help you identify and recognize characters within yourself and then teach you how to play them with the same kind of commitment as many of yesterday and todays wonderful actors.

CHAPTER

THE CHARACTERS
As I mentioned at the end of the last section, the development of a character and the commitment to that character is just as vital to half hour comedy as the technique and the rhythm of the delivery, maybe even more important. Think of how incredibly fanny Matt LeBlancs sweetly naive portrayal of Joey is, or Lucille Balls complete commitment to being a lovable dreamer as Lucy or Michael Richards authentic zaniness as Kramer. We believe that these are real characters because of the truth, depth, history and commitment the actors and the writers bring to them. That said, as an actor you need to know who youre playing just as much as how to play it and you need to know how to make it real. Not to worry, there are characters you can use that have been built over the years that have worked for many, many sitcoms. Much like how the jokes in half hour writing are formulaic and rhythmic in nature, these characters date back to the beginnings of sitcom television. Its not that these are character stereotypes, but rather character archetypes with specific personality traits that enable the actors playing them to reach their fullest comedic potential. Each actor and writer will have a different take on these characters, but to make them work, you need to know what makes them tick. You need to have a full understanding of who these characters were growing up, who they are today and why they are the way they are. And most important, you need to figure out how you can use these characters to Find the Funny. In the next eight chapters (or episodes as I call them), I will break down each of these characters for you, giving you specific examples of sitcom actors that fit the various models. I will also show you how to identify them and how to play them. I will provide you with a list of defining traits that each of these eight characters have that you can use in your acting. And then I will show you how to figure out which characters will help you build your own personal niche in half hour comedy.

I often think of my classes as their own sitcom. Each class has a host of comedic actors who bring their own individuality and originality to the class or the story week after week. It amazes me to see how these actors pick up these different characters I am about to show you, how some fit so naturally for them, how they can bring the comedy once they figure out who they are and how entertaining the show can be. So, without further ado, lets roll the credits, play our theme music and bring you into my show: eight episodes of a hilarious sitcom with laughs, conflicts, twists and turns and characters youll grow to love and love to play. Let me introduce to you my sitcom entitled ...

The Eight Characters of Comedy


By Scott Sedita

Current Revision 2006

Scott Sedita C/O Hasenfeffer Incorporated 227 Wisteria Lane Springfield, USA Planet Ork (555) 555-55

Episode 1. The Logical Smart One Episode 2. The Lovable Loser Episode 3. The Neurotic Episode 4. The Dumb One Episode 5. The Bitch / Bastard Episode 6. The Womanizer/Manizer Episode 7. The Materialistic One Episode 8. In Their Own Universe