Find the Surprise

Find the Surprise

Character A:  Are you crying?

Character B:  No, of course not.  It’s just allergies.  And I hate my life.

I sure do enjoy a big surprise when it comes to my comedy.  And heck, my drama, too.  I remember, years ago, I was working on a comedy show and one of my cast mates said to me, “You never laugh out loud.  Even when something is funny.  Unless it surprises you.”  And I thought, “Yes.”  

When I can see a joke coming from a mile away, it doesn’t really matter to me how funny it is (it could be hilarious), but the time I have taken to think about it has made it non-laugh-out-loudable for me.  The joke goes from “funny” to “clever,” “cute” or “witty.”  

Funny is surprising.  Clever, cute and witty are things I’ve thought about for too long to be funny. 

As an actor, it’s really helpful to find all of the surprises in your sides or script.  If the writer has written them, you can usually make choices that support or even enhance what the writer has given you.  But the first step is awareness.  You must find the surprises.  

Look for these three things…

  1. Where has the writer given you a bait and switch?  A bait and switch is when the audience thinks you’re going to say or do one thing, but you actually say or do a completely different thing.  The key here is that the audience has already completed your thought or action before you’ve had a chance to deliver.  It is absolutely clear what you are about to say or do (until you don’t do it, of course).
  2. Similarly, where has the writer given you a misdirect?  A misdirect is when you’re heading in one direction and then all of a sudden you say something or do something that squarely takes you in a different direction.  The audience has not gone ahead and completed your thought or action, exactly and specifically – they just know that you were headed one way and then went somewhere else.  
  3. Lastly, we have the little brother of Bait & Switch and Misdirect…we have good ol’ Ambiguity.  Ambiguity is when the audience simply doesn’t know what you’re going to say or do.  They can’t predict it, like, at all.  

The next time you read a script, prepare some sides, go see standup, watch tv or are talking to a funny person…look for these three elements and enjoy the surprise.  

Until Next Time, 


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