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LIFE: An Acting 101 Primer - Acting 101e: Playing for Laughs


By Chris McGahan

Good comedy takes serious focus. The biggest laughs come from focusing on Objectives (which I touched on more in depth earlier), and NOT from playing “this is the funny bit. You should laugh here!”

When you step away from objectives and start telling the audience it’s time to laugh, then you’ve moved into playing for laughs. And this is comedy DEATH. Your audience will subtly and subconsciously begin to resent your attempts at “comedy” because they want to see comedy in service to the story, not comedy highlighted as comedy.

There’s a fatal misstep in dramatic texts too, where actors and artists start to play general feelings instead of the actions and objectives. You may say “this is the sad scene, so I’m sad.” Instead of a much more powerful “This asshole stole the last cookie, the cookie that was the last thing I was going to eat before running away from home and starting a new life. He must be punished!”

And in the business of acting, we have to avoid those pitfalls too. Generality is business death in our crowded field.

But far too often artists avoid specifics when describing themselves, or they stop at the surface- I’m quirky, I’m nerdy, I’m a total jock. But HOW? How are you quirky and true to you? Is your jock sensitive secretly? Aloof? Outspoken? An animal lover?

What is the SPECIFIC feeling that makes you YOU and not someone else?

And that’s really what mastering playing generalities is, whether on stage or off- getting specific and staying focused on those specifics. Letting the need drive you and not the feelings.


Are you ready to get more specific and shed those generalities? Let’s schedule a 20 minute coaching session so we can hash out.

Please share with your peeps!