Many students have come to me over the years and asked me how to improve their comedic timing. Many think this is an ethereal and tricky question to answer but it’s really quite simple: No Dead Air.
No Dead Air means that there are no spaces. To understand this better, think of comedic dialogue like music. There’s something on every beat; either a rest or a note: 1,2,3,4. The scene is going to keep ticking forward so there has to be something on every beat –a word, a syllable, a sound, a gesture, a facial expression, or a physical movement- whatever creates the moment to let the joke land.
Comic timing is really comic rhythm. The beat keeps going, something happens on every one and it can only happen on that beat. In drama – a sigh or the walk across the room might take many extended beats. There is no specific rhythm to drama – that’s what makes it drama. But in comedy, you have to move with the rhythm of the scene and keep it going – so there can be No Dead Air.
Okay – my ideas on how to do this may seem ethereal, but they’re really not. Here’s an exercise:
-Watch the Funny. Pick a sitcom – Friends is a great one. Turn on the closed captioning on your TV (I call them subtitles) so that you see the words of the script at the bottom of the screen. Now watch the actors deliver the script. You will feel the beats as you watch the words click by and you’ll see there is No Dead Air.
In all honesty – the best way to master comic timing is to be in class and practice. They say comedy is harder than drama, (and I agree) but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun!
Next Up: Time to find your funny!
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