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The Science of Comedy for Film Actors

Updated: Mar 18

Discover the neuroscience behind comedy and learn how to master the art of comedic acting

By Faith Hibbs-Clark, Founder

"Funny People are everywhere." - Adam Sandler

Do you think you have comedic chops?

After 25 years of casting for film and television, and as a body language expert, I have found that the actors you least expect to be funny, are the funniest. Is this you?

In this quote by Adam Sandler, I am reminded that anyone can possess the gift of comedy. Yes! even you!

Comedic ability is not limited to a select few; instead, it resides within all of us. By tapping into the scientific principles that underlie comedy, you can unlock your own comedic potential and bring laughter to audiences worldwide.

In this article, I will share tips on the fascinating world of comedy from a neuroscience perspective and demonstrate how film actors can use body language expertise and professional guidance to master the art of comedic acting.

The Neuroscience of Comedy

Comedy, as it turns out, is not just a simple expression of amusement; it profoundly affects our brains and bodies. When we laugh, our brains release a cocktail of chemicals that contribute to feelings of joy and well-being. Dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins flood our bloodstream, replacing the stress-inducing cortisol and promoting a sense of happiness and relaxation.

Research has shown that laughter has a direct impact on our neural pathways and can even influence our brain structure. The social laughter that you create on-screen has been found to increase opioid release in the anterior insula and anterior cingulate, suggesting that laughter acts as a neurochemical mechanism to enhance social bonding.

Understanding the neuroscience of laughter provides valuable insights into the art of comedic acting. By tapping into the power of laughter, you can create genuine moments of hilarity that resonate with audiences. Whether it's timing your delivery for maximum impact, introducing unexpected twists, or customizing Acting Science Method ™️ comedic formulas to suit your style, you can leverage the science behind laughter to create unforgettable performances on screen.

Unlocking the Comedy Formulas

Many aspiring film actors falsely believe being naturally funny is a prerequisite for comedic success. However, with the guidance of a body language expert and professional casting director, comedy can be reverse-engineered and taught through accessible "formulas." These formulas provide a framework for you to understand the underlying mechanisms of comedy and apply them in auditions and on-set performances. By customizing these formulas to suit your unique style, you can develop your own individual comedic voice and confidently bring laughter to the screen.

Observing Body Language and Communication

As a body language expert and casting director, I have spent years meticulously observing the nuances of audience connection and laughter. By deciphering the intricacies of body language and communication, I have distilled actionable insights that can be shared with film actors seeking to excel in the realm of comedy. These observations, combined with the understanding of scientific principles, form the foundation for teaching you the art of comedy. But before you can learn my "Acting Science Method" comedic formulas, you must first understand these principles of humor:

1) Timing: The Comic Symphony

In the symphony of comedy, timing takes center stage. Just like a conductor expertly orchestrates the tempo of a piece, film actors must master the art of comedic timing. The perfect awkward pause, the well-timed punchline in the story formula, and the skillful use of silence combined with a dead stare can transform an ordinary scripted moment into uproarious laughter. Understanding the science of timing enables you to separate your visual performance from your vocal performance to create beats that can create comedic magic on screen

One noteworthy example of a comedic scene that cleverly employs awkward pauses for comedic timing occurs in the mall scene from the movie, "Superbad", where the two boys coincidentally encounter the two girls they have an interest in. As the scene unfolds, a series of casual and conversational exchanges take place, leading to a decision to switch partners and accompany their respective crushes. It is within this amusing exchange that the perfectly timed awkward pause in the dialogue comes into play, contributing to the comedic effect and enhancing the overall characterization.

2) Surprise: The Unexpected Twist

Comedy thrives on surprise. Unexpected twists, clever wordplay, and surprising outcomes have the power to catch audiences off guard and generate laughter. As you embrace the element of surprise, you keep your performances fresh and engage viewers in delightful and unexpected ways. Something as simple yet surprising as delivering a line with an opposite emotion or with exaggerated emotion can provide a delightful comedic twist.

One example of a comedic scene with an unexpected twist can be found in the popular TV show "Schitt's Creek." In a Season 2 episode, the character Moira Rose, played by Catherine O'Hara, has an emotional breakdown over her missing purse. As Moira frantically searches for her purse, her reaction escalates from mild frustration to a full-blown meltdown, exclaiming, "No, no, no, NOOO!" It's a hilariously unexpected response highlighting Moira's dramatic and eccentric personality.

This scene showcases the power of surprise in comedy. The unexpected twist of Moira's emotional breakdown over a missing purse takes a seemingly ordinary situation and turns it into a laugh-out-loud moment. It's a testament to Catherine O'Hara's comedic talent and the show's ability to deliver unexpected surprises to its audience.

3) Incongruity: When Opposites Collide

Incongruity lies at the heart of comedy. It involves the unexpected juxtaposition of ideas, situations, or characters. In the Acting Science Method ™️ I refer to it as Deviation from Normalcy. The brain is always predicting what is going to happen next logically, but when a situation creates a different response, it temporarily gives the brain a brief moment of relief from its constant survival instinct. By skillfully blending conflicting elements, you can create comedic gold. Embracing incongruity allows you to tap into the absurdity of life and present it in a way that resonates with audiences, generating laughter and leaving an indelible mark.

In the hit television show "The Office," incongruity plays a central role in creating comedic situations. One memorable example occurs in Season 3, Episode 15, titled "Phyllis' Wedding." During the wedding ceremony, the character Dwight Schrute (played by Rainn Wilson), who takes his job as Assistant Regional Manager very seriously, decides to perform an impromptu fire drill. This unexpected and disruptive action deviates from the normalcy of a wedding ceremony, causing confusion and chaos among the guests. The incongruity of Dwight's decision, juxtaposing a joyous event with a mock emergency, results in a hilarious outcome that leaves both the characters and the audience surprised and in stitches.

Crafting Your Unique Comedic Style

While hot-wiring your film and television auditions with my Acting Science comedy formulas will provide you with a solid framework for comedic acting, and an almost unfair advantage over your competition, it is essential for you to inject your own personality and style into your auditions and on-screen performances. This customization allows you to create a unique comedic voice that resonates with audiences. With my expert guidance, you can navigate the delicate balance between following established Acting Science Method ™️ comedy formulas and adding your own personal touch, resulting in performances that are both authentic and hilarious.

The Special Topics Workshop: Your Path to Comedic Greatness

Do you want to use science to unlock your own comedic potential? Join me for a 4-week live on Zoom workshop, where you will be able to work with me to unlock your own comedic potential. As a body language expert and professional casting director, this workshop offers comprehensive training on the neuroscience behind the comedy, the art of timing and surprise, and the customization of 25 comedic formulas. Join me on this transformative journey, and let the science of comedy guide you toward comedic greatness.

"Funny People are everywhere." - Adam Sandler

With these inspiring words from Adam Sandler, we are reminded that comedy is within reach for all film actors. By understanding the neuroscience behind comedy, learning proven Acting Science Method ™️ comedic formulas, and customizing them to create individual comedic styles, you will have your audience in stitches

About Faith Hibbs-Clark

Faith is a body language expert who specialized in deception detection before becoming a casting director and working in the film industry for over 25 years. She is the founder of the Communication Method for Actors, LLC & the creator of the Acting Science Method.

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