Comedy or Tragedy?

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In events like Duo Reading, Duet Acting and Oral Interpretation, competitors are faced with a difficult question: should the piece be dramatic or humorous?

There is definitely a gray area of pieces that are neither funny nor dramatic. They are just there. Though doing a piece like this can have its good points, I would strongly advise you to choose either a dramatic or funny piece, because it helps you to stand out.

Sometimes, this classification is inherently included in the description of an event. Many districts offer two forms of partner events for speech: Duo Reading, the no-contact event that requires students to use binders, and Duet Acting, a contact partner event that requires competitors to memorize all of their lines. In Duo, more students tend to perform tragic scripts because of the serious nature of the event, as well as its physical limitations. Sad pieces lend themselves well to Duo because the audience remains constantly focused on the actors’ faces rather than the movements of their bodies. Because Duet is a “bigger” event in terms of movement and the amount of space you are allowed to use (some people even walk around the room and speak directly to audience members), more of the pieces end up being funny comedies. These include mysteries (Clue, Sherlock Holmes), histories (TV, Shakespeare, the World) and other pieces with multiple characters.

However, there is no reason a hilarious piece can’t be performed as a Duo – there are several great ones. And I’ve seen many amazing dramatic Duets that brought me and everyone else in the room to tears.

Here are some of the benefits of doing a funny piece in a non-specific event:

1. Everyone loves to laugh. Why do you think there are so many comedy movies released each year? We live in a serious world, so it is always a nice surprise when someone livens up your day with a little comedy.

2. You’re offering health benefits. Laughing for just 15 minutes a day can lower a person's risk of heart disease by ten percent, and it has also been hailed as a way to help people lose weight. So, when you do well with a humorous piece, you’re not only increasing your chances of placing at a tournament, but you're also helping your audience live longer and shed a few pounds.

3. It’s fun. Part of the reason you’re in speech is because you like to have a good time, and what could be better than making your friends ROTFL?

4. You will definitely get your judge’s attention. Some judges come to a speech tournament simply because they want to be entertained. Dramatic pieces have a tendency to be slow for the first six or seven minutes and then become suddenly fast-paced and intense during its final moments. In a D.I. round, that’s fine, but if that competitor has to follow your quick, witty quips, you might end up with the higher rank.

5. Your audience will remember you. Jokes and punchlines are likely to be more memorable than sad soliloquies, and that definitely gives you the advantage if you’re the first performer in a room with six other competitors.

And on the other hand, here are some of the high points of doing a dramatic script:

1. Your audience is more likely to feel a personal connection with a dramatic piece. This is especially true for pieces that discuss a character with a disease or disability, as most everyone has either been affected by this or knows someone who has been affected. If your audience can relate to your piece, they will be more interested, and therefore more focused on your performance.

2. Tears aren’t all bad. On the same hand as laughter’s health benefits, crying has been proven to reduce stress levels and help people release pent-up emotions.

3. You don’t have to move around as much. In dramatic pieces, the character doesn’t have to do jumping jacks to stimulate the audience’s emotions. And on the second day of a tournament after practicing nonstop, performing in multiple events and running around looking for the right room, standing still for 10 minutes is definitely appealing.

4. You’ll have the advantage of coming across as a “serious competitor.” In an event that does not specify whether a piece must be serious or funny, you run the risk of looking like a newbie if your piece isn’t polished. Humorous pieces can make you hyper. Every good dramatic piece has a natural seriousness to it that can help you to remain calm and professional.

5. You have many options. Dramatic works allow you to show your audience a broad spectrum of emotions that are difficult to convey well. In a humorous piece, you can have a few poignant moments, but too many will take away from the overall effect of the piece. Dramatic pieces give you a chance to showcase your talents.

It is always up to the competitors to decide which piece to bring into the arena, and in the end, it’s not a matter of whether your piece is sad or funny, has few characters or many characters, or is based on reality or based on fiction. Your success depends on the effort you put into your preparation and the quality of your performance.

Anony's picture

Do you know of a good 3 part, funny forensic piece???


oh, and i've meet a few actors who search at this website to find monologues and do play research as well!

finding a piece is a highly personal experience--translation, it's hard to just list piece names and expect you to like one, haha.  what i can suggest is going to either a library and browsing through their plays OR search play databases on-line first to get descriptions of potentials.

this website is pretty good (  you can plug in exactly what you are looking for. 

some HIs/play's i can think of off the top of my head...

  • Desdemona, A Play About a Handkerchief by Paula Vogel
  • Stay, Carl, Stay (hopefully that is the title of the piece I am remembering) by Peter Tolan
  • The Underpants by Steve Martin
  • Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo
  • anything by Christopher Durang (seriously, the man is a comic genuis)

keep in mind if a play has more than 3 character you can do some cutting to fit your needs (if the play allows it of course).  i mean, some of the suggestions I gave you have more than 3 characters.  it's very limiting to only look for things with strictly 3 characters.  1/2 the time minor parts can be cut anyway.

hope that helps!  happy hunting 


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