Breaking: It's Not That Funny Once the Critiques Come Back

While the goal of a Humorous Interpretation (HI) might be to get the audience laughing, the exact opposite is the goal of the performer. Throughout the piece the performer is expected to maintain themselves and refrain from breaking. No matter how outlandish or hilarious the moment is within the piece, a performer needs to control their laughter. Humorous Interpretation is very much like a stage production of a play in that respect.

Someone new to Humorous Interpretation might question why it is very crucial to not break. Assuming that HI is like a theatrical production, imagine watching a comedic play where one cast member was unable to remain in character and did break. While it might be funny, the fact is that for an instant that performer broke character. This can have ramifications detrimental to the overall success of the play. By breaking, that actor has taken the audience out of the play. A character lives within that realm where the play is set. Unless the play breaks the fourth wall, the audience does not exist to the character. But by laughing with the audience, the actor has broken the fourth wall and lessens the suspension of disbelief the audience was under. It draws the audience out of the world of the play to a degree. Further, if an actor laughs in a circumstance their character has no reason to, they somewhat ruin the image of the character. For instance, the straight character for a scene (the “normal” person) might find a circumstance serious while the “kooky” ones around them find it comical. If the straight character laughs it sends the wrong message to the audience of what that character is truly thinking; especially when the straight character attempts to play their breaking as character driven. It just does not make sense. These scenarios are as true to a play as they are to a Humorous Interpretation, for HI is basically a one person comedy show.

What can a performer do to attempt to keep from breaking? There are several ways an actor can overcome the giggles:

1. Maintain Focus

The best method to remaining in character is to keep their motivation in mind. Remember what it is the character wants, the tactics they are presently using, and what is their reaction to the scene/lines (if the joke is an insult directed at one’s character, they most definitely would NOT find it comical). Keeping one’s mind within the scene and the moment is the first defense to avoid breaking.

2. Look Above the Audience

Sometimes laughter is brought on through looking at the laughing audience. There is something instinctively infectious about laughter and desiring to share it. Therefore, maintaining eye contact when one is on the verge of breaking is a terrible choice. A performer then must compete with not only hearing the laughter but visually witnessing it as well. Thus, look slightly above the audience towards the back wall and put one’s mind back into the performance.

3. Move Forward

To maintain focus, some performers need to continue with the piece and avoid the brief break usually allotted for the audience to laugh without covering up the performer’s dialogue. This plowing ahead while the audience laughs might elicit a moments recognition of awkwardness (the audience might wonder why the performer decided to continue before the laughter began to fade), but if it keeps from breaking this is completely worth the one comment that might be written on a critique. This is a “lesser of two evils;” breaking and risk losing focus OR a minor, minor flaw in a performance.

4. Take a Moment

If laughter seems inevitable then a performer will need to take time to keep themselves from breaking. Purse lips together to hold in the giggles. Bite the inside of the cheek, bite the tongue, or dig a nail into a nearby finger to draw the mind’s attention to something other than how funny the room is. Do SOMETHING to divert attention from the need to laugh.

5. Come Prepared

Another way to prepare for laughter in a round is to have an idea of when it might happen. Although laughter is never completely predictable, by doing many practice runs of a piece with a variety of audiences, a performer can have an idea of where to expect laughter. Once a performer has an idea of where to anticipate an audience response they can then mentally prepare for not breaking. Further, practicing in front of numerous audiences allows a performer to train self-control during a round; practicing how to react to audience laughter can only be done with an audience.

6. If One Must…

Laugh. Play this laugh-fest off as a deliberate character choice and fit it into the piece. Even if the character is not supposed to laugh, make that laugh a joke by improvising a facial that reads like “wait…why am I laughing…AHHH!” Or, do what they do on SNL and laugh then immediately get back into character. Whatever happens, do not focus on how awful it was to break. The performance is NOT ruined. Get back into the piece and perform as if that little break was nothing.

While breaking might not be the desired reaction of a performer, the truth is that sometimes it must be dealt with. Preferably, a performer will have prepared themselves with methods to maintain focus. If these fail, be a professional, accept what has happened, and move forward. Remember, breaking is not an end to a fabulous performance unless that break becomes the performer’s focus. With that attitude the piece will eventually suffer. Everyone breaks. But not everyone has to let that break define that round.