Keeping A Straight Face in Humorous Interpretation

One of the reasons I love to tune in to the TV show “Saturday Night Live” is to see if one of the actors will crack up in the middle of a performance. Watching someone else try to stifle a laugh is one of the funniest things in the world. But in Humorous Interpretation, if you laugh at yourself while performing, you might as well hold up a sign that says "Game Over."

H.I. is typically treated more like a recorded movie and less like live theatre. Your performance, while side-splitting, should also be disciplined and polished. Some competitors can’t help laughing in the middle of a piece, and that’s understandable – it’s natural to be pleased with yourself if you are receiving immediate feedback from your audience that you are doing well. But if you smile or laugh when you are supposed to be playing a bewildered or angry character, it ruins the effect of your characterization, and it makes you seem conceited and unprepared.

Here are a few suggestions for how to keep yourself from laughing during an H.I. round:

1. Purse your lips slightly. Bring the corners of your mouth into a small “O” shape, pushing your lips forward. This will help to hide the smile spreading across your face. Raising your eyebrows can also help with this, although contorting your face in such a way might actually make matters worse if your audience finds it amusing.

2. Go with it. If you can’t make yourself stop laughing, work it into the piece. Find a way to make it correlate with whatever is happening in the piece. If you’re playing an antagonist who is supposed to be very angry, make that character suddenly snap and become a diabolical evil genius – translate your giggles into maniacal laughter. If you’re playing a sad character, pretend to be crying instead of laughing.

3. Don’t look at your audience. This is tricky if you’re performing a monologue, but it is one of the best ways to keep from laughing. When you look at someone who is smiling, it makes you want to smile, too. Find a way to look elsewhere – look up at the ceiling as if your character is reminiscing, or close your eyes as if your character is very serious. If your piece has multiple characters, you should hardly be looking at your audience anyway. If you avoid directly looking at the people who are laughing, you’ll be one step closer to maintaining a straight face.

4. Keep the piece moving. One of my choir teachers used to say, “The note you just sang is not important. What is important is the note you are about to sing.” The same can be said for speech: The line you just said is not important. Concentrate on your next joke, your next setup. If your audience bursts out laughing after a great line, just continue moving forward in your piece, and don’t allow yourself a moment’s hesitation to join in.

5. Bite your tongue. Not too hard, of course. But if you have a hard time stifling a giggle, this is certainly a quick way to make yourself stop smiling. Ouch…

6. Practice before you perform. You should always practice your H.I. by performing it in front of other people. Otherwise, you won’t know how the piece will fare in competition because you will have no feedback to base your interpretation on. Rehearsing in front of your friends and teammates can also be a huge asset to you because it will help you train yourself not to chuckle when your audience starts laughing.