Thursday, December 2, 2010

Airplane!

Airplane!
from my DVD collection
12.1.10

I've indulged in acting since I was a tween, when I co-wrote and co-starred in the 8th grade school play. I've taken acting classes, including learning the Meisner technique in an acting school in Manhattan. I've acted scenes from Shakespeare, Ibsen and Miller, among others, but it only now occurs to me that the one aspect of acting that I hardly did any
serious work in is comedy.

I don't think it was a conscious decision, but maybe it was. I mean, the scenes I always wanted to act were the serious ones. Maybe I bought into the belief that comedy was easier. I probably did... but time and experience has taught me the opposite is true.

Physical comedy is difficult enough, but I suspect that's merely a manner of choreography and timing. Verbal comedy, though, the kind stand-up comics engage in all around the country in comedy clubs every night, that's another level. Never mind trying not to laugh while you're telling the joke, what about the delivery itself? If you're in a movie, and you're portraying a certain type of character, the way you deliver your lines determines how believable your character is within the context of the story, and it's probably so easy to slip up.

That's a big reason why what Leslie Nielsen did was so remarkable. To reinvent himself so completely from a dramatic actor to a comedic one was a rare achievement, especially given the many examples in the opposite direction - comedic actors switching to drama. It's nice to see that he's getting proper credit for that, even if it had to come in the wake of his death.

Airplane! (and other movies in the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker canon) employs the kin
d of humor that probably appeals to me most as a writer - crazy things going on all around, but people taking it perfectly seriously. I particularly like the sight gags where one "normal" thing is going on in the foreground but something "weird" is going on in the background. It forces you to pay attention as a viewer, if nothing else.

I see other blogs that write funny gags and stuff and sometimes I wish I could do that here. I think it takes a certain level of guts to go out on a limb - sometimes way out - and risk looking stupid for the sake of a laugh. Then again, I don't always feel the need to entertain in that kind of fashion. I was having a similar conversation with Andrea the other night along these lines, and I remember saying that comedy's easier when it's spontaneous. Sitting in front of my laptop, trying to think of something funny to write - to me, that's harder than suddenly reacting to something by saying something funny (and that was the basis of what we learned in the Meisner class - to react, not act). Well, if the situation feels right, maybe I can write something funny. Maybe you'll even laugh.

2 comments:

  1. Weird; as soon as I give my Airplane! DVD away, Leslie Nielson dies. Strictly a coincidence, but it's the kind that always intrigues me. Even weirder? Four years ago I bought a clearance copy of that 70s "Sergeant Pepper" movie featuring the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, and a cameo appearance by singer Billy Preston. Who died a short time later. I almost feel responsible!

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  2. Wow, I remember seeing 'Sgt. Pepper' once. Man, that was horrible. Don't think I even finished it.

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