Wednesday, September 30, 2009

ROWAN ATKINSON: Guide to Visual Comedy

Notes courtesy of Carlos Baena and Scott Wiser...

The following notes are in reference to the 1992 documentary Funny Business (also known as Laughing Matters and Rowan Atkinson's Guide to Visual Comedy), hosted by Rowan Atkinson, and were compiled by animation student Scott Wiser. The documentary can be found by clicking the title of this post.

1) Great comedians don't just talk, but use visual humor as well. Using their body as a tool:

a. There is comedy potential in every body part.
b. Clothes play a big part (too small or too big).
c. Character can look funny.
d. (My addition) The body can interact with other props to create humor (or alone).

2) Funny Things: Three Basic Principles:

a. Objects behave in an unexpected way
b. Objects go to or appear in an unexpected place.
c. Objects shown the wrong size.
- Combining these three principles may not make the business more funny.
- Jokes depend on sudden shocks and strange transformations that under-mind the laws of our existence.

3) Slapstick and Violence (the earliest and perhaps most crude form):

a. The more realistic, the funnier the gag.
b. The more dignified the victim, the funnier the gag.
c. Shock of violence must be separate from the reality of pain.
d. Use of overstatement or understatement create this comedy.

4) Magic & Surrealism (the comedian uses the Illusionist's tricks):

a. Appearing and Disappearing - gags are funnier if the character disappears.
b. Transformation - must absurd as well as astonishing
c. Speeding things up (or slowing down)
d. Comedy rooting in fear
e. Strange images

5) Imitiation & Parody (a step up, but not the highest form of comedy):

a. Exaggeration creates a parody
b. Representing authority creates satire.
c. Using other's story's or material can create comedy, but the effect lessens with the popularity of the others' material.

6) Mime & Body Language (Moving into character and situational comedy):

a. Create an interesting character.
b. Can be simply in the shading of a facial expression.
c. Not about doing funny things but doing normal things in a funny way: with personality.
d. new attitudes make the old joke new.

1. Dim (stupid) - knows less than the audience - has a bewildered innocence.
2. Aggressive - lack of consideration for others.
3. Crude - comedy of social embarrassment or vulgarity.
4. Etc.

e. Only if you identify with an attitude will you laugh.
f. Charlie Chaplin is one of the most skilled at this type of comedy, but doesn't always get the laugh (while he does draw smiles and emotions).
(We have to make our jokes and characters timeless, though some will argue that Chaplin was timeless)

7) Qualities that transcend time: The character of the physical comedian.

a. Like us but different - an alien on the other side of the mirror.
b. Innocence - born yesterday

Battles with normal objects
Constantly makes mistakes
Tenacity - keeps doing things when others would've given up.

c. Socially Inept - either doesn't understand conventions or doesn't know how to follow them.
d. Drunkenness is an alternative to childishness
e. Hard to form normal relationships
f. Constant hostility from all quarters
g. The comedian can't die or get seriously hurt.

8) The opposite of all rules are true: ALL rules can be broken.


Chance Marmalade said...

Another treasure of a post. Thanks!

Scott Wiser said...

Weird how things come full circle. I did this so very long ago and ran into it today ... coincientally. Thank you for sharing!