By George Chrysostomou.
Kevin Hart, Russell Brand, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Schumar, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell. Countless comedians have made the transition from their stand up tours, panel shows and evening sketch programming, hoping to make it big in Hollywood. Some transcend their genre, providing performances that play to every emotion and are worthy of the most prestigious awards in the industry. Think Robin Williams in Goodwill Hunting, or Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. These are performers who although come from a world of one liners, slapstick and quick witted rebuttals, have helped contribute to classics that we still admire to this day.
So what sets apart a comedian from an average actor, that they can provide Oscar winning performances perhaps without the acting experience or training that others spend years of their lives on?
Comedy is the control of emotions
The art of comedy is not as simple as making someone laugh. A good comedian has the ability to connect to an audience, relate to them and take them on a journey through every emotion. Watch a stand up piece from Trevor Noah and you will see this journey. He may perhaps talk about Donald Trump and in his opinion, the ridiculous nature of his presidency. This is a topic everyone has an emotional opinion on. He may then talk about his beloved home country of South Africa; a country that many have very little knowledge on yet can share his emotion of the love of a home.
Then, the bombshell. Trevor Noah’s mother was shot in the head and survived. We find ourselves laughing, why? Because, Trevor has already connected to us throughout his set and can now control the emotion you feel from a story, by his tone, his body language and his dialogue. All of these are traits of an actor. He completes his tale commenting on not having enough money to pay for his mothers medical care; the financial trouble one we can all relate too once more and find humour in. A good comedian takes their audience on a journey much like this. This translates beautifully for film.
A comedian understands emotions
Films are most successful when we feel the characters are relatable and genuine. When we feel like the emotions poured onto the screen are as raw as could possibly be. A comedian understands how to portray an emotion and manipulate an audience. The late Robin Williams is perhaps the king of this dance of understanding and manipulating.
Go back to one of his masterpieces and you’ll find yourself laughing and crying. This is a man whom has encountered every emotion and continued to turn to laughter despite the mental health issues that he battled. He understood the depth and intimate detail of the vast spectrum of human feeling. He wore it all on his face beautifully. These are only elements that can come from personal experience and then retelling that experience through the art of comedy.
Is this still a trend in the industry?
Much like any era, yes and no. Some performers like Kevin Hart or Amy Schumer, step up and provide comedy in its blandest form; meaningless jokes designed for a cheap laugh. In fact many of the comedies today turn to bland dialogue and over the top, exaggerated situations which often have no relatability to them whatsoever. Sorry Sacha Baron Cohen but I don’t think I will ever climb into an elephant, it’s just too grim…. Some performers have a mixed bag of results. Will Ferrell may star in a Christmas classic like Elf and then a poorly produced failure, such as The House. Despite the charm he possesses sometimes a film cannot be saved by one performance. Other’s have meaningless but inoffensive roles like Miranda’s film debut in the action comedy Spy. She typecast as the funny assistant to the funny assistant, a role which probably could be filled by any other actor. Films like these don’t allow comedians the same opportunities that their predecessors were afforded.
The solution therefore may be in the familiar. Produce something that people can relate to. TV has been on this path for a few years now. Both Master of None and Fleabag have done this to critical and popular success, controlling every emotion through familiar and raw experiences. Whilst I rejoice when a talent like John Oliver gets cast in a big blockbuster such as the Lion King, there will likely be no connection between us and his take on Zazu, an African bird.
Instead, what I truly rejoice at are roles that don’t stereotype a comedian as the funny one and allow them to actually do their job; to tell relatable stories and control emotions.
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