Physical Comedy

I attended a magician’s convention in October.  It opened with a panel of four, top comedy magicians which included Tom Mullica, famous for his Tom Foolery night club in Atlanta and his tribute to Red Skelton performed in Branson Missouri.  He said his favorite funny-man was George Carl.  Tom sent me a link of a George Carl performance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  It’s brilliant physical comedy.

When you watch a performance like this, it’s unlikely that you’ll be thinking, “How can I do a performance like that?”  The question to ask is, “Even though the performer’s style is unlike mine and is nothing I would want to totally adapt, how can I learn something that might be applicable to what I do?”

Here are a few things that stood out to me:

Use of music to enhance program.  He uses music throughout.  Notice how he uses music to open his set.  He uses it to announce his arrival.  The dignified fanfare sounds…then the vaudeville clown enters.  The contrast helps set the scene for comedy.  The drummer immediately goes into rim-shots to accent his performance.  Lesson learned:  A performer should explore the use of music to enhance his or her performance and message.  It might be singing a song.  It might be to set the tone for your entrance.  It might only be to engage the audience before you are introduced to speak, as part of your pre-performance package.

The power of physical movement.  Notice the impact of his facial expressions, his arm and hand gestures, his overall flexibility.  He uses physical gestures to respond to and connect to the audience.  We all have the ability to add just a degree more physicality to our own performances.

The implied punchline.  This is one of my favorite techniques.  Twice he looks at his watch and then continues the physical action on which he was focused.  The unspoken punchline is, “Have I killed enough time doing this yet?”  As a magician, I can see this type of gag working while shuffling cards.  Look at your watch.  Continue shuffling the cards.

What will you notice in George Carl’s performance that you could apply to your’s?  I’m sure you can identify at least one thing, and probably more.

Here’s the link to the video of George Carl on the Tonight Show.