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Hopefully when in the midst of a performance, you’re riding your character’s varying waves of emotions, moment by moment in a deep and genuine manner. If so, when your character is called to chuckle, giggle, yuk, crack up, or be in hysterics, it’s likely that laughter will be readily available to you and be experienced authentically. 

But what if you’re just not feeling the laughter during some performances? Maybe it’s an audition and you haven’t been given much material to work with, or perhaps you’re experiencing stress in your personal life. It’s possible that your scene partner’s humor is striking you as remarkably unfunny at the moment, or it’s just plain old hard to be “on” at all times for whatever reason. So what’s an actor to do? Here are a few techniques to enhance your ability to laugh on cue:

Recall a memory that makes you genuinely laugh

Draw from your memory bank any notably humorous moments in your life, and laugh “as if” you did in those instances. Remember when a seagull snatched your dad’s sandwich out of his hand at the beach? Recalling a familiar hilarious moment from a favorite book, comedy routine, or funny pet incident might be just what you need to spark a chortle on cue. But make sure to rotate your inspirations so they don’t lose their effectiveness. 

Start your laugh mechanically

Another tactic is to use your body mechanically to produce a laugh. You know the feeling. Use your diaphragm deep in your belly to increase the breathiness of your “fake” laugh. Raising your eyebrows can help you get started. Who knows? Laughing this way might trigger a bout of actual laughter. “I, Tonya” actress Allison Janney, in general, has an easy time chuckling on cue, but found it challenging to have to laugh hysterically on stage every night, and she found this technique to be helpful. “Someone said just start—‘huh!’—moving your stomach, going ‘huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh!’ Just the physical laughing, and then you start, and it gets real.

Keep it fresh with improv

Focus keenly on your scene partner instead of yourself. Actively listen as if hearing the joke for the first time rather than thinking, “Oh, here comes the joke, and I’m about to need to laugh on cue”—which isn’t a funny thought at all. In the uncomfortable cases when an acting partner’s jokes are coming off as stale, it’s likely best to use your acquired improvisational skills and respond to what you’re given. In these instances, it can be appropriate to only laugh if you feel the urge to laugh, especially if the scene is being filmed, and you’re being given a number of takes. But if you or the director are really expecting a sincere laugh from your character, consider working with your partner to do some action, sound, or expression that rings as truly funny to you. Another appropriate response might be to tame the size and power of your laugh. A “tee-hee” could be just the right-size response, rather than bursting out.

Exercise your laughing muscles

To keep laughter close to the surface of your performances, you can regularly practice laughing in your personal life. Visit comedy clubs, watch comedies on screen, tell jokes with friends, bask in laughing baby videos on Youtube. Laughing is contagious, and immersing yourself in humor will likely rub off onto you and come in handy on stage or in auditions. Being around all these funny people might also help you refine your comedic skills. Simply being in the practice of relaxing, smiling, and doing activities you enjoy can help you access humor in general. Also consider watching less news on TV, and reading fewer distressing newspaper articles—or at least reserve these stress-inducing practices until after your laugh-on-cue performances. 

Random tricks

  • Sam Rockwell revealed that he uses a fart app to laugh on cue. “Recently, I used a fart app to laugh on camera, and of course they have to cut out that part. Hey, you know, not everybody thinks farts are funny, but you gotta do whatever it takes sometimes,” he said in a Variety interview. 
  • Try to laugh without smiling. It’s such an absurd feeling, it just might make you laugh for real.
  • Act like someone is tickling you.

Be generous

If you’re not personally feeling the humor, try digging more deeply for the nugget of humor within the scene, or decipher what an audience member might find humorous about the interaction or situation. For example, some people respond to slapstick; others are repelled by it. If you find you’re among the latter, giving people the laughter they long to hear can be a motivator in and of itself. The generosity of the actor’s spirit is a rich and bountiful resource.