A Three Part Series from sitcom guru coach Scott Sedita. Here are edited excerpts from his international bestselling book, “The Eight Characters of Comedy. A Guide to Sitcom Acting & Writing, 2nd Edition” about how the Rhythm of Comedy is made up of Words and Punctuation

Before you begin your comedy training, it’s important to understand that sitcoms have a distinct and unique RHYTHM. When you read a sitcom script (whether it’s a multi-camera or single camera), you instinctually hear a certain rhythm in your head. For those of you who watch a lot of sitcoms, you hear it LOUD and clear. When reading a comedy script, it is the actor’s job to not only hear the rhythm of the piece, but also be able to perform it exactly as the writer intended.

There are specific beats that make up the rhythm of comedy in every sitcom script. These beats are made up from words, physicality and punctuation. When performing comedy, the word (or the physicality) has to be specific, 
clear and succinct, and the punctuation needs to be followed, as it may mark the end of the beat. Words and Punctuation are the keys to sitcom rhythm. First up…

WORDS

“You graciously accept that sometimes it matters when you drop the ‘the’.” Executive Producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, to her cast as she accepts Best Comedy Series Emmy Award for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

The complexity and the great attention to detail in sitcom writing is something that actors often take for granted. They will add words, drop words, or just paraphrase the words on the page. Although there might be more leniencies in the world of TV dramas to play with 
the dialogue (I don’t recommend it), it cannot be done in sitcoms, especially multi-camera comedies.

There is a simple rule to follow when working with sitcom dialogue: DON’T CHANGE A WORD!

The reason the writing needs to be followed perfectly is because of comedy’s unique rhythm, which, once again, relies heavily on the WORDS. No comedic actor could be funny if they didn’t have the words. Here’s an exercise that shows how words make up the rhythm. Read the following out loud by yourself or with an acting partner.

EXERCISE #2: Words (You’re the Smartest One)

In this exercise, PAT tries patiently to compliment KELLY,
 who’s eating up the praise with faux modesty…and Pat’s had enough.

PAT: You’re the smartest one.

KELLY: No, I’m not.

PAT: Yes, you are.

KELLY: No, I’m not.

PAT: Yes, you are.

KELLY: No, I’m not.

PAT: (beat) You’re right. You’re not.

It’s a funny little bit. You can hear a distinct rhythm, can’t you? 
You can hear how the words flow smoothly through the piece… until it suddenly stops. These words are written to create a specific rhythm, in order to make the dialogue the funniest it can be. If we add just one word to this piece, let’s see how it changes the rhythm and disrupts the flow.

PAT: You’re the smartest one.

KELLY: No, I’m not.

PAT: Yes, you are.

KELLY: No, really I’m not.

PAT: Yes, you are.

KELLY: No, I’m not.

PAT: (beat) You’re right. You’re not.

Do you hear how this changes everything? By simply adding the word “really,” you have altered the rhythm of the piece. The piece no longer flows as smoothly and, therefore, it isn’t as funny. You can’t change the words because you’ll alter the rhythm.

Let’s see what happens when we drop a word.

PAT: You’re the smartest one.

KELLY: No, I’m not.

PAT: Yes, you are.

KELLY: I’m not.

PAT: Yes, you are.

KELLY: No, I’m not.

PAT: (beat) You’re right. You’re not.

Just like adding a word, dropping a word can change the rhythm completely. Sitcom casting directors say that changing, adding or dropping words is one of their biggest pet peeves. Many actors do it, not knowing how much time and effort went into plotting out that specific dialogue to create that specific rhythm. SO DON’T ADD, DROP, OR CHANGE A WORD.

In next weeks “Part Two of Scott Sedita’s Rules of Comedy,” Scott will discuss finding the FUNNY WORDS in a sitcom script.

 


Scott SeditaAbout Scott Sedita – Whether you’re auditioning for a co-star or a series regular on a half hour comedy, sitcom guru and acting coach Scott Sedita will teach you The Sedita Method of sitcom acting, which comes with it’s own terminology, coined phrases and unique glossary.

Scott’s internationally best-selling book, “The Eight Characters of Comedy. A Guide to Sitcom Acting & Writing, 2nd Edition” has sold over 100,000 copies and has become a “bible” to Hollywood comedy writers, directors, producers, and actors and is used as a textbook in over 100 colleges and universities. Find Scott and his staff of professional actors, teachers and coaches at ScottSeditaActing.com.

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Written by Scott Sedita