Photo by Prince Akachi on Unsplash

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 to boot. But what if you’re just not feeling the laughter during some performances? Maybe it’s an audition and you’re in the midst of getting acquainted with your character; perhaps you just received bad news in your personal life; it’s possible that your scene partner’s humor is turning out to be remarkably unfunny; and then there could be the times that 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.

In the uncomfortable cases when an acting partner’s jokes are coming off as stale, it’s likely be 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.

Another technique to laugh on cue is to draw from your memory banks any humorous parallels from the more comical moments in your life, and laugh “as if” you do in those instances. Recalling a familiar hilarious moment from a favorite book, comedy routine, or funny pet moment might be just what you need to spark a guffaw on cue. But make sure to rotate your inspirations so they don’t lose their effectiveness. 

Also 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.

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. This can be practiced at home in front of a mirror. Some people even stimulate laughter while doing yoga as a breathing exercise!

To keep laughter close to the surface or your performances, you can regularly practice laughing in your personal life. Visit comedy clubs, watch comedies, and 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. 

And lastly, observe the video above and see what happens when people are asked to purposefully start laughing without allowing themselves to smile. The almost certain result is a genuine and hilarious laughing fit! Try it–it’s almost impossible to do without cracking up.

What techniques do you use to laugh on cue?

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