2nd January 2023
Top 10 Best American Playwrights
9th September 2021
Comedic timing is much more complex than just waiting for the audience to finish laughing before resuming your performance.
Like many aspects of comedy, having perfect comedic timing is not just about one thing, it’s a combination of components that we’ll cover as you read on.
You might already have a rough idea of what comedic timing is, but let’s dissect it further. Comedic timing is the use of pace and rhythm in comedy to heighten the humour and effect of a joke. Timing is an essential element of comedy because the pace at which you tell a joke can drastically increase its impact or even change its meaning completely.
There are three main factors that contribute to how effective comedic timing is:
Pacing is a key part of comic timing. Pacing refers to how quickly or slowly you speak and where and when you take pauses. Many comedians use what’s called a ‘pregnant pause’ which is a few moments of silence before a punchline or sometimes even serves as the punchline itself to enhance a joke. As well as this, comedians often incorporate facial expressions and body language into a pregnant pause to add to the humour even more.
One of the biggest challenges comedians face is called ‘running over laughs’, this is when the comedian starts on their next joke, before the audience has finished laughing at their previous one. As you can imagine this can ruin the next joke or the mood so it’s important to remember that the pause before the punchline is just as effective as the pacing of the joke. Allow the audience’s laughter and reaction to continue for a few moments before you resume talking. Although, make sure you don’t let the laughter diminish into complete silence as this can create an awkward atmosphere.
When there are two comedians or actors performing together, they need to work as a team and allow time for each other’s jokes to land. The best way to perfect this is through practice and building a rapport with the other comic. Whether the lines are from a script or off the cuff, the rhythm of a joke’s delivery needs to be spot on in order to have the desired effect.
The history of comedic timing dates as far back as Ancient Greece when the famous playwright Aristophanes would employ pauses in his scripts and dialogue to allow time for the audience to laugh. Other renowned playwrights including William Shakespeare used pauses, quick interjections, and other timing tricks to encourage laughter.
Jump forward to today, and timing has become essential to every comedy medium, from film to TV shows to stand-up. You’ll be able to spot this now in TV shows like Friends in which each episode was filmed with a live audience of 300 fans. The producer felt that the audience played a vital role in the series, and they even hired a stand-up comedian to keep the audience entertained in between takes.
Great comedic timing is crucial for a successful performance because:
One of the fundamental ways to create comedy is to divert the audience’s expectations. Think about the joke, ‘I just flew into town – boy, are my arms tired’. The joke is funny because it changes the audiences’ natural expectations of what ‘flying’ means, they will have most likely thought it meant ‘flying on an aeroplane’. If you add perfect pacing to changed expectations, you’ll have a recipe for success. Pacing a joke in a specific way gives the audience time to develop their expectations before you suddenly surprise them. However, it’s important to note that if you speak too slowly or pause for too long, you run the risk of losing their attention or even worse, having them work out the punchline before you say it!
The pause after the punchline gives the audience time to react and have a breather before you move onto your next joke. If you dive straight into the new joke too quickly, the audience won’t hear the setup. Alternatively, if you pause for too long, the audience will get quiet, and it may be harder to recover for the rest of your set so it’s very important to nail this.
Excellent comedic timing has the power to take a mediocre joke and turn it into comedy gold—by letting the pacing be a part of the punchline. A brilliant example of this is, comedian Jack Benny, who many refer to as the master of comedic timing, who would spend most of his routine waiting for a beat or turning to look directly at the audience, resulting in laughter without him even saying a word. You can watch Jack Benny in action here.
Here are our 3 top tips for improving comedic timing and getting the best laughs:
Famous American actor Steve Martin says, ‘timing is an interaction between you and the audience’. To develop your sense of timing, you’ll need to practice with people watching. An audience can be anyone though, friends, family, crew members, strangers. It’s a good idea to try out the same joke on many different people and then you’ll be able to get an accurate reaction and response.
Listen, watch, and absorb how professional stand-up comedians gain the perfect reaction to their work. Consider, what makes their jokes funny? Why did their timing work? How long do they pause after a joke? Pull apart their performance to find out what works and why.
Comedic timing should feel like a natural interaction between you and your audience, rather than some carefully constructed formula. The key to success is having an innate skill for knowing when to start talking again. This will come from your own personal social skills and developing them in your day-to-day interactions.
And there you have it, our comedic timing tips! We hope you have gained an in-depth understanding of what comedic timing is, the history of it, and why it’s important. If you practice all of the above, we have every ounce of confidence you’ll have your audience’s stomach’s hurting from laughter in no time.
We hope you’ve found this useful and hopefully you’ll be in the background of some future films we watch! Whilst you’re here, why not check out some more of our articles on our blog? We recommend The Ultimate Guide On How To Learn Lines and How To Audition For A Movie to get you started!
Allow Center Stage to sky-rocket your career and surface your talents to casting agents, booking agents, directors, and modelling agents worldwide. Pre-register by clicking the button below!