2nd January 2023
Top 10 Best American Playwrights
12th October 2021
Have you ever been curious to find out more about slapstick comedy? Well, you’ve come to the right place as we’re about to uncover all you need to know about slapstick comedy, from what it is, to how to get into it, we’ve got you!
Slapstick comedy can be defined as humour created by physical movement rather than dialogue. It usually involves comic violence, for example, whacks on the head, pokes in the eye and people falling over! Whilst it has often been considered ‘low comedy’, some of the best slapstick performances have made it into what critics call ‘high art’.
Due to the lack of dialogue in slapstick comedy, it requires perfect timing, animated facial expressions and often acrobatics to pull it off. The Three Stooges were considered the masters of slapstick are a brilliant example of getting it right, although we’ll look at some more examples of slapstick comedy actors later in this article.
The term ‘slapstick’ comes from a wooden device known as a ‘slap stick’ which was used during theatrical performances, comedy plays, and puppet shows as early as the 1500s. The two slats of wood on a slap create a loud noise when slapped together, which became an effective and easy way to project sound and punctuate comedic beats. If you want to know how to make a slapstick yourself, you can watch a video here.
Slapstick comedy dates back to the 16th century and was mostly used in theatre productions and in Vaudeville (a theatrical genre of variety entertainment) before becoming hugely popular in cinema too. In fact, many of early cinema’s biggest stars came from a Vaudeville background.
The silent film era was also centered around slapstick comedy with most of its popular performers being slapstick comedians. One of the most famous comic slapstick actors is, of course, Charlie Chaplin who starred in and directed over 70 films throughout his very impressive career.
There are many successful slapstick comedy actors, but here are a few of the most iconic:
Charlie Chaplin was one of the most prominent figures in the silent film era, telling stories through his physical movement without dialogue. Chaplin’s talent allowed him to captivate audiences like no other, which is why he is still a comedy icon today.
Buster Keaton was known as the comedian that never smiled and was renowned for his distinctive deadpan humour. Like Chaplin, Keaton was also an innovative visual storyteller during the era of silent films. Controversially, he believed that all stunts should be real, without any type of illusion or magic. This often puts pressure on a scene to be filmed in a single take. Through his dedication to the art, Keaton has solidified his place as one of the pioneers of slapstick comedy.
The Three Stooges was made up of characters Larry, Curly and Moe. Some of their most famous comedy films include ‘Soup to Nuts’, ‘Woman Haters’ and ‘Sappy Bull Fighters’. The trio used their slapstick comedy to address social issues at the time by engaging in satire and proving that Hollywood slapstick could also be thought-provoking and not just for entertainment. There’s no denying that together, they paved the way for many comics to follow.
Laurel and Hardy were a dynamic duo in slapstick comedy. They constantly argued with each other, which would often result in comic violence. Masters of the English language, their most famous lines include ‘You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be led’ and ‘A lot of weather we’ve been having lately’. The pair always managed to engage the audience and tell a unique story and proved that slapstick could include wordplay too.
Rowan Atkinson is a contemporary slapstick comedian, best known for his iconic role of Mr. Bean. The character of Mr. Bean perfectly showcases Atkinson’s unique style of comedy, using almost no dialogue yet creating hilarious scenes through his physical actions and mannerisms. As a comedic artist, Atkinson conjured up a character that both children and adults could relate to. This dates back to early slapstick humour, creating accessible storytelling that appeals to the masses.
Last but certainly not least is Jim Carey who is probably the greatest example of modern slapstick within the 21 st century. Carey’s characters are always full of energy, creativity, and humour. Some of his most well-known slapstick comedy movies include ‘The Mask’, ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Ace Venture’ and ‘The Grinch’. Carey has an incredible ability to use his facial expressions and physicality to create characters like no other, placing him as one of the most pivotal slapstick comedians.
So now you know all about slapstick comedy actors, but how do you do slapstick comedy yourself? There are many ways to get into slapstick comedy but here are our 3 top tips:
Practice, practice, practice! Every opportunity to perform is a chance to get better and become more confident. In fact, confidence is one of the most important traits of a slapstick comedian, especially as most slapstick roles are very exaggerated and over the top. Confidence is something you can learn through practice. Even Will Ferell had to get over his lack of confidence at college, “I would push an overhead projector across campus with my pants just low enough to show my butt. Then my friend would incite the crowd to be like, ‘Look at that idiot!’ That’s how I got over being shy”.
The list above of slapstick comedy actors will be a helpful starting point. Studying the legends of slapstick comedy and understanding why they are so successful will be beneficial to your own acting. Nowadays, we are lucky as we have easy access to shows, films, plays on our TVs and online, so take advantage of this and absorb as much as you can.
Learn from the greats, but don’t just copy them! Be yourself and bring your own personality and style to your performances. Every actor on our list got to where they were by being original and unique.
And that’s a wrap! Now you know everything you need to know about slapstick comedy, so if this sounds like something you’d like to try, why not give it a go! Hopefully, you’ll be making us laugh in no time. Good luck!
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!