Acting vs. Clowning

One of the purposes of this blog is differentiate comedic acting, clowning, from the acting of “legitimate” theatre. I have had a crazy curiosity about how physical comedians work, while I am completely indifferent to acting classes given by stage actors with lengthy resumes of dramatic work. The world of animated film spans the exact same territory as live action does, with short silly works that have no dialog to feature films with heartfelt performances.

Last year I saw the stage play of Moliere’s “Scapin” featuring the great Bill Irwin. While cleaning house, I found the program, and flipped through it. In the picture above, that is Bill Irwin on the left, and Geoff Hoyle on the right.  The program includes an interview by Dan Rubin. Here is a little bit that addresses just what I’m talking about.


Like a Supreme Court Justice, I know it when I see it. Some people operate at a magnitude of storytelling that is slightly different from that of a straight ahead actor who is serving a text. There’s just something about when a really terrific clown does something. It has a different depth of meaning. I hope to be able to do both, acting and clowning. I hope I haven’t lost either set of muscles – that I can be a complete team player actor one minute and something slightly different from that the next minute, depending on what’s called for.
How do you define who is an actor, and who is a clown? I don’t know except to say that the demands of the crafts are different in this way: usually clowning involves somehow acknowledging a live audience (or camera audience) somehow directly relating to them.

Charlie Chaplin did just that. He very much played to the audience/camera. Some people might say too much.  I would love to have some comments that bring up cartoon characters who also do that, playing to the camera.  Obviously Bugs Bunny and Daffy did it, were there others?

My Amazon book list

If you are interested in books on the topic of physical comedy and animation, here is my LIST OF BOOKS ON AMAZON. Here are some of the covers…

The 3 reasons Chaplin was so successful

Charlie Chaplin rose from poverty to become the first international superstar. How did he do it? Here’s how I see it.

1. Extraordinary Talent. Duh.

2. Extraordinary Hard Work. Chaplin had to work very hard because he had extraordinarily high standards.  While Mack Sennett would want most of the shots in his films done in 1 take, Charlie began asking for more tries.  When he gained control of his own production, he would spend enormous time developing his ideas with an entire crew there shooting everything.  The documentary “Unknown Chaplin” show some of these outtakes, which are quite rare.

Sometimes, he would shut down production at considerable cost, in order to rethink the entire film. No producer would allow this today.  But Chaplin’s reputation was on the line. He owned the work.

3.   Extraordinary luck.  Yes, luck.  It was luck that he happened to be seen on stage by Keystone Studio owner Mack Sennett, and was offered enough money to lure him away. The movies were a new technology, a risky venture. But when the right person finds the potential in a new technology, fantastic things can happen. While Chaplin had enormous confidence in himself, he could not have imagined what movies would do for him.  As I wrote in yesterday’s post, he, like many stage actors, thought the movies would be a passing fad. He was wrong, but he was lucky.

The point is, new technologies are coming at us faster than ever. If you have talent, work really hard, and own what you do, the technology might be there waiting to take you someplace you never dreamed of.

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