Conducting Comedy

With his black tie and tails, serious expression, leading classical music, the conductor of an orchestra is the epitome of high culture. That makes him the perfect target for parody. The musicians synchronizing to every motion is why the clown can work so well with the challenge. I have found several entries that show how different comedians take different approaches. One situation, many possibilities.

This could be an animation exercise. Pick a piece of music, and animate a conductor who does his or her job in an unorthodox manner. Does he get carried away? Is she bored? Is he checking his phone while working? Below are some classic examples to broaden your exposure to this common theme.

Here is a classic example form Denis Lacombe.

What prompted this post was my viewing of “One Good Turn” starring Norman Wisdom. He happens to be wearing a tuxedo and gets mistaken for the maestro who is late for the show. He takes a clever turn by having the baton stuck to his hand and not noticing the orchestra is following him. Once he’s thrown off, he continues to milk the situation for comedy.

And here is Weird Al Yankovic with a surprisingly physical turn.

Rowan Atkinson has his version:

Jerry Lewis starts to seem mild in comparison to some of these.

Mickey Mouse in the famous Disney short, “The Band Concert”.

Do opera singers have conductors? Bugs Bunny will make it happen.

And thanks to Matt Moses, I am adding this from the great Victor Borge:

Invisible Instruments

I just read about Jerry Lewis performing a musical scene in the Tashlin film “Cinderfella”. It’s him alone in a kitchen miming to an instrumental track.

I was going to post just that video, when I noticed this next video by Rowan Atkinson. He’s doing his popular “invisible drum kit” act.

Hopefully you can see the amount of character that is put into the performance, making it about the performer, and not the music. For contrast, here is a real drummer mimicking his art for a mildly entertaining music video.

So that made me think about invisible instruments, which of course lead to air guitar. I found this short montage of the top three performers at the 2011 World Air Guitar Championships. I appreciate how some of them inject some character into the act, rather than just pretending to shred. Of these three, the third person was the winner. I liked the first two better, but what do I know about this.


Lately I have seen a few movie trailers that include a scene where something awkward happens, and quickly moves to the next shot of an observing character saying “Awkward” in slightly sing song voice. “Rio” and “Hoodwinked Too” come to mind. It’s been done enough. I hope to never hear it again.

Real awkwardness, or perhaps I should say embarrassment resulting from an awkward situation, is heavily reliant on great acting. It’s more than just setting up an awkward situation. It generally requires a bit of time, several extra beats of silence, for the embarrassed character to show those subtle responses to being watched. Lengthy moments of silence with little going on is very rare in animation. Partly because of expense, but mostly because of pressure to keep things moving.

For an example of how awkwardness/embarrassment should look, here is youtube video posted by my friend John Towsen. He put it on his Physical Comedy Blog The awkward moment arrives just after Rowan Atkinson enters the stage. Beyond that, there is wealth of great physical comedy here.

Rowan Atkinson interview

I found this great audio interview with Rowan Atkinson, where he explains the difference in his two most successful characters, Mr. Bean and Blackadder. He also describes the genesis of Mr. Bean, which includes his inspiration by Jacques Tati. This serves me well in partially explaining what this blog is about.

Blackadder is comedy created by writers. Mr. Bean is comedy created by a performer. Animation is performance. If you want to write jokes, become a writer. This blog is dedicated to performers.

An additional interview where he discussed Bean and Blackadder has embedding disabled, but is available on youtube here:

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