10 Types of Comedic Entrances

I have a previous post about character entrances, but I have put a lot more thought into it.  The result is my first Comedy for Animators video.  10 types of comedic entrances looks at various funny ways characters can enter a scene.  I have found at least two examples from both animation and live action films to demonstrate each one.

The term “entrances” covers a few things.  It can be a character walking into a scene.  It can be the very first scene where a character is shown to already be.  It can be a scene about a character entering another place.  A character can be revealed when something in the scene changes.  Basically, it is the shot where you, or someone in the story, first sees the character and the effect it has in the telling of the story.

The ten different types of comedic entrances are:

1:  The big entrance.  This is an attention grabbing entrance.  It should emphasize the character’s style and have an effect on the other characters in the scene.

2. The downtempo entrance.  If the character has a low energy style, you may want to create a story that begins with a high energy. By clashing with the situation, the character will stand out as unusual. A low energy character in a low energy place would be inherently uninteresting from a physical comedy point of view.

3.  The surprise entrance.  The character is hidden in some unexpected place.

4.  The misleading entrance.  The character enters the scene in some way that leads the audience to make assumptions.  Then the reality proves to be very different.  Such characters usually go on to prove they are not what they seem to be.

5.  Bad timing.  The character enters at a really bad moment.  Prior to the character entering, the situation is set up for them to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

6.  Exit as entrance.  We first see a character as they are being kicked out of some other place.  Often, they are literally flying out the door

7.  The disguised entrance.  The character enters the scene in some disguise that is comical in itself.

8.  The subverted entrance.  This is a scene about a character entering, but the entrance does not go as planned.  It can be seen from the entering character’s point of view.

9.  The strange, surreal doorway.  A character simply walks into the scene, but it is through some very strange doorway.

10.  The forced entrance.  The character is forcibly brought into the scene or story.

And there you have it.  If anyone can identify a type of entrance that I have overlooked, I would be very happy to hear about it in the comments.

The Problem with Evaluating Comedy

Elimination

Currently I am reading Steve Seidman’s book, Comedian Comedy: A Tradition in Hollywood Film.  For my purposes, the book is invaluable.  In all my reading, I was continually on the lookout for small pieces of information that could be instructive.  Tips on how things are done.  Each tip was a clue.  Any of them might spark and idea or a direction, or solve a problem.  It’s about collecting tools and materials for artists to work with.  I have read a great many books on the topic of comedy, and it is interesting how many different approaches are taken. In the introduction to his book, Seidman makes some observations about how other writers treat comedy, and I find those observations to be thought provoking.  Here is a quote to get the discussion started:

This study intends to avoid the tendencies of this literature; it is not based on a validation of my personal tastes or my subjective conception of morality.  If the reader is looking for a list of the “best” comedies, the “funniest” comedians, or praise for the most “human” the most “meaningful,” most “significant” “statements” about society and human values to be found in certain films, then he or she will be disappointed.

The idea here is to take an objective look at the art of comedy.  Rather than try to explain why something is funny (an effort that is often unsatisfactory), Seidman’s book makes an effort to create meaningful terms to describe the sub-genre he calls “comedian comedy.”  (I will probably go into more detail about that in another post.)  By creating these terms, he is able to explain how different comedians are similar.  By understanding their similarities, it is then possible to open up new ways to discuss comedy, and, for us, to create new comedic characters.

In one well known book about animation, the author dismissed Buster Keaton as inferior to Charlie Chaplin because Chaplin’s work had more emotion.  I wonder if a young reader would take that statement, and avoid Keaton in favor of the “superior” Chaplin.  What a loss that would be!  As a fan of Keaton, I did not support that concept.   I am constantly on the look out for new physical comedians to observe. Other authors dismiss Chaplin because his work can be overly sentimental, so it’s all opinion anyway.  In my book, Comedy for Animators, I tried to focus simply on them as individuals, and avoided qualifying either as “better.”  Traveling down the road of judging which comedian is funnier could lead to a sort of tournament bracketology.  You start with a whole field of competitors, and narrow them down by pairs until you have a “champion.”  And what is to be gained by that?  How does that help animators to understand the vast potential of comedy.  Continuing with the sports metaphor, a newspaper sports writer has unlimited opinions and judgements about a team’s performance, but they probably would make a bad coach.

Documentary: The Chaplin Puzzle.

This is a worthwhile documentary about Charlie Chaplin’s early film work. It goes into some detail about his development as an actor in the movies.

Chaplin and money

This is my favorite quote from Charlie Chaplin.

“I went into the business for the money, and the art grew out of it. If people are disillusioned by that remark, I can’t help it. It’s the truth.”

To really understand this quote you need a bit of history. As a child Chaplin was very, very poor, and had no real formal education. All he had was a bit of theatrical experience gained from his parents. His father was a drunk who abandoned them, and his mother lost her mind. The only chance Chaplin had to make a living was going into theater. Or he could dig ditches.

Later on, when he accepted the contract from Mack Sennett to work in movies, he believed it would be a temporary job. The money was good, and he thought he would take the money and go back to the theater. That’s what the quote refers to.

Still, I think artists should keep this quote alive in their thinking. You can be motivated by money, and bring something special to what you do.

Animated Acting: Make an entrance!

flaming_kool_aid

I teach animation at the Academy of Art University, and one common mistake I see students make is this. The scene opens with a person in a relaxed standing position. Then they start “acting” with some arm gestures. It’s as though they are waiting for the director to say “action!”

I tell them the audience is gathering an impression from the very first frame, and it’s great if the character is already clearly in some state of thought or action. If you are just doing a single shot, imagine there was a scene before, and we are cutting on action to your scene.

That little tip leads me to a larger topic. That of how a character enters a scene. A great entrance will immediate capture an audiences attention. Charlie Chaplin worked at making interesting entrances. Here, the actor Rowan Atkinson explains why:

Chaplin so took over a picture, he seemed to always be center screen, or entering or exiting in some eyecatching manner. Entrances and exits are a special aspect of physical comedy, worthy of great thought, but Chaplin also did this for a different reason: editing. Sennett would often edit out any material he didn’t care for, and this angered Charlie. But Sennett had to leave in the entrances and exits. By embedding good stuff in those moments, Chaplin was assured of quality screen time.

Sennett was editing out what he didn’t care for, and audiences will do the same, essentially forgetting those moments.  So Chaplin used that knowledge to make sure his time on stage was as effective as possible.  He could make a great entrance, then slow down a little maintain the integrity of the performance.

Of course we don’t have to do great entrances to keep from being thrown on the cutting room floor.  But it is a way of not being boring.  It’s a way to get the audience immediately excited.

While comedians and animated characters can put a lot of energy into entrances normal actors also want to know why they are entering a space.  Here is a 4 minute video about entrances and exits from a writers point of view.  As a film maker, you are the director, and this is worth watching.

Now back to energetic characters trying to grab the spotlight.  In the TV series Seinfeld, Cosmo Kramer made a trademark of barging into Jerry’s apartment without knocking.  Here is a montage of Kramer’s entrances.

Entrances are more than just coming in through a door.  Any time a film begins, the first scene is essentially the entrance.  One way of making this entertaining is a camera reveal of the situation.  In some of Popeye’s earliest shorts, we would first see him in close up, bobbing up and down like a sailor, with the rain pouring down.  He would be in a heroic pose:

Popeye01

As the camera pulls back, we see the real situation.

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The Three Stooges had some great entrances.  Here is one of my favorites from “No Census, No Feeling” which starts at :24. While it looks like stuntmen were used, they matched the action over the cut very nicely.

One group that has taken entrances very seriously are professional wrestlers. They are all showmen.  A youtube search for “entrances” will show numerous compilations of them. I was impressed with this particular fighter’s entrances, which are very theatrical.

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