The Art of Not Doing Something

Here is a simple technique to make something funny from nothing.  A character has some ordinary thing to do but goes through a bunch of other actions that are anything but what he is supposed to do.  This is just one of the ways that comedic acting can be very different from dramatic acting. Dramatic actors would never do this. They must focus on doing things, and never waste time.

On the classic television show The Honeymooners, Art Carney played Ed Norton. He had a running gag where he would prepare to do some mundane activity, but go through a whole bunch of specific gestures and flourishes before actually doing it. It would go on so long that Ralph (Jackie Gleason) would lose his patience and abruptly put an end to it.  In this example, Norton prepares to write a list.

Having a second person there to get annoyed by the first one is important. When they lose their patience, the first character then chooses how to respond.  Ed Norton stops the foolishness and carries on with the writing.  In the next clip, W.C. Fields takes his sweet time getting into bed, and he gives the impression he is holding it up specifically to irritate his wife.  Her protestations have no effect, and he continues on at his own pace. This kind of “funny business” is a way to put some laughs into something that would otherwise be very simple.

Of course, he doesn’t put the light out.

Laurel and Hardy did an entire short film about them trying to go to bed in a tiny Pullman car berth. They get irritated by each other and have nothing but trouble. By the time they finally get settled, the train has arrived at their destination and they have to get out.

In his film Mon Oncle, Jacque Tati has a background character who carries a broom to sweep the streets, but he is 99% engaged in a conversation. Several times he draws back in anticipation of one stroke with the broom, but he stops and goes back to talk to his friend.

Conversely, a character can have something he or she is NOT supposed to do, and the comedy comes from the struggle to resist temptation. This next clip is from the physical comedy group Aga-Boom. These are some of my favorite modern clowns.  I posted about them in Cartoony Humans.  In this clip, there is a big red button, with a “Do Not Touch” sign on it.  You can see the psychological forces move back and forth as he goes towards it, and moves away. It is easy to see each moment where his mind changes. His button pushing finger almost has a brain of its own.

 

Inazma Delivery Service

 

If you asked me what animation director I would most like to work with, the first name that would come to mind would be Satoshi Tomioka.  He is responsible for the fantastic Usavich Rabbits that ran on MTV Japan.

So I am thrilled to find new work from Tomioka’s company, Kanaban Graphics.  Inazma Delivery Service is a series of short videos on “Space Shower TV”  The delivery service employee is a pig-like character named Hemingway, and he becomes responsible for a lost space alien, named Bytheway.  Bytheway always wears a shark costume.  If you like Usavich Rabbits, you will no doubt enjoy Inazma Delivery Service.  It has an identical format, with very short episodes stringing together a longer story.  It has a similar 8 bit video game music track.   Also, these two characters are very similar to the Usavich Rabbits, Kirenenko and Putin.  One of them is a nervous character who worries and sweats.  The other has unpredictable fits of rage.  It seems as if Tomioka likes this particular combination.  He probably finds them effective in creating situations that are both comedic and dramatic.   Artists do well when they know their signature style, and spend time exploring the possibilities.

Inazma Delivery Service introduces an improvement over Usavich, by having a somewhat emotional moment in the story.  Episode nine is a powerful 2 minutes.  Be sure to watch that far.

The show is almost 100 % visual comedy.  It is silly and bizarre and full of high energy gags.  Below, you can see the first ten episodes, which I pieced together from YouTube.

 

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