After a good run of dramatic parts on stage and in short films last year, things have been a bit quieter in 2019.
To help a writer friend, but also to keep myself out there, I recently joined the ensemble cast for a series of scratch nights. Many of the short plays were comedy-orientated, and to my surprise I got very good feedback for my work. Although I’ve always seen myself as a dramatic actor, I’m wondering if the comedy side is an aspect I should market more intentionally.
I don’t have any comedy-type headshots or sample scenes on my showreel. Before I spend money on either, could you tell me if this is really a direction that’s worth pursuing?
Thinking you are ‘not a funny actor’ is something you have in common with many successful comic actors I have met, managed and written for over the years. If I have learned anything from them, it is that ‘trying to be funny’ and being funny are two different things. It is worth exploring this new dimension to your work, but don’t start pushing too hard, or you might accidentally lose the naturalness that seems to be working for you in the first place.
You aren’t the first actor to wish they could use a great stage performance for showreel material, but they are different mediums. Stage clips, even when not shot from the back of the stalls, just can’t capture what the audience saw on the night. A smartphone two-hander with decent lighting and sound quality should be a perfectly usable addition to your existing clips and good market tester before you invest in bespoke professional scenes.
Whether you improvise or write the scene, remember that the comedy should come from your acting, so don’t feel the need to load the dialogue with ‘gags’ – nor does it need a big punchline at the end. For the same ‘less is more’ reason, I would stay far away from ‘comedy headshots’. Portrait styles have generally moved on from the ‘blank canvas’ that used to be in favour, partially because with the development of online casting profiles, there is less pressure on a small number of printed photos to try to be all things to all casting directors.
The downside is that there is the temptation to overegg the pudding and too many exaggerated shots on a profile, whether brandishing weapons in the hope of getting action-orientated parts or pulling faces to suggest boundless comic energy, can give off an air of desperation or uncertainty rather than versatility.
A better way to decide if you need new shots is to identify comic actors you admire who are close to your type and playing age. See what type of headshots they are using. You’ll normally find that the characters their shots suggest could be played funny or straight, comic or dramatic, depending on which way the actor and director takes them, as opposed to being intrinsically funny in themselves.
This leads me to my final suggestion: make it your goal to see as many excellent contemporary comic actors as you can, on stage and screen. This is not with a view to copying, but to observe at first hand how they channel their own acting talents in a comedy direction, which should in turn get you thinking about where you might take yours.
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne