Wednesday, July 25, 2012

And Then They Laugh

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in The Devil's Brother, 1933
I was a kid when I saw for the first time The Devil's Brother, starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
The funniest scene in the whole movie is, of course, when Stan gets drunk on the wine they're trying to fill a huge container with, to bring it upstairs for the innkeeper to serve it.
The container comes to a full and Stan, instead of telling Oliver to stop passing more, simply drinks it to get rid of the wine in excess. And he keeps drinking, and drinking, and drinking.
Once back upstairs, Stan, dead drunk, suddenly starts laughing over some light jokes. His laugh is so contagious that Oliver, although not drunk, also can't hold it in.
Nothing else happens. They simply laugh. But oh, how they laugh!
And I, a kid, would laugh my heart out along with Stan and Oliver. 

I personally find it more difficult to laugh realistically than to cry when acting.
Not to cry can be, after all, a more effective and touching way to cry than actually shedding tears. The same doesn't apply to laughing though. If a director asks you to laugh, that's just what you have to do. And you better know how to do it well, or you will sound unnatural, fake, and amateurish.

Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger knew all of these risks when playing Joker in Batman, not to mention the further problem Heath Ledger faced: he had to be careful not to laugh like Jack Nicholson did 15 years before for the same role.
They both created, then, but on purpose, the most unnatural way of laughing ever.
And they did it majestically!
This way, they were able to play around with it and be creative, without the technical pressure of failing it, but rather experimenting and having fun.
Ledger made it sound so fake it actually gives you a chill up your spine every time you hear him laugh as Joker.
Jack Nicholson's Joker had a sinister charm; Heath Ledger's was downright scary.

I suppose I wanted, with this, to reminisce a bit about Stan and Ollie.
And still point out how difficult laughing on cue can be.

Can you laugh on cue?

Notable laughs: 
- Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy in The Devil's Brother.
- Jack Nicholson in Batman.
- Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.
- The divine Erik Hartman in his show Boemerang
- Eddie Murphy in most of his comedies.
- Jim Carrey on David Letterman, some 15 or 20 years ago.
- Dustin Hoffman during an interview over the word "cut".  
- Roger Federer interviewed in 2007 at Basel



  1. I can see where it would be difficult to laugh on cue. I guess that's why I'm not an actor :)

  2. Pretty much. I laugh a lot. It's more fun than crying. But I'm not acting. Maybe it's more nerves ... probably.

  3. During the study of a scene from Restoration which required incessant laughter (though now I cannot remember which one for the life of me), a teacher taught our class a technique to laugh on cue... apparently you attempt to empty your lungs of all air through your nose and when you feel like you have almost nothing left, if you force a laugh, it sounds genuine. The idea is that once you get it going, you keep it going. I'm not sure, but I agree... an organic laugh is far more difficult to generate than tears!

  4. Jay, this totally fascinates me... I'd be *such* a horrible actress! Oh man... I'm as transparent as they come! What a hard core world you live in. Acting is a gift---a skill... and I think we tend to forget how difficult it is! Fun post! :D

    1. Heather,
      I guess you can also laugh on cue when necessary! We're all actors, all in all. We play ourselves, adapting our performance to different social scenarios. Right?

      That's useful advice, thank you very much!
      I tried, and your teacher is right: it sounds much more natural!

      Yes, acting is a gift, but it's much more of a skill, I believe.
      I'm glad you enjoyed my post!

  5. If I write I laugh. If I talk I cry. Go figure. If you think about it comedy is funny because sad things happen, or are discussed.

  6. Jay, have you ever heard the song 'the laughing policeman'?

    And yes, that particular Stan and Olly film is one of my favourites, too.

  7. I'm a known giggler. I tickle very easily and giggle profusely and at a drop of a hat. I also cry when I giggle!

    Oh but Stan and Ollie make me LOL!!! Totally!!! "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" - has me in stitches all the time withouth fail!

    Oh and I so agree about Heath Ledger's Joker "laugh"!

    Notable laughs: Wicked Witch cackling in Wizard of Oz??! LOL!

    Take care

    1. Dan,
      I think the best comedy is the one that stems from serious - or even dramatic - events! I agree with you.

      No, I never heard that song.
      I'll go listen to it right now.
      How about "The Sons of the Desert"? I think that's actually my favourite Stan and Ollie film...

      So you're a giggler are you, apart from being a weeper, that is; what a lovely contrast!
      I don't really remember "Trail of the Lonesome Pine", but I'm pretty sure I saw it.
      Thanks for adding an item to my list of notable laughs!

  8. That's so interesting about Nicholson's and Ledger's Joker laughs-- I never thought about it, but you're SO right-- the falseness of the laughter makes it CREEPY!! I certainly can't laugh on cue. I'll leave that up to professionals like you :)

  9. I find it fairly easy to chuckle when the situation calls for it. That's sort of the lowest common denominator in laughs...

  10. Laughing's often easiest when you're trying to suppress it. Like when the music tape stuck during my father-in-law's funeral... (luckily he'd have seen the joke & so did my mother-in-law). So maybe if you want to laugh, tell yourself you mustn't.

  11. Raquel,
    Maybe you can't laugh on cue, but I'm pretty sure you can produce one of those fake laughs à la Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger! If you want to play a prank on your hubby... that's a way!

    Of course you can chuckle when the situation calls for it! That's plain survival!

    You're so right. And for some reason, laughing is even easier when you try to suppress it during a dramatic - or even tragic - event, like your father-in-law's funeral. Think of poor Erik Hartmann in "Boemerang"!
    Thanks for stopping by!