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Theatre Laugher

May 15, 2013

Isn’t like normal laughter. It isn’t even the laughter of a comedy club. Well, not often, anyway.

Why DO we often laugh differently in a theatre – and I think many regular theatregoers will know what I mean. I mean that tight little laugh audiences do to let actors know that yes, we got the line, and were amused by it, so please thesp on.

Well, that’s the answer, isn’t it. Theatre can’t “pause” in the way a comedian who hits a punchline ‘out of the park’ can (I once saw the comic of all comics, Ken Dodd, pause for almost five minutes to allow us to recover enough so that he could deliver another three hours or so).

The reason is that an actor has to get on with the script or song or else things fall apart. Also, we don’t want to miss what’s coming next, so we have to adjust our laughter for the circumstance. Odd, isn’t it.

There is, of course, one exception. The “obscure” joke. Mostly heard during Shakespeare, but also in any play about theatre where half the audience are “in” on the joke and the rest are not. Then, you hear a little smugness in the laugh that says not only “yes, we got the line,” but also “we are more sophisticated and superior to anyone who isn’t laughing at the joke that isn’t funny but is there all the same, and we got it.”

For years, I’ve run an article (it’s in the book too) about those people… until I realised it’s something I’ve started to do myself! Am I getting old, or just seen enough now to care that I did get the gag and want to show it? Nope, have to admit, I may have been wrong… sometimes, in fact, quite often… Shakespeare can be really funny… who’d have thought? And yes, it really is OK to laugh. Just make it a theatre audience-type one, I think.

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