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19 September 2014
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Advice for comedy actors

Robin Webb, comedy actor

Jon Mountague

Head of the BBC Comedy North unit, Jon Mountague has been producing sitcoms and writing comedy material since his university days. As well as looking for new writers, he is keen to find and nurture talented new comedy actors.


Here he gives aspiring comedy actors some inside advice - covering auditions, ad-libbing and filming.

Q1. How can an actor impress you during an audition?

They must learn their lines. I’m also always impressed if someone can find something funny that hasn’t occurred to me or the directors… to find some added humour that might not have occurred to us in the script.


Q2. Can you pick out good comedy actors straight away? Or do they grow?

Comedy actors just have funny bones. Some great actors can't do comedy. Comedy acting is a particular skill. Mark Benton makes something that isn't funny, funny. It does become evident straight away whether they are a comedy actor or not.


Q3. Does the comedy actor have to be funny or can they just be a good actor who can deliver funny lines?

If it's a funny part, yes. In sitcoms you are reliant on straight parts which make the funny parts work.


Q4. Do you advise comedy actors to ad-lib or stay constrained to script?

Improvised scripts are difficult to commission as you need to know what you are going to get. Scripted comedy should be scripted. On set I wouldn't advise actors to ad-lib too much. But we do have a sustained period of rehearsal which means we are open to what ideas performers can bring, which can then be worked into the script.


Q5. How do you keep the 'comedy' in a scene when you have to film it over and over again?

With a great script and great performers – keep it fresh – use a good director. You should be able to keep things fresh.


Q6. Are there certain comedy roles/characters that are timeless, or should good comedy be topical?

I would say that timelessness is more important than topicality when considering sitcom. It's less crucial to be topical in sitcoms than in sketch shows.


Q7. What advice would you give to comedy actors who want to get in to TV or radio?

Religiously learn your part, get a tenacious agent and don’t be easily bruised by disappointment.


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