By: Jess Canty
So I was researching something this week on YouTube and it suggested this video to me. I don't really want to talk about WHY YouTube has gotten so good at knowing what I might want to watch or the fact that it has now lead to my post this week because #thecomputersarelisteningand #blackmirror.
So please watch before continuing to read:
The thing that struck me while watching this is that he doesn't REALLY have the audience with him until about 3 minutes in.
This is a pretty hard thing to do - to spend three minutes on national television building up to getting the audience on your side. If you watch the beginning of this - it is awkward. He turns his back on them / the camera for a VERY long time. He also takes his time with his first set of jokes. And the audience isn't really sure if this guy is going to make them laugh or it is going to be one of those embarrassing flops. There is some tittering - but he doesn't really have them.
And then he does.
And I think part of the reason why they are so very much with him once he starts in on his "mirror impressions" is that he had the CONFIDENCE to get through those first 3 minutes.
He took his time. And while the audience wasn't quite sure what was happening when he was doing that, it was a subliminal sign to them that this was HIS stage. That he didn't need to rush. That he could take his time. It was like he was saying "trust me, I am going to take you to the funny - but first I got to establish myself here." I got this.
I can't imagine the nerves and pressure in that slot with Johnny Carson for your debut on American television.
But he didn't rush. He took his time. He established himself in the space. Obviously comedy is about timing, but again, that doesn't mean in that situation everyone can nail it when they need to.
And he doesn't give up on owning his time and the space - and the camera. Just look what he does with the James Dean impression. That is ALLLLLL about the camera. He knows where it is and how to use it for this particular joke.
When he gets toward the end of the set and sits down for a couple of impressions he is still taking his time to prepare - as much as he needs to in order to make the joke work. And by now the audience is totally with him - because they know he's going to do something great. The anticipation actually makes their laugh more satisfying. I suspect Jim Carrey knows that from minute one - and he concocts his entire set around it.
If I were to pinpoint one over-reaching issue that most people have in their tapes - and I would then assume by extension your in-person auditions - it is that you are rushing. And unless this is an audition for Howard Meltzer, Stiner/Block, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, you probably need to slow down.
You have the length of the scene to make that room yours, get the casting director on your side and do something interesting.
You are NOT there to read words out loud. 90% of the people they see are reading words out loud.
Walk in confidently.
Own the room.
Take your time.
If a scripted page is supposed to represent one minute of screen time - and you have 8 pages for your guest star audition - your audition tape better not be 4 minutes long.
It probably won't be 8 because there obviously won't be any of the edits or stage direction for the other characters - but it definitely shouldn't be less than 2/3 of the time that the scene should normally take. Have your reader time it. If you are at 6 minutes you're probably right near the sweet spot.
If there is stage direction that matters to the timing and beats of the scene - and does NOT require a lot of props and pantomime - DO IT. Show your skills outside of just the dialogue. Take those beats. Show you know what the scene should "feel" like.
Jim Carey had 7 minutes to audition for America.
Five years later he was on In Living Color.
AND YES - IT TOOK ANOTHER FIVE YEARS for the right opportunity to come around where his skills could be used for more than just the nightclub stage.
And you know what he was worried about after that first Carson set? The fact that he didn't get called over to the couch. He had this amazing set - he left it out there on the floor. He had the audience in the palm of his hand for 7 minutes. But for years - according to his next appearance on the tonight show in 1991 - he was "devastated."
I find this profoundly sad.
And you know why he didn't get called over? Not because Johnny didn't think he was hilarious, but because they didn't have time to have him sit down. And think about all of those comedians who did get called over to sit down and chat with Johnny after their sets who thought they were hot shit - and it really was just because the show was running under for time.
It was TECHNICAL.
It didn't have anything to do with whether Johnny liked them, or thought they were funny. There were probably times when he didn't think they were that great, but he was forced to invite them over because there were 4 minutes the show had to fill.
Just like it may be a technical reason why you never hear back about a role. It may have been cut. It may have been given to the producer's sister's best friend because she helped with the kickstarter campaign. Or perhaps the director's friend who gave her her first directing job and she wants to repay the favor.
NONE of that has to do with your performance.
Jim Carrey may not ever know who was watching that night, who told their pal who owned a club in Montana to book him and then there was the cousin of a guy in New York in the audience in Montana, who called his friend and on... and on... and on... until he was connected with Damon Waynes because they kept working the same clubs and then of course Keenan Ivory Waynes, who created In Living Color.
Every audition is your audition for America.
Whether you get one opportunity a year or 15 in a month.
It is your chance to make your mark.
Aristotle says drama has unity of Time, Place and Action.
Take your time.
Own the "place" (the audition room or the camera frame or both).