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Phil Willmott

Here’s a Reminder of How A Great Comic Actor Can Work a Live Audience

Mr Bean With government lock down restrictions currently making gathering as an audience impossible lots of comedians and actors have been making work in isolation. Some of it’s very good. You need only open any social media app to be bombarded by people trying to be funny. On their own or with their self-isolating buddies.

Have you discovered TikTok yet? People from all over the world – OK mostly America – upload clips of up to 60 seconds aimed at making you laugh or gasp as they share their own material for your entertainment. But I warn you, it’ll hijack you! Start flicking through and you’ll get sucked into its labyrinth of pranks, stunts, comedy songs and jokes or just the insight it gives you into other people’s lives, for hours.

What these amateur performers and their professional counterparts don’t have, of course, is a live audience to feed off. For me that will always be the missing link with online content.

Watch this comedy masterclass from two years ago in which the great comic actor Rowan Atkinson immediately establishes a character and set up we can instantly latch on to. That done he shapes his delivery for maximum impact based on what he’s getting back from his audience.

Sometimes he’ll keep things light and swift, usually to take the audience by surprise with a punchline. Sometimes he’ll lean on a few words with a thrilling and unexpected venom. Sometimes he twinkles other times he’s quite chilling. But always it’s a rollercoaster of a routine as he decides when to lift us, when to suspend us, and when to drop us. Not a beat skipped, not a line fluffed, every joke perfectly timed for maximum mirth as he “reads and rides” the mood of the crowd.

Because it’s an online clip of a performer and his audience we can only enjoy it vicariously by observing those who were there. Let’s hope we can enjoy live comedy performances ourselves again soon.