Comedy and the art of timing

Fellow standup NB used to write for a big sketch show. Now he's back to doing standup. I thought it was revealing when he once responded to a heckler by pointing out the frequency with which he was getting laughs. "I'm getting laughs every 11 seconds here and you're heckling me!?" It seemed like he had an actual formula in mind: X laughs per minute = success. Maybe writing for TV instills that thought process.

Or maybe it's just a rhythm thing. Once you get people into the rhythm of your jokes, they find the beat. And that can be as important for laughing as it is for dancing.

Rhythm is key in other artforms too. Here's an article that talks about how crucial timing is in movie shots:

In verse studies, scholars count syllables, feet and stresses; in film studies, we time shots. "If I use one word, I would have to say timing," Chuck Norris said in a recent interview to ABC’s Nightline answering what attribute won him six karate world titles. "Timing I think was my key thing. I was able to figure out the timing to close the gap between my opponent and myself and move back, and that was I think the key." Much like martial arts, or like poetry and music, cinema is the art of timing. This explains why, early on, filmmakers as Abel Gance or Dziga Vertov in the 1920s, or as Peter Kubelka or Kurt Kren in the 1960s not only counted frames when editing, but also drew elaborate diagrams and color charts in order to visualize the rhythm of their future film. This also explains why a number of scholars interested in the history of film style (as Barry Salt in England, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson in the US or Charles O’Brien in Canada) count shots and time film lengths to calculate the average shot lengths of the films and/or use these data in their study.

Back to NB, we also discussed laugh tracks on tv. I feel like laugh tracks suck and mentioned how shows like The (British) Office or Curb didn't need them. NB said something like, "Sure, they're funny. But ratings-wise, they don't compare to shows with laugh tracks. There's never been a non-laugh track comedy in the Top 10." Hmm, maybe people really do need that sort of audio cue to wake up their brain to punchlines.

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