The surprising rhythm of Bill Murray

Splitsider's The Collected Wisdom of Bill Murray is a fun read. One of the excerpts is from GQ's Bill Murray Is Ready To See You Now.

But you asked how you get the comic pitch. Well, obviously a lot of it is rhythm. And as often as not, it's the surprising rhythm. In life and in movies, you can usually guess what someone is going to say—you can actually hear it—before they say it. But if you undercut that just a little, it can make you fall off your chair. It's small and simple like that. You're always trying to get your distractions out of the way and be as calm as you can be [breathes in and out slowly], and emotion will just drive the machine. It will go through the machine without being interrupted, and it comes out in a rhythm that's naturally funny. And that funny rhythm is either humorous or touching. It can be either one. But it's always a surprise. I really don't know what's going to come out of my mouth.


I'm fascinated by how/when jokes stop working. I think this surprising rhythm thing has a lot to do with it. When you first tell a joke, you're not sure where the laughs are, what to emphasize, etc. And that can create some real magic. Words pop into your head and you're surpised so the audience is surprised. But once you hone it into a polished bit, you often smooth over those rough edges. And that can take away the surprise. And that can kill the laughs. And then you gotta figure out a way to make it seem like the first time all over again.

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