The Dallas Morning News
Funny Bones: Comedy Games and Activities for Kidsby Lisa Bany-Winters
Kids love to be funny! Every classroom or neighborhood has a kid whose greatest ambition is to make people laugh—and all kids love to laugh at the jokes and antics of their friends. Funny Bones is designed to bring out the humor in every kid. For those who already have a comic streak, it provides wonderful new material for routines and scenes. For/b>
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Kids love to be funny! Every classroom or neighborhood has a kid whose greatest ambition is to make people laugh—and all kids love to laugh at the jokes and antics of their friends. Funny Bones is designed to bring out the humor in every kid. For those who already have a comic streak, it provides wonderful new material for routines and scenes. For shyer children, it boosts self-confidence and a sense of fun. The first few chapters tackle the idea of comedy and what makes it funny, introducing famous comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Lily Tomlin and a variety of ways for young comics to create a trademark style. Later chapters offer hilarious improv games and valuable tips—for instance, don’t ask questions in improv routines, but instead make statements that other actors can build on. The book concludes with comedic scenes for young people and suggestions for comedic play that kids can perform.
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Comedy Games and Activities for Kids
By Lisa Bany-Winters
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2002 Lisa Bany-Winters
All rights reserved.
Making People Laugh
Stand-up comedy is a humorous performance by a solo artist or sometimes teams of artists also known as comics. Sometimes stand-up routines are made up of jokes and one-liners, and funny stories and situations, or they revolve around humorous characters created by the performer. Many actors such as Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Rosie O'Donnell, and Eddie Murphy got their start doing stand-up comedy.
If someone is laughing, something is funny, but why and how? This chapter will explore some famous comics and what makes them so funny. The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Lily Tomlin, and Eddie Murphy are comics with vastly different styles, but they all have one thing in common: they are very funny. There are games and activities to help you explore different styles and discover how comics develop their style. Throughout these activities you can think about your own personal style, and see how it develops in different humorous ways.
Meet the Marx Brothers
The Marx Brothers were a comedy team of five brothers all born in New York City in the late 1800s to early 1900s. They were the sons of German immigrants. Their mother, Minnie Marx, was a famous stage mother because she pushed her sons to become performers. Comedy was in her blood as well. She performed in vaudeville with her brother Al Shean in a duo called Gallagher. The five Marx Brothers performed comedy routines, but it was three of them — Groucho, Harpo, and Chico — who became most successful starring in a number of movies. The musical play Minnie's Boys tells their life story both on and off the stage. See if you can figure out how the brothers came up with their stage names.
Julius was often a grouchy person, so his nickname was Groucho. Adolph played the harp, and Milton liked to chew gum. Think of things you like or things about yourself. See if you can make up a funny name for yourself by adding an O to these words. For example, if you play the drums, your nickname could be Drummo. If you like to play sports, you could be Sporto. If you love to drink soda pop, you could be Poppo. Imagine what kind of comedic character would have these names.
Who's on First?
Abbott and Costello were comedy film partners. They were born William A. Abbott and Louis Francis Cristillo. Both had experience as actors before teaming up for films. Costello always played the clown or silly role, and Abbott always played the straight man, or the serious one in their routines. They began performing on the radio together in 1938. The next year they appeared on Broadway, and after that they went on to make a number of successful films. Their first film was Buck Privates in 1941.
One of Abbott and Costello's comic routines involved miscommunication and some people with very unusual names.
Abbott tries to explain to Costello the names of the players on a baseball team.
Abbott says, "W ho's on first, W hat's on second and I Don't Know's on third base."
Costello becomes confused and asks, "W ho's on first?"
"That's right," says Abbott, "and W hat's on second."
Costello thinks Abbott asked him a question, and replies, "I don't know!"
Abbot replies, "He's on third."
The conversation continues with much humor as Costello gets more and more confused!
Create your own confusing conversation by using silly names. Here are some examples.
* Pretend you have a dog named Stay. Try calling him by saying, "Come here, Stay!"
* Pretend you're casting a play with Who, What, and I Don't Know Who. Who's Romeo, What's Juliet, and I Don't Know Who's the nurse.
* Pretend your parents' names are Sleepy and Grumpy. Try telling your friend, "My mom's Sleepy and my Dad's Grumpy."
* Pretend your friends are named Red, Yellow, and Blue. Explain playing Twister with these friends.
Create a Trademark Character
One or more players
Charlie Chaplin was an actor, producer, screenwriter, director, and composer! He was born in London, and both of his parents were music hall entertainers. He started out by touring England in a children's musical company called Eight Lancashire Lads. This led him to roles as an actor. When he was 17 he joined a revue that toured the United States. There, in 1913, a film producer hired him. His first film was called Making a Living, but it was in his film Kid Auto Races that he created the character that is his trademark. He named the character the Little Tramp. The highly recognizable character wore a bowler hat, baggy pants, and shoes that were too big, and he walked with a cane.
You can create your own trademark character.
A number of unusual clothing items and objects
Choose at least three things to wear or hold, such as an ugly tie, sunglasses, and a banana. Create a character around these things. Think about what kind of person would wear an ugly tie and sunglasses and carry around a banana. Exaggerate your actions to create your character. Practice how the character walks and talks. Practice talking like the character to other people. See how many characters you can create.
Little Child in a Big Chair
One or more players
Lily Tomlin is a comic who was born in Detroit, Michigan. She first became successful in 1969 on a television show called Laugh In. She is best known for her funny, unusual characters. She put many of her characters in her one-woman show called The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which won a Tony Award in 1985. She reprised the role in the year 2000.
One of her famous characters was a little girl. She made herself look small for the role by sitting in a giant rocking chair. Because the chair was so big, she looked like a little girl sitting in it, even though she was a grown-up.
The character of the little girl was based on real children. Small children, who don't completely understand grown-ups and are still learning how to speak properly, often say very funny things on purpose or by accident.
If you have little brothers or sisters, talk to them. Ask them to tell you a story, or just ask them about their day. If you don't have any younger siblings, see if you can talk to a younger neighbor or a friend's younger brothers or sisters. As they speak, listen closely to the sound of their voices, and watch how they sit and move.
Make a giant, oversized chair out of boxes or pillows. Sit in your chair, and retell some of the stories a younger child told you. Mimic the child's voice and movements.
At the end of her child routine, Tomlin would say, "And that's the truth," and she would blow a raspberry by sticking her tongue out and forcing air out to make her lips vibrate and make a sound. See if you can think of a funny way to end your stories.
Mimicking is different from impressions. To mimic means to act out or become another person like the child in the previous exercise. The character activities in Chapter 5 will help you in your mimicking. Doing impressions is similar to mimicking, only the person you are doing an impression of is a celebrity or someone very recognizable.
Eddie Murphy was born in Brooklyn, New York. He watched a lot of television growing up, and learned to do impressions of his favorite cartoon characters. When he was 15 years old he hosted a talent show. He did some of his impressions in the show and was a big hit. By high school he knew he wanted to be a comic. He started performing on Saturday Night Live in 1980, and in 1982 his album of stand-up material was nominated for a Grammy Award. He starred in the remake of the Jerry Lewis film The Nutty Professor in 1996. He performed a variety of characters for that movie. He also starred in the Dr. Doolittle movies, and has done voices for Mushu in Mulan and the donkey in Shrek. This activity will help you create a comedy routine based on impressions.
Try doing impressions of different famous people. Listen closely to how they talk: the tone of their voices, the way they say words, and if they speak fast or slowly. Watch closely the way they move: how they walk and stand, how they use their hands and make gestures, and especially their facial expressions. When you find one you can do well, put that person in an unusual situation. Here are some examples.
* What if Elmo were President? Say some things in Elmo's voice that the President would say.
* What if a Teletubby were a rock-and-roll star? Sing a rock-and-roll song as a Teletubby.
* Listen to a song over and over so that you can recreate the way the singer sings as closely as possible. Then exaggerate it.
* Do impressions of inanimate objects. Imagine what it would be like to be an object such as a rock. Think about how it would talk and say things it might say. What would a popcorn kernel say before it pops? What would a mailbox say about all the letters deposited inside it all day? What would a cheap imitation toy say to a brand-name one?CHAPTER 2
Believe it or not, the best way to get a laugh is not usually to tell a joke. For the most part, the best comedy you can perform is about yourself. You can find humor in things that you know and that mean something to you, and you can communicate that humor to others to make them laugh. The beginning of this chapter has ideas and activities to help you find the comedy in your life and in yourself.
Comic material has been around since the beginning of laughter. In ancient Greece, play festivals were held to honor Dionysus, the god of wine. Playwrights had to write three dramas and one satire or comedy as part of these festivals. Aristophanes wrote some of the earliest comedies known for those festivals.
By the fourth century B.C., comedy surpassed tragedy as the dominant form of entertainment. During the Italian Renaissance, there was a style called commedia dell'arte, which included set characters who were exaggerated. The humor came from the exaggerated characters and from the physical acting they would do, called slapstick. The characters fell into specific roles, such as lover, villain, and clown. They got into silly conflicts that often involved chase scenes and hitting one another in silly ways. This chapter will explore slapstick comedy as a source of material and provide a game to experience it called I Get Knocked Down.
Another type of comic material involves poking fun at something. There are a few different terms to describe this style. A parody is a humorous imitation of something in literature or music. To spoof (used as a verb) something means to joke around about it. It can also be a noun referring to a kind of parody, joke, or hoax on someone. A satire is a spoof that pokes fun at something to make it look foolish or ridiculous. The word satirical from satire. Parodies are further explored in this chapter, along with the game Movie Trailer Madness.
William Shakespeare wrote 14 comedies. He often used puns or plays on words to communicate his humor. This chapter contains more information on puns and a game called Love Letter that is full of them. By the end of this chapter, you'll have a lot of ideas for material to make people laugh.
Check Your Attitude
One or more players
Your attitude is how you feel about the things around you. This is a great area to mine for comic material.
Watch with a second hand
List at least three things after each attitude listed below:
Things I love
Things I hate
Things that are stupid
Things I am proud of
Things I am frightened of
Things I am worried about
Choose one topic and attitude from your list and talk out loud about it for at least one minute. If you run out of things to say, just keep repeating the attitude and the topic, such as "I hate my orthodontist, I hate my orthodontist," and so on. You can also try writing about your topic and attitude. Use a chain-of-thought method of writing. Don't let your pen lift off the paper. Just keep writing. See if anything funny emerges from these brainstorms.
Next, try the same exercise with the same topic, but with the opposite attitude. Find a reason for the change in attitude. For example you might say, "I love my orthodontist. I love how she tightens my braces so tight I can't eat brussels sprouts."
Another way to find comedy in your life is to make comparisons. Compare two things in your life and improvise or write about it. To improvise means to act without planning in advance what will happen. Here are some examples.
* Compare your pet's life to a human's life.
* Compare a video game to real life.
* Compare a cartoon character to a real person.
* Compare your fashion to your parents' fashion.
Tell others about your comparisons. See what others find most humorous, and if they have ideas to add to yours.
Comedy in Your Friends
One or more players
To find the comedy in things around you, make a list of unusual things in your life. Do you have an unusual hobby, family, or friend? To find some ideas about what could be unusual about a friend, play this game.
A simile is a comparison of someone or something to an object and saying what they have in common with that object. For example, you might say your friend is like a circus because she is a lot of fun. One way to develop a character is to think of a simile for him or her. This game is all about similes, but it can get really funny when you start thinking of your friends as the objects, and doing funny things that the objects do.
Sit in a circle and have one player go first by saying a simile about the person on her right. For example, you can say, "My friend Bob is like a muffin because he's warm." Go around the circle and have everyone give a different way that Bob is like a muffin. Don't worry if it's not true, and don't try too hard to make sense. The humor comes when you describe the muffin, and we think about Bob that way.
If you are playing this game by yourself, write down all of the examples you can think of. Here are some examples.
Bob is like a muffin because
* He is homemade.
* He is full of nuts.
* He is low-fat.
* He smells good.
Continue the game until everyone has had a turn to make up similes for each other.
Comedy in Yourself
Two or more players
To find the comedy in yourself, you must be willing to laugh at yourself. If you have unique characteristics, they can be used in your comedy. To find out if you have a unique physical trait, ask people what they notice first when they look at you. Make a list of the things they say. Play this game to see how others see you, and to see how a little movement you do can become exaggerated and turn into physical comedy. You will also use your observation skills as you try to do exactly what other players do.
Divide into two teams. One team (Team A) stands in front of the other team (Team B). Team A does nothing but stand there. Team B watchs Team A closely and observes everything they do. That is, they note their actions including body postures, nervous grins, and so on. After three minutes, the teams switch places. Now Team A sits, while Team B stands in front of them. Team A now watchs Team B, closely observing everything they do. After three minutes, the teams switch places again. Team A (now standing) does exactly what Team B (now sitting) just did. After a minute switch teams.
Excerpted from Funny Bones by Lisa Bany-Winters. Copyright © 2002 Lisa Bany-Winters. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Lisa Bany-Winters is director of Northlight Academy, the children’s theater program at Northlight Theater in Skokie, Illinois, and the author of On Stage and Show Time! She lives in Glenview, Illinois.
Lisa Bany-Winters is director of Northlight Academy, the children’s theater program at Northlight Theater in Skokie, Illinois, and the author of <On Stage and Show Time!
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