A collection of quotes on comedy and humor, from the classic film clown, W. C. Fields. Taken from the book, W. C. Fields and Me by Carlotta Monti
Any time an idea hits you, write it down. Don’t trust your memory no matter how good you think it is.
Comedy is a business, a serious business with only one purpose—to make people laugh. It isn’t easy, but pity the poor book and magazine writers, for it’s much easier to get a laugh from physical action than from the printed word. Laughs from physical action come from the belly.
You have to experiment a lot … try bits of it out on different people. A cross section, if you can find one.
An infallible rule I have in comedy is never to break anything. Only bend things. If you shatter a flower pot over some harassing oaf’s head, the laughter dies the moment the pot breaks. If you hit him with something that bends, the audience keeps looking at the instrument responsible for the bludgeoning, and the laughs go on. Nothing brittle has any humor. I broke a pool cue once and the house was silent. Next time I got one that looked like iron, bent it, and they went crazy. The best thing to break is a contract.
Show me a comic who isn’t a perfectionist, and I’ll show you a starving man. You have to sweat and toil and practice indefinitely. A comic should suffer as much over a single line as a man with a hernia would in picking up a heavy barbell.
A henpecked man gets surefire laughs, but the cardinal rule is that he must triumph over the shrew he married or his harridan mother-in-law in the end, after withstanding attempted bullying and severe tong lashings. Give him a name that will draw sympathy, like Sylvan Trembleleaf.
Dress or costume is important. If you are as impeccable as the Prince of Wales, there won’t be a snicker in the house. But come out of the wings in some ill-fitting garments and the audience laughs their heads off. A fat woman can help you out. Every crease, fold and droop of flesh can be the object of hilarity. And oh, yes, you can dress like the Prince of Wales, if you dress only half of yourself that way. For the other half let your baggy pants start to fall or your oversized hat drop over your eyes.
A comedian should quit if he isn’t getting any laughs after three years. But if he can still make his wife laugh, he’d better stick it out. It’s a good sign.