What are the techniques (if any by the book) that actors employ to control laughter in scenes that are highly comic in nature? Are there techniques or is it out of pure willpower and self control? The nature of question arises from the fact that I am planning a skit like "The Office" but my fellow friends are having a hard time not laughing while doing a scene. If we talk about the show itself, I assume the co-actors must have had a hard time controlling their laughter during specific scenes (and this might be true for other comedy shows also). Hence my question that what are some professional techniques used to control laughter?

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    Practice. Multiple reads. Usually after a few times through the script, the humor of the situation subsides. To counter, if a scene requires an actor to laugh, less reads through will usually produce genuine laughter. Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 12:52
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    Technically, it's not a film technique, but an acting one. Also, if you watch videos of the Carol Burnett show, you'll see many instances where the actors failed at their attempts, although Vicki Lawrence was always the last to break character.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 12:53
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    The jokes are not that funny. I remember when I've read that someone in BBC said that Monthy Python scripts were funny to read while Mr. Bean was very dull and boring. And it wasn't until they saw how it's acted out they realized the humor load. Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 14:19
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    @SZCZERZOKŁY Mr. Bean had scripts? He barely even talks! His thing was pretty much 99% physical comedy, I can imagine none of that would translate to paper very well. Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 16:06
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    Mr Bean makes coffee. Boil kettle, put teaspoon of instant coffee & two sugars in mouth, drink from kettle spout, take a swig of milk then jump up & down. Not hilarious as written. ;))
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 16:29

4 Answers 4


Practise and familiarity.

The actors will already know the lines by heart. The first couple of blocking run-throughs, even before camera is set up, will let them get over most remaining giggles. You'd be amazed at how rapidly even a good gag can become just another line after repetition.

After that, if someone improvs something completely out of left-field, then either everybody manages to keep a straight face or not - there's always another take. Whether an actor corpsing in the middle of a scene is acceptable to be broadcast or not is entirely up to how the show itself handles such things. Some let them through, some re-take to keep the show itself dead-pan.

I spent a whole day last week being 'dead' in a chair whilst the jokes were flying around me. I only blinked once; the rest of the time was just a case of zoning out from the actual amusement and concentrating on the part.
It's the audience who needs to laugh, not the performers.

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    The outtake reels on the DVDs for some TV shows illustrate this process fairly well. The first time the actors see the scene in person, the whole thing falls apart from laughter. After the third or fourth run-through in a row, they know what's coming and the scene gets completed without a problem.
    – bta
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 0:00
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    For North American readers: UK "corpsing" = NA "breaking" = smiling or laughing during a scene when you're not supposed to be. (Clear from context, mostly commenting to mention the term "breaking" used in some parts of the world.) Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 2:15

Having a prop to cover your face or give you an excuse to turn away could be useful.

Dudley Moore was famous for corpsing when doing scenes with Peter Cook:

Having a pint to drink seems to help him (sort of) during this.

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    Another example of prop usage is this bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. John Cleese dragged out an awkward silence for much longer than the script said to, and you can clearly see Eric Idle biting down on his prop scythe to keep from laughing.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 15:44
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    Carol Burnett Show when Tim Conway was on it they could not keep from laughing. Loved that show.
    – dean1957
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 19:45

Keeping a straight face is of course preferable, but if you find yourself breaking, there are some ways to hide it. Covering your mouth with your hand or turning away from the scene can make it less obvious that you're laughing, and can also be played off as other emotions like surprise or disgust. It's tougher to do this if you are the center of the scene, but can be quite useful if you're in the background and find yourself breaking. It's funny you mention The Office, as you can sometimes spot some actors in the background doing this in order to avoid ruining hilarious takes - after many rewatches, I've noticed Mindy Kaling in particular can occasionally be seen covering her mouth to hide the fact that she's laughing, and does so very effectively.


Many of them do not control it well. Haven’t we all seen thousands of outtakes where each time they crack on a certain line or movement? It’s difficult to mention techniques because everyone is different, they may look like machines (some of them) but they are human. It’s self control really, but in addition to these fine answers, many actors are unable to stop laughter. Streep, for one.

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