I just completed Lesly Kahn’s December Intensive and it was…intense-ive.

For those of you that don’t know Lesly’s method, it’s “a simplified…way of breaking your scene down by focusing mostly on identifying subtext or what Lesly calls ‘thoughts’ behind what you’re saying based on what is going on in the scene, the relationship, and what is said before your lines (or if you have the first line creating a thought behind it).” Thanks Truthteller59 for the recap.

Here’s the catch with the method – you can respond with your subtext, which might be 100 percent honest and true, but it may not be what the script is actually asking the character to communicate. Unless you do the script analysis and specifically understand what the script requires you to do, you’re going to be off base.

That was the big takeaway for me. Sitcoms are extremely technical. You have to know where the script is leading you because 99 percent of the work is setting up the joke so you can surprise the audience. The other big takeaway was you have to raise the stakes. Big time stakes. Everything is important.

The best sitcoms feature actors that execute technically and the actors are organic – they listen and respond like human beings. That’s why Cheers, Scrubs, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, etc. were so good. It’s extremely well written AND the characters are operating moment to moment.

Some other key learnings:

  • You have to know the words verbatim.
  • You have to hit your cues.
  • You have to get rid of the air (more often than not).
  • You have to get ahead of the audience. As soon as they’re ahead of you, game over.
  • Improv and sitcom comedy use the same tools (duh) – threes, breaking patterns, reversals, etc.
  • Honor the punctuation. Like Shakespeare, the writers included commas, question marks, dashes, etc. for a reason. Follow the map.

If you’re end goal is to appear on sitcoms, I’d recommend Lesly’s Intensive. I learned a ton in a short amount of time.