Pioneering Comic Television Actors (01:41)
Comedians share their views on acting methods.
"Mork and Mindy" (02:27)
Robin Williams discusses his manic approach to comedy—showcased on the 1970s sit-com. He studied improvisation and honed his skills doing stand-up performances in Los Angeles.
Developing Characters (04:42)
Williams discusses working on comic personas at comedy clubs. He preferred working off mic; his method relied on extremes. "Mork and Mindy" had a studio audience, providing Williams with viewer feedback.
"Good Morning, Vietnam" (02:12)
Director Barry Robinson gathered material by secretly filming Williams interacting with locals. Despite diverse roles, he is best remembered as Mork in "Mork and Mindy." Jonathan Winters joined the cast, matching Williams' manic energy.
Comedy Improvisation Pioneer (05:10)
Winters' use of characters, voices, and sound effects paved the way for Williams. Winters drew inspiration from his grandfather's jokes about the Wright brothers and developed his unique style in New York, going on talk shows.
"The Jonathan Winters Show" (04:10)
View clips of Winters playing spontaneous characters. In 1967, he hosted a series showcasing his improvisational talent. Williams discusses his use of props and Andy Williams recalls trying to sing while he provided comic relief.
Winters and Williams (04:04)
The two comedians recall working together on "Mork and Mindy." View clips of a spontaneous World War I skit. Writing for improvisational actors was challenging; Winters rejected lines he found lacking in humor.
Cloris Leachman (02:42)
The comedian has won multiple Emmy Awards. Under Elia Kazan, she learned to apply dramatic acting techniques to comedy, such as focusing on objects. She discusses avoiding cliché roles.
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (01:54)
Leachman's breakthrough role came as Phyllis Lindstrom; she recalls playing opposite Valerie Harper. Her character spun off into its own show "Phyllis."
Acting Range (02:36)
Leachman contrasts Frau Blucher in "Young Frankenstein" with Nurse Diesel in "High Anxiety." In addition to comedic film roles, her dramatic performance in Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" won an Academy Award.
Atypical Grandmother Roles (02:34)
Leachman returned to television as she got older. She discusses avoiding clichés and bringing comedy to serious moments. View scenes from "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Raising Hope."
Jimmie Walker (02:28)
The actor's controversial role on "Good Times" brought him fame. Walker discusses his aim to perform as a stand-up comedian on the show. His catch phrase "dynomite" spread nationwide.
Playing it Big (02:05)
John Amos and Norman Lear felt Walker's controversial acting style detracted from the family focus on “Good Times.” Walker believes sit-coms should have one character dedicated to producing laughs.
Physical Comedians (02:29)
Walker joined a tradition of actors using their bodies for comic effect; view Michael Richards in "Seinfeld." Dick Van Dyke studied Laurel and Hardy and first appeared on Pat Boone's variety show in 1958.
"The Dick Van Dyke Show" (03:47)
Van Dyke attracted attention playing a hillbilly on the "The Phil Silvers Show." He recalls incorporating physical comedy into his show; injury was always a possibility. It was performed with a live audience for feedback.
New Comedy Generation (02:58)
Sit-coms no longer feature live studio audiences. Tina Fey learned her craft at "Second City" and "Saturday Night Live," where she began as a writer. Her show “30 Rock” focused on well-written and executed jokes, rather than improvisation.
Mirroring Reality (05:03)
For Fey, comedy acting combines written preparation with spontaneous performance. She discusses telling the truth in her work. Comedians reflect on their careers and what makes people laugh. Take a "Pioneers of Television" comedy quiz.
Credits: Acting Funny, Episode 4 (00:60)
Credits: Acting Funny, Episode 4
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