Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actress
The last time a multicam won the Emmy for comedy series was 2005.
After “Everybody Loves Raymond” took the prize that year, three singlecams have captured the big laffer prize: “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Modern Family.” Clearly, those shows have resonated with critics, viewers and voters, but can those same writers thesps and thesps tell where the funny is without a studio aud responding to the jokes?
It can sometimes be difficult to gauge when the show and its characters are still new and evolving.
On HBO’s freshman series “Enlightened,” lead actress Laura Dern describes her character Amy Jellicoe as a wonderfully damaged, and yet deeply authentic person.
“The humor and pain that arises from her and her circumstances stems from the fact that she feels everything in an enormous way, and is truthful about it, which can at times make for a difficult life,” Dern says.
“You try to be as honest as possible and hope that, and the material, succeed in being funny, but it does help to have a wild and wonderful d.p. with a really big laugh,” says Dern.
The character of Jess on Fox’s “New Girl,” as played by Zooey Deschanel, is also changing and growing — and reliant on colleagues as a comedic barometer.
“You know you’re being funny when you see the boom shaking and the sound man laughing,” says Deschanel. “We’ll even hear the writers in the other room laughing. Everyone’s gotten better at keeping it down because there was a lot of sound editing required.”
The absence of a laugh track or studio audience seems to fuel the creative freedom of singlecam comedy creators such as Greg Daniels.
“In the very beginning of a show, you are finding the tone by selecting among the different performances in the editing room or by giving feedback on the set,” says Daniels, exec producer of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.”
“But the great comedic actresses I’ve had the good fortune to work with have a lot of control over what they are doing and can feel when they’re too big, or hear when it’s not coming out funny,” he says. “So once you have a tone, they lock in on it and don’t need an audience of overexcited tourists to tell them anything.”
Case in point: Amy Poehler, who has been Emmy-nominated the past two years playing small-town activist, and now city council member, on “Parks and Recreation.”
“Leslie is one of those people who believes one person can make a difference. She takes big swings. She has very little game and doesn’t always play it cool. Some days she is a tenacious civil servant and other days a well-intentioned lunatic,” Poehler says. “As far as how I know I’m being funny, I consult my lawyers.”
As for her relationship with Daniels and co-creator Michael Schur, Poehler says it’s like the bestselling book “50 Shades of Grey.”
“Full disclosure: I haven’t read that book,” she says. “I’m assuming it’s about a pleasant work environment where people support each other through collaboration? I would take a bullet for any of my castmates. And by that I mean I would take a bullet and throw it in the trash or something. If someone pulls out a gun, it’s every man for himself.”
On Fox’s “Raising Hope,” Martha Plimpton plays young grandmother Virginia Chance and describes her character as “unselfconscious and smart, but without any of the tools of being smart.” It’s a comedic combination that garnered her an Emmy nom last year.
As for what makes the cut for funny, “I have a lot of faith in (creator) Greg Garcia, who is indispensable to me, and the writers,” she says. “If something doesn’t work in the table read, they fix it. The writers write to our strengths and we’re all game and good to go. It’s only going to get better and stronger.”