Jenny May Morgan is a comedian who has created an alter-ego named Pamela, who is an erotic fiction novelist on a world book tour. Brace yourself and hold onto your fifty shades of whatever floats your boat. Here, she shares her tips for creating comedy characters from scratch.
Step 1: Find inspiration for your character
- Funny people are everywhere. Doing lots of different jobs, hobbies and travelling are great ways to meet people outside of your network. I’m an annoying chatty type on trains and have found them rich with interesting characters. I once had a hilarious journey with a man from Nantucket who talked all the way from Bristol to Manchester. He was so fascinating I kept nipping to the toilet with my phone record myself impersonating the things he was saying. Notebooks are very useful for keeping a log of things people say and do – Although BE SUBTLE. Don’t be that guy on a train.
- The people around you. There is undoubtedly a wealth of comedy gold in your life already. Although, be careful how truthful you make it. If it is recognisably them and they see it, you might find yourself friendless.
- You? I guess Pamela DeMenthe, my erotic fiction comedy alter-ego, began as an exaggeration of me. She’s me with a ridiculous amount of confidence, self -delusion and no quality control. (I’ve made peace with this now) So looking at yourself to see what’s there already can be a good place to start.
Step 2: Developing a character
- Get to know them. I’ve never been a big fan of detailed back stories and I think getting bogged down in the detail could make you lose the simplicity of a good character, but, when it comes to performing it is a good idea to think about how the character operates to flesh it out. It will help with improvising as them.
- Hot seating can be quite useful. An acting exercise where you get someone to ask the character anything. Some good material can come out when you’re making it up on the spot.
- What is their flaw? Comedy often comes from conflict. What is the struggle to your character? For Pamela, she is convinced she is the next big thing in erotic fiction, but she has no talent for writing and no sexual experience to draw from. It might be that the conflict is in the task that they do. Maybe their job or family is incongruent with their personality. Look at all the famous comedy character and examine what theirs flaws and conflicts are.
- Do you care about them? As awful as Pamela can be, I do care about her. For an audience to be able to watch an hour of a character, even if it is cringe-worthy and they can’t stand them, it’s important that they care about whether they win or lose. David Brent is a repugnant character, but the moment when he loses his job, is heart breaking because we have invested in him.
Step 3: TRY IT OUT!
I have a comedy actor friend and we try stuff out on each other all the time. If it’s funny enough then it might be worth road testing it on an audience. There are heaps of open mic, scratch nights around. Once you begin to get into your stride, try nights where no one knows you and mixing up your demographics. This is a great gauge of whether the character has a future with new audiences. And once you’ve tried it out, had a few gigs, died on your arse once or twice and you still enjoy being that character, then you might be onto something. So, get as many gigs as you possibly can and practice, practice, practice.
Jenny May Morgan is currently touring her character comedy show, Pamela Dementhe presents: Sticky Digits.
The Ham and Jam, Preston 5th May
The Old Monks, Beverley 21st July
The Edinburgh Fringe with Just the Tonic @ The Community Project August 3rd-27th