Wait a minute, bits? What, pray tell, is a bit?
Well a "Bit" is a piece of stage business designed to get a laugh from the audience. It could be a series of lines, physical comedy, it doesn't matter as long as the end goal is laughter. During rehearsal we set up bits in believable, clear ways so that during the actual production we can be playing for the truth of the moment, confident that the laugh is already there.
So how do you make bits believable?
Well here is what makes comedy so hard, for something to be funny the audience can't see the actors trying to be funny, they have to see the characters acting truthfully and this just leads to a funny situation. It is established that a character is a klutz, when he falls down in the middle of a intense moment its funny because it makes sense.
Okay that makes sense, but what do you mean by clear?
The audience is only going to laugh if they know what is going on, if a bit is confusing from the audience they will miss either the set-up or the punch line, either way it ruins the bit.
The Set-Up preps the audience, it lets them know a bit is coming and primes them to laugh at the punch line which is the actual funny moment. A Set-Up/Punch line doesn't necessarily have to be a line, in the above example of someone falling during a somber moment the set up is the somber moment and the fall is the punchline.
The through line of a bit: Set-Up -> Punchline -> (Take?) -> Hold -> (Take?) -> Release
So let's take our falling down example again. The somber moment is going on, one actor is setting up the bit by being truthfully distraught by some emotional circumstance. The punch line hits as our clumsy actor falls. The cast on stage reacts and immediately holds to allow the audience to laugh without dispersing the moment and then once the laughter starts to die out the actors release the moment and return to playing the scene.
But what about that Take thing?
A take is a specific reaction to a punchline where an actor or actors turn to the actor who delivered the punchline. There are many types of takes. One popular choice is "double take," in which the actor looks, turns away, releases what he has seen and then immediately looks back and holds. The other popular type of take is the "burn," where on actor looks at the actor who delivered the punchline like he is crazy or less than bright. This can be done at regular speed or be slowed down and exaggerated in a very specific take called the "slow burn." It is in parenthesis in the through line because not every bit will include a take but if included the take will either come before the hold to intensify the audience reaction to the punch line, or especially in the case of a "slow burn" come after the hold to create a second punchline.
Well there you go. The purpose of this week was to make it so when discussing comedy with a director you are comfortable with the terminology. Just remember to always play the truth and not the laugh and you will do great!