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Humorous Interpretation: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Updated on February 17, 2011

Competitors in Humorous Interpretation can find everything they would ever want, or need, to know about the competitive acting event HI right on this page. What to ask when looking for pieces, tips for delivering and cutting a piece, things NOT to do, EVERYTHING a speech competitor needs to know in order to be successful in Humorous Interpretation!

Humorous Interpretation: Overview

This event is just like Dramatic Interpretation. Same rules, same restrictions, same concept, but funny. This is an individual event where the performer creates a cutting from a selection of published/printed work, which can be from a play, novel, short story, monologues (again, I do NOT recommend a monologue), etc. Humorous Interpretation, also known as HI, has a time limit of ten minutes for most National Forensic League districts; however, time limits can vary.

HI can be incredible fun, but it does offer a slew of challenges for its participants. HI can be summarized as a one-person humorous scene. Think of a theatrical moment from a play or movie you like, but picture all the roles being played by one person who could not move from their spot, had no costumes or props, and who had to rely only on themselves to depict all characters to tell the story. All while getting laughter. That’s HI. That being said, most judges expect to see a performer interpreting more than one character, hence why monologue selections are a poor choice—except for novices to the event. So if you need to play six different characters, what does that mean for you? Creativity! Character transitions, or pops, need to be noticeable, smooth, and instantaneous. Every character needs to stand out and have their own voice, stance, gestures, etc. This requires much practice, but once achieved, fantastic character pops and interpretations set you above the competition.

Because you are dealing with multiple personas, you need to have a full grasp on your characters. You need to know them inside and out. You need to know what they want and how others look on them. All of this will help not only with telling the story, but also with achieving laughter, filling your characters with life, and with the most pivotal aspect of HI—INTERPRETATION! It is called Humorous Interpretation for a reason. If you want to succeed, you most fully analyze the story, the theme, the characters, etc, to find the reason for this piece’s being and its humor. The story needs to be clear and readily followed.

Humorous Interpretation: Structure and Rules

The competitor will select and make a cutting of a published, printed work from a play, novel, short story, or poem. The cutting needs to be within time and tell a complete story (beginning, middle, end; introduction, rising action, CLIMAX, falling action, dénouement). The performer must also have an introduction to the piece. At competition, the performer will compete in three rounds and possibly a fourth if they break to finals. Interpretation is the key element to this event, so fully analyze the story and characters!

Rules are:

--Selections are to be comedic in nature

--Selections must be from published, printed material of plays, novels, short stories, and poems

--Must be memorized

--Must be within time (ten minutes is normal, although some areas vary)

--An introduction is required (names author, title, gives any necessary information, and sets the tone) and given after a minute or so of the piece has been delivered, at a natural break-point

--Eye contact is important

--No props or costumes

--All pops, or character transitions, are to be smooth, quick, and fluid

--Interpretation is most of what you will be ranked by, so know the plot, the characters, the theme, EVERYTHING

--All gestures, stances, facials, vocals/intonations need to support that character (and needs to be unique to that particular character), help tell story, and be clear

--Diction is important

--No moving—you must stand in one place, but are allowed to change stance for different characters

Excelling at Humorous Interpretation: An Advanced Guide

Once the breaks for final rounds are posted, where is it a majority of spectators flock? To the comedic performance rounds! Humorous Interpretation, Humorous Duet Acting, and Original Comedy (especially!) all seem to be the events of most interest. Why is that? People love to laugh. Okay, perhaps that was too easy of a question. What would be a better one is how do you get to be one of those beloved funny people.

This tutorial on Humorous Interpretation, HI, will help construct a solid foundation for the start of your HI adventure.

Picking a Piece

To make a fine wine the best grapes are chosen. Same goes for a speech piece. If you want to shine then everything begins with the selection of your piece. There are certain particulars an HI piece needs. For instance, when selecting a piece look for something that tells a complete story. A proper introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement are essential. Also, find a piece with interesting characters that undergo character development. As HI is supposed to be humorous, look for a piece that has humor that is universal, mixed, and constant/consistent. If all of the humor is crude, it gets old. Look for some smart material that might have “low” humor that is used effectively. You also want to be searching for something that can be easily cut. Something might be fabulous as a large work but is rubbish if cut down to the time limit. Find something compelling and interesting that you will be happy to work with for several months.

Making the Cut

Some basic guidelines to keep in mind while making a cut are:

--read the WHOLE work to know what you are dealing with and how it all fits together; you do not want to miss out on wonderful moments because you decided to not read the whole piece

--the piece you cut needs to be coherent, have the basic road map for story telling (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement)

--develop your characters; do not sacrifice your characters for a string of jokes

--use lines and changes in scenery/scenes to your advantage to determine where to cut; knowing what scenes there are and their size helps map out your piece and gives you an idea of what is essential

--keep the needed bits; a gag might be really funny, but if it means nothing to the whole then it is useless and might put you over time (you can always add later once you get your timing down!)

--the way you cut your script can help you either make something funnier or make the transitions easier to see (this helps your audience not get lost)

--cut characters that add nothing

--be creative and realize if you love a scene aside from this random conversation that means nothing to you, it is in your power to cut it and sacrificially burn it for the greater good of your piece

--keep all versions of your cuts and the original piece; you never know when you will want to make alterations to the cut you have!


You might want to look at this from an English/Theatre major’s viewpoint. First rule of any form of analysis is to read the whole work. Although you are doing a selection from the whole, your characters are part of a bigger piece. The plot is part of something larger. Things happened before your cutting that could have adjusted who they are at that time. Besides, knowing all you can about the plot, the nuances, the characters will help with your interpretation; and knowing is half the battle! Uncover the meaning of the piece—the theme. Why tell this tale? How does your cutting fit into the rest of the story? How is structure important? Are there any literary/dramatic elements being used by the writer and if so why? Look at the diction (language) of the piece. What are some key words and why use these words (this can help with vocal emphasis and interpretation). Is anything repeated? Why? Who are these characters, what do they want for themselves, what do they want from others, how would you describe them, how would other characters describe them, what relationships do these characters have, what are their socioeconomic status, educational level, are they played or the player, etc? Get to know these people and their world!


All HIs need an introduction. An introduction can be given at the start of the performance but it is more professional to deliver it after a teaser (a short segment of the piece used to hook the audience). An introduction needs to give necessary information, set the mood for the piece, give the author’s name, the title, and anything else needed. Prepare your introduction prior to the tournament, spend time writing it, and practice it! This is the time for you to be you, so having confidence and being comfortable is a must to leave a good impression.


After you have your analysis and interpretation done for each character, it is now the time for characterization. With HI you are taking on the roles of multiple people (usually), and because there is only one of you and many “others,” you need to be certain that each character you perform is different. Everyone is to be easily recognized, detailed, and unique. Think of posture, specific gestures and ticks, accents and tones, and above all remember your analysis! After spending so much time figuring out who that person is, let that guide you in developing that character. Use that knowledge to discover how they would deliver lines and how they speak to other characters. Bottom-line? If two of your characters are similar, and there is no reason for it given in the piece, then you will be deducted points. You are one person acting a scene. Own it!

Character Pops

Playing multiple characters requires transitions into the next character. Although there are exceptions where slow or botched transitions are used for comedic effect (and sparingly), mostly pops are to be smooth and quick. A skilled HIer will have practiced pops and devised methods to make them as fluid as possible. This often means blocking your pops from one character to the next. Knowing how to pop is vital. If you have no clue what you are popping to, then your pop will be sloppy and could leave you in the wrong position to take over as the next character. Great pops will happen in the blink of an eye and have little to no pause (not necessarily as in words; by pause I mean a second to regroup as YOU to think of what is happening next). Practice pops. They separate the novices from the varsity.


This relates back to characterization. Obviously every character needs their own voice. That’s a given. But certain constants are needed for all characters. You should always be heard and have good diction. If people cannot hear or understand you they will lose interest and all your work will be lost. When thinking of line delivery, keep in mind variation. Some characters might require monotone, but most have variety. Volume level changes, use of silence, tone, pitch, pace, etc…any dynamics will keep you interesting. And when people are interested they are listening to the piece and laughs will ensue! All vocals need to support the text, character, and situation. All vocals are to be determined prior to the performance. This is acting. Vocal blocking is needed for a solid performance. Know what you are going to do and know it well.

Eye Contact

There is nothing for you to place your attention on EXCEPT the audience. I use audience for a reason. Giving your performance just to the judge is not only rude but creepy. People do not stare at one person for eight plus minutes straight in typical conversation. We look away. We address others and get all involved. It is what we do. And so should you in your performance. There are others there and it is rude to ignore them. Besides, think of it as using your audience. Getting them to laugh and showing your comfort in addressing everyone helps display the hilarity of your performance and shows your confidence. Judges adore seeing this love of performance, and this might help with determining the higher rank between two somewhat equal performances.


Again, this goes back to characterization but all characters need to have their own gestures and facials. Not saying if one character smiles another cannot! That would just be silly. No, what I mean is that characters should have some particular quirks and ticks that are unique to them. Perhaps one is like The Joker and licks his lips frequently? It is impressive to have such detailed characters that the audience can instantly recognize a character by a tick. Quirks can be a facial expression or maybe a gesture. Aside from particulars, all characters need to have easily seen facials and gestures. Gestures and facials need to support the text and fit the character and situation. They also need to be blocked! This is acting. Knowing what you are going to do will save you from looking awkward and unrehearsed in a round. This also helps you stay in character.

These are a few items that need to be looked at if one wishes to succeed in HI. Of course, this is an introductory list of what to do to start HI. There is always more to learn and always more to capitalize on. But this basic how-to can help get you on the right path to success!

Selecting a Humorous Interpretation Piece

The pursuit of the ideal Humorous Interpretation piece is an endeavor you either dread or anticipate. Dread if you are directionless; anticipate if the adventure has some guidance. This does not particularly mean that you have names of titles and authors to research--though, in all honesty this does help alleviate anxiety! Preparation can come from understanding what type of Humorous Interpretation to search for. This sounds base, but knowing what sort of piece is best suited for you actually eliminates fruitless seeking. As you head to the library, bookstore, or Internet here are some questions you should ask of yourself and the piece:

1. What type of humor do you like? Everyone has a comedic preference and acceptable spectrum of what is funny. Monty Python might be the comedy Holy Grail to some, while be distasteful and idiotic to others. Performing a Humorous Interpretation that you do not find funny will not only show your disdain for the work, but also lack humor because you will not be going for the jokes! So why bother even looking at pieces of disinterest? Know what you like and searching for pieces with similar types of humor (a quick Internet search can give you some ideas) will lead you to a HI quicker than a blind search.

2. Any authors or titles you enjoy? If you are aware of some authors or titles that you know you enjoy it is in your best interest to research more of those authors' work and see if anything else (LESS KNOWN) is hilarious and capable of being turned into an HI. You should also try to find what other authors people who share similar tastes like (go to Amazon, type in an author's name, go to a product, and look at the "what others bought" section). This will give you a larger pool of work to sleuth through.

3. What abilities do you have? Are you great at voices? Can you contort yourself Jim Carey style into new characters? Maybe your deadpan delivery is exquisite? Whatever you excel in is what you should look for in a potential script. Your Humorous Interpretation needs to highlight your skills. It makes you look great but also allows the script to be performed at its best. You and the script should work together to deliver a spectacular performance.

4. What are you comfortable doing? If there is anything in the piece that leaves you feeling iffy then this piece is not meant for you. If you EVER feel uncomfortable with a script then your insecurity will cause cracks in your performance. Humorous Interpretations that lack confidence result in half-done gags and the audience sensing your reserve. Thus, knowing a Humorous Interpretation built around dark comedy would leave you questioning the content you know to avoid even reading dark comedies on your piece searching.

5. Is this challenging? Choosing a Humorous Interpretation because it's easy is a poor quality to describe something you will be devoting part of your life to. Your HI reflects who you are, so show audiences that you like to take risks and push yourself to excel. Plus, you want to have a place to work towards during the season. If you already mastered your piece midway through the season you will become bored and your performance zeal will slip. Also, as you become stagnant others will continue to grow and surpass you.

6. Is this safe? A safe Humorous Interpretation is a bland Humorous Interpretation. You do not want to choose something that is overly vulgar or shocking just to be shocking, but having a piece that has a few risks and challenges will drive you as a performer--and take your audience off-guard in a good way!

7. Can this be cut? If a piece cannot be cut to fit time (or to fit the basic storytelling structure: Exposition (introduction of characters, setting, etc.) --> CONFLICT and Rising Action (the issue is discovered and problems arise due to the conflict) --> Climax (the height of conflict and highest tension; everything is unleashed!) --> Falling Action (things begin to settle down and a solution is sought) --> Dénouement (the resolution/conclusion; things come to an end happily or not).) then it is not worth a second glance. File it away for a work in progress if you absolutely love it, but do find a piece than can be cut and usable now.

8. Do you love it? No matter how much of a universal appeal you wish to find for your Humorous Interpretation, the bottom line is you have to love it. Don't alienate your audience, BUT DO NOT SELECT A PIECE SOLELY TO PACIFY THEM! Find something you find delightfully funny and go from there. Use your team as a test group if you are unsure of your selection.

These questions will help in your race to find an HI piece. Humorous Interpretation is such a subjective event to select work for; everyone's definition of funny is different. But this can not phase you. Know what you are good at, what you enjoy, and what will inspire you throughout the season. As long as you stay within some bounds of social acceptance, this attitude of finding a piece best suited for your desires and needs will most likely result in a Humorous Interpretation perfect piece match.

Humorous Interpretations From Dramas

Being original does not necessarily mean trying to erect something from nothing. Originality can spring from being clever and placing a new twist on a preexisting item. Taking this concept and applying it to a Humorous Interpretation piece can add the zing which is often missing. This little twist can be as simple as interpreting a well-known character in a non-traditional way (how often has Watson been delivered as a fat, bumbling fellow until 2009 when Jude Law gave the clever doctor the credit he deserves?) or as extravagant as revamping a story entirely (see the evolution of Batman from television to Burton to Nolan--not comedic, but a good example). A choice you can make as you select your Humorous Interpretation piece can be to take a common, dramatic story plot, throw it into a chrysalis of humor, and watch the metamorphosis transpire.


--Unique. This Humorous Interpretation treatment is unique because you stand to potentially have the only funny interpretation of ------- around. There is no competing with other Humorous Interpretations to see who has the better cutting and interp of "insert popular HI here." Most HI's are found through looking into humorous plays or short stories. These crossovers are done from love, take an exuberant number of hours to perfect, and thus few seek out this type of piece.

--Showcase of skill. If you possess the talent and dedication to take a dramatic piece, regardless of how easy it is to spoof (E.G. "Twilight"), and transform it into a gut-busting Humorous Interpretation then you are a true Forensicator. Everything from the cutting, the interpretation, the characterization, EVERYTHING needs to be modified enough to add the edge of comedy while retaining the heart of the source material--and all this is asked as well as creating a good piece. If you have the patience to do this, then you deserve a solid rank and a chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

--Ridiculous fun. How many times have you been watching a great drama, or a poor melodrama disguised as a drama, and found yourself laughing? Perhaps not while watching, but after viewing and you could laugh again? Case in point: "There Will Be Blood" is a brilliant drama yet that milkshake speech, once you get over the chilling horror which is that scene, is HILARIOUS when quoted amongst friends. Movies you love to hate are also wonderful targets if you can get over having to work with the source material. Some dramas beg to be spoofed--either from love or from a desire to show the world how that movie is ridiculous. Regardless, you are in for great fun if you find a project you adore and want to throw yourself into bringing out the comedy.

--Built in fan-base. If you select a piece wisely, one that people love yet humor can be easily spotted, then you might be able to create a fan-base quickly. Deliver a great performance, make the crowd laugh over a story they love, and you have a captivated audience who will cheer you and advertise your piece to others. People are prone to go to Humorous Interpretation final rounds anyway, but tell them there is a funny interp of "The Matrix" and intrigue of what you will do will peek interest and draw "Matrix" fanboys and fangirls.


--Groupie Hate. That Humorous Interpretation of "Twilight: Breaking Dawn" you have had playing in your head might be comical to you (with the characters mispronouncing Renesmee's name as a gag), but if you push too far you might ostracize a vast majority of your audience. Be careful to spoof lovingly and not insult your source material or die-hard fans will not be pleased.

--Humor is not there. Finding the appropriate material for such a drama to comedy switch might prove a trifle more difficult than expected. Your source material must support a spoof in all aspects (cutting, interpretation, etc.). And though one scene or character can be made funny that does not mean you can do that for a full eight minutes.

--Time consuming. The words might be there, but everything about this piece needs to be redone. Sure, characters will hold some of the seriousness of the original, dramatic version, but humor must be superimposed. It is like creating a parallel Humorous Interpretation universe for the material and that takes time you might not be willing, or able, to give.

--Just a spoof? You might have a funny piece, but if it is just a spoof of one joke there really is no merit to elevate it above other pieces. There needs to remain some heart and depth behind what you are performing to get the audience to connect and care about the characters. No one wants to watch an eight minute spoof of the same joke--even SNL knows (usually) to give a spoof skit a five minute cap because any longer and the skit implodes.

As you search for a Humorous Interpretation do not forget this source of material. Though failure runs high with this conversion, if done successfully you can have an outstanding, knee-slapping HI. Just remind yourself that a drama turned Humorous Interpretation based around one gag/scene ultimately becomes a dramatic HI impostor, which is to be avoided.

Humorous Interpretation Introductions

Rules and regulations may change across events and leagues, but one constant is the introduction. Introductions tend to be the one universal across the Speech world. Though, however similar they may be across events, there are nuances for writing an introduction per event. Humorous Interpretation has a few introduction "rules" that any HIer should know.

--Time. Keep an introduction to under a minute. Actually, some leagues have a rule that a Humorous Interpretation can only have up to one minute of original material (introductions, transitional material) anyway. Most effective introductions are between 30-45 seconds. Besides, how much time do you really need to give the author's name and the piece's title?

--Necessities. What needs to be in any introduction is an attention getter, necessary background information, the author's name, the title of the piece, and if needed a transition back into the performance (some introductions work best with the end sentence involving the author's name and title). There is no set outline for how an introduction should flow, but these bits of information are required.

--Tone. Any introduction should be told in a tone that reflects the piece. Thus, a Humorous Interpretation introduction should have a lighthearted air (unless your HI is dark comedy of course!). Tell a joke. The comedy does not stop and turn into a serious, History Channel-esque 45 second preview of what is on next. Does that give you permission to be a goof? No. Just do not turn the Humorous Interpretation mood you have established into Dramatic Interpretation.

--Gimmicks. Those involved in Humorous Interpretation, and Duo/Duet, feel that it is their right to be ridiculously hilarious in introductions. This may involve gimmicks such as raps or extreme salesmanship (you feel transported into a Billy Mays or Vince Shlomi infomercial). Be warned, gimmicks that are just that--with nothing of real substance--may get a laugh but might ultimately leave the audience feeling as if you are attempting to overcompensate for your piece. Crazy introductions can work if they mesh and support the piece, and might actually enhance the work, but if you are doing a rap just for the sake of being different, then your introduction will be empty.

--Be yourself. The introduction is the only place in the piece where you can be yourself. In fact, it is better if you can display your confidence by not hiding behind a persona and being you in the introduction. This leaves a good impression of you for the audience and shows them why you own the room (aside from your unbelievable interpretation skills!).

--PRACTICE AND WRITE IN ADVANCE!!! DO NOT be the person that writes their introduction on the bus ride to the tournament. The introduction might be passable, but passable is not good enough. Passable eventually breaks down into weak and substandard. The elements might be in the introduction, but most often it will lack heart.

Introductions are an annoyance to all in Speech, but they are a required nuisance. And a great Humorous Interpretation introduction can be that little something to set you above the competition. Take some time, be clever, and write an introduction that complements your HI.

Humorous Interpretation: Stock Characters

Humorous Interpretation performers have a list of go-to characters, complete with stance and voice. There is The Matriarch, Sassy Teen, Emo Kid, The Jock, English Gentleman/woman, Geek, Old Man, and so on. For those one-liner characters, or the ones who are strictly there for outrageous comedic relief, a stock character might make an appearance for a quick laugh. It's a cheap laugh, but one that usually works nonetheless. These stock characters, or stereotypes (yes, these are stereotypes as they are based on a generalization of a group), are familiar. And there is comfort in the familiar. Audiences know that character. People can instantly relate, see the joke, and thus make it easier for a performer to turn a character with minimal exposure into a laugh.

Though, in this politically correct world stock characters can become frowned upon rather quickly if pushed too far. There is risk in having a gay character be flamboyant and very Jack from "Will & Grace." To avoid turning a laugh into a grimace there are a few general stock character rules:

1. Don't overstock. A Humorous Interpretation with nothing but stereotypes is dull. Audiences know these characters; they see them every day on television and in movies. Not only does this over stereotype use bore your audience, it also displays how unoriginal you are with interpretation. In an event entitled Humorous Interpretation it might be wise to prominently market your interpretation skills by, perhaps, actually doing some?

2. Know the limits. A stock character can swiftly transform into a harsh stereotype if the joke is taken too far. Exaggeration works in comedy and is one of the prominent features, but using a stereotype's gesture/vocalization to an extreme is non-funny. How California-bubbly of a voice are you going to add to that Cheerleader who flips her hair WAY to much and spells out words? Seriously. It is like watching a guy tell a joke he thinks is HILARIOUS, and laugh wildly about it in an annoying way, when it really is not. Just stop. The joke is dead.

3. SUBSTANCE!!! A stock character for a minor role is okay and can be a riot if done tactfully. A lead role as a blatant stereotype, unless the script deems so, might not work. Comedy is funny because of the crazy shenanigans characters get into and the over-the-top performances. HOWEVER, there needs to be some reflection of reality, otherwise there is no merit to your work. Comedy is meant to teach life lessons in an embellished manner. How can audiences connect and learn from a Humorous Interpretation when the characters are so distant and unreal?

4. Familiarity. Stock characters/stereotypes are images and voices and caricatures the audience has seen before. Ergo, your Humorous Interpretation can easily become boring if the character has no real flair. To properly use a stock character you need to give all your energy and sell it. Try adding different quirks as stated/interpreted from the script as well to add some originality. HI performers must be creative and energetic to win the audience.

Creating categories and labeling groups is unavoidable. Stock characters have been in existence since the Ancient Greeks created theatre (who can forget Theophrastus' character of "The Unpleasant Man?"). Back then, easily recognizable characters--through dress, mask, and stance--were necessary so the audience knew the persona and could learn the moral to the Drama without complication. Thousands of years later and humans still need to generalize and create an image of a group. People relate to the generalization yet can distance themselves just enough to give comfort that they are "not that person." This fine balance is what helps allow for some connection and catharsis to ensue. Break the bubble of comfort and people find the generalization tasteless. Knowing that, stereotypes/stock characters can become mean and mindless when lacking heart and if pushed beyond boundaries. Always be mindful of the stock character you use and ask "is this too far?"

Improving Humorous Interpretation Vocal Range

One of the major components to any Humorous Interpretation are vocals. Vocals are used not only for humor purposes but for characterization as well. All characters must have a distinct voice which is clear, consistent, and a good representation of who that character is. Though the definition of vocalization is fairly basic, vocals are anything but. Defining multiple personas' voice with the vocal chords of one is ambitious. It takes practice, dedication, and WORK. Blindly trudging forward with the development of a vocal range is admirable. However, ForCom is here to offer some guidance on the subject.

1. Reference your script. As you create your Humorous Interpretation characters it is important to keep them in tune with the intentions and heart of the script. And finding a voice is easier when you understand the character. Analyze their lines and interpret what sort of character they are. Look for personality traits and sculpt an image of who that person is. Once you have an idea, try to connect that image to your established prior knowledge; "this character reminds me of..." Further, a character with a prominent style of speaking could suggest a particular vocalization. For instance, a character with complaints for lines could have vocals that sound whiny/nasally to vocally reflect the annoyance of their speech.

2. Look to television and film for accents. Reflect on films or television shows you have seen with accents unlike those on your circuit. An accent is a quick fix to expanding your vocal range, and TV and film can be a great way to learn an accent. Honestly, watching nothing but BBC America for a week will have you imitating the English with ease. Just be careful to not overuse accents in your Humorous Interpretation or to do a poorly imitated accent (when not intended for comic effect). Accents take practice, so find sources of quality accents, watch, and start speaking!

3. Your next voice could be sitting next to you. EVERYONE around you has a unique vocal pattern they use in daily speech, and if you stop chatting and listen you can hear it. Pay attention to the voices around you, and get some ideas for how to add individuality and range to your Humorous Interpretation's characters. Remember though that if you choose a familiar voice, such as a coach or teammate, that it can be hilarious unless taken too far and turns harsh. Be careful.

4. LISTEN. In order to increase your vocal range through imitation you need to be quiet and listen. Close your eyes; shut down all your other senses except for hearing. Focus only on sound. Take it in and memorize the quality.

5. Record yourself. If you have a tape recorder use it! Recording your vocalizations for Humorous Interpretation is an effective way to hear precisely what your current characters sound like. By recording and creating a subjective way to analyze your vocal range you have a better chance of quickly expanding your abilities.

6. Avoid stereotype traps. Humorous Interpretation stock characters are common (Geek, Gay Guy, Cheerleader, Jock, etc.). Everyone is going to use one; it's unavoidable. However, if you use a stock character voice as a base for your character and then add twists based on interpretations found in the script you can successfully dodge a stereotype trap: generic vocals. Attention to physicality and differentiating yourself with your body is another way to avoid becoming a generic stereotype.

7. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. And keep trying new things.

How vast your Humorous Interpretation vocal range grows ultimately depends on how well you train your voice. The more time you spend playing with noises and sounds, the more likely it is your range will increase. It's that simple. What time you put in is what you will get out. Of course, some are gifted with the ability to master voices quickly (Hank Azaria comes to mind), but even they must practice. Go forth and start talking in tongues; your Humorous Interpretation will thank you for it!

DI, HI, DUO: How to Be the Houdini of "Props"

Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, and Duo are curious events. You are expected to make a cutting of a play/novel/short story/etc, analyze and interpret the work, and then perform the piece with a list of stipulations. No set. No costumes. No props. Although understandable, these can be demanding rules. Set and costume are truly unnecessary in Forensics given how competitions are organized (carting around stage pieces for a classroom?). Props are also not needed because of the minimalistic nature of Speech. However, because pieces are derived from material that assumes props will be used, or imagined in the mind as one reads, you might have to interpret a prop. No problem! You're a forensicator.

As with most anything, practice is what will determine your success of propless prop handling. Never assume for one second that because you have interacted with an item all your life that you can imagine exactly how to hold it, manipulate it, and operate it. In life you use your motor skills to process a tangible item. Propless props leave you literally with nothing but the atoms in the air. Also, because we use an item everyday we train our body to work with it and rarely have to think. Every time you brush your teeth do you mentally talk yourself through the steps?

Didn't think so.

When you begin practicing a piece that requires a "prop" why not use one? If your character has to set the time on a watch, go find yourself a watch! Someone needs to open a lock on a door? Grab a key and the door to match. It is easiest to learn a "prop" when that is all you are focusing on--so do not attempt to learn a "prop" while performing the whole piece. Take it slowly. Begin with just handling/using the object. Become conscious of how your hand holds the item. Feel the weight. Manipulate the item and look at how your body transforms itself. As you operate the item memorize the motions, the feel, and effort that is needed to use whatever you hold. Is using this item a simple procedure? A wristwatch, for instance, cannot have the time set in five seconds (if you have to wind the knob!). Your fingers have to pinch and, hopefully, grab that tiny appendage to rotate it slowly until the hands are aligned just so. Log all information into your mind: the item's physicality, operating procedures, how your body has to morph to accommodate. Gradually, stop using the actual prop and start using the "prop." Once you can go through whatever action is called for in the script with that item, incorporate what you learned into your performance. Interact with your "prop" and react to it!

It sounds ridiculous, but even the most menial tasks are suddenly challenging when you have to imagine them. It will take time to be able to perform a propless prop feat realistically while being clear enough for an audience to know precisely what you are doing. The only way to become a Forensics Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, and Duo "props" master is to practice and be excruciatingly detailed. Yet, this level of preparation will translate to inner confidence and a clean performance.

It could be worse. You could be attempting to interact with a duo partner without physically interacting. At least a "prop" is inanimate and not forever changing its form!

Fast Humorous Interpretation POPS!

Humorous Interpretation is an event with much to learn. Between voices, physicality, and characterization alone the average HIer will be busy. One of the first things that every Novice to Humorous Interpretation wants to know is how to quicken their pops. Polishing pops so that they are smooth, fluid, and lightening fast is a skill that requires devotion. Polished pops can also be a distinguishing feature that places your Humorous Interpretation above another. Pops can be improved by:

--PRACTICE. Your pops will not get any better unless you take the time to practice. Even when you know your piece cold and feel that your pops are beautiful, fail to practice and retain their crispness and they will begin to get sloppy.

--Keep it tight. A trick to having Humorous Interpretation pops look clean is to make them easy for you. Instead of having these HUGE positions to pop into, why not keep your stances modest? This is not to say that characters should have little variation between them! It just means until you gain the speed to transition from a character who requires much space to one who is drawn into themselves, perhaps do not exaggerate the spacial difference as much as you can.

--Plan your pops. Know exactly where you are popping to. It's kind of like Apparition in "Harry Potter." You have to know precisely where you want to go in order to pop there successfully. Go through your Humorous Interpretation script and mark out your pops. Memorize them. It might even help to label a character and their stance with a number or letter (like the forward, "normal" stance of the narrator is position 1 or A). This method could help while in rehearsals if you get stuck on a line/pop--all someone could call is 2 and that might be all you need to pop back into the script. Also, creating a written road-map of pops is yet another method to help you remember and study the pops before you even begin to polish.

--Know the next line and character's voice. This is a bit of an elaboration on the previous advice, but it has been said that some people learn their pops better when they can flawlessly deliver the next line with the proper vocalization (tone, pitch, volume, accent?, dynamics, etc.). This is all a part of knowing where to go because vocal memory is beneficial to muscle memory as well. If your brain remembers a character's voice without question, then it helps make it easier for you to remember the choreography that goes with it. Actors learn the lines (and thus vocalization) of a piece first, so if you have part A then part B will follow; a particular line will be associated with a particular bit of movement. Bottom line? LEARN YOUR SCRIPT!!!!

--Know your character's physicality. Be sure to plan, and instinctively know, the position of your character's feet, their facial expression, what sort of posture they have, how they hold/move their arms, gestures, what direction they face, and any other note of characterization you have created. Fail to memorize this and pops will take an eternity to learn. See here for more details.

--Begin s l o w. Humorous Interpretation pops are hard because for humorous effect they tend to be very swift and alter from one extreme to another (LARGE to small for instance). Do not expect to master pops immediately. Instead, start by transitioning slowly and take in the movement. Say the line as you do so to cement that cue in your mind. As you memorize the change begin to increase speed. Do so gradually and soon you'll be amazed to find yourself as quick as The Flash.

--Heals? Ladies, heals and popping have a "it's complicated" type of relationship. They are noisy on hard surfaces--which can become annoying. And many schools have tile floors. They also offer an increased danger of lost balance. If you are unsure of yourself in heals, DO NOT WEAR THEM. The last thing you want is to fall over mid pop because of a heal. If you do feel the desire to wear heals then it is suggested to use a wider one for some stability. If you are a heal-popping master then congratulations! Not only do your pops look good, you look good while doing them.

Becoming the cheetah of pops in your Humorous Interpretation round is no small feat. You must strive for perfection, know your piece thoroughly, and be willing to spend the time and effort required. Pops may be devised to be unseen transitions that allow for characters to flow, and mediocre pops might suffice, but polish pops to near invisibility and when an audience member judges your technique you will stand apart.

Gotta Have My Pops: A Guide To Multiple Characters

When a speech competitor performs a piece that has more than one character, he or she must demonstrate the shift in characters using distinct physical movements. These movements, coupled with a change in vocal interpretation, show the audience that there is a dialogue happening between two or more characters. This kind of physical illustration is often referred to as “pops” or “character pops.”

One way to look at character pops is to think of it as a scene from a movie or TV show. When two or more characters are having a conversation, the camera shows you the first character when she is speaking, then cuts instantly to the second character when he responds. In film, this is called a “jump cut.” In speech, the character pop is very similar. You must abruptly change your posture, speech pattern, facial expression and other physical attributes you've assigned to each character in order to show your audience which character you are currently portraying.

This is an art, not a science. Some people are not cut out to do character pops. The best way to figure out if this is right for you is to watch other people do character pops, have other people watch you perform a piece with pops, and perform your piece in front of a video camera or mirror to see what you look like when you do it. Here are a few things that must change when you do character pops:

- Facial expression. This is the most obvious change you need to make because people’s eyes are naturally drawn to your face when you speak. Come up with a basic facial expression for each character so that you can go back to that expression each time you transition between characters. Try to use extremes here when you can: if one character is kind and loving, smile when you are playing that character to give contrast to your villain’s scowl.

- Posture. If you are doing two characters, one of them should be taller than the other. Illustrate this by bending at the knees and hunching your shoulders slightly, and make sure you straighten up each time you are playing the second character. In pieces with more than two characters, use a variety of postures: a tall person (raised chin, turned up nose, arched back), a person who is your height (focus on an accent and facial expressions), a person who is shorter than you (bent knees, relaxed neck), a person with a hunched back (bent knees, bent arms, dramatically hunched shoulders, extended neck), and so on. This is something that you have to practice in front of a mirror to really get right.

- The position of your arms. Many competitors excel at this by giving each of their characters a signature move, such as smoking a cigarette, holding a book, or keeping one hand on the hip. This helps your audience to remember the character, and it adds interest to your poses.

- Gestures. This goes hand in hand with arm position and posture. Gestures should represent a character’s personality and illustrate their significance in the piece.

- Your feet. People seem to have mixed feelings about this, but many believe it truly makes a difference in the way your characters come across. Many competitors will establish a set position for each character's feet. For example: In the story “Little Red Riding Hood,” you essentially have three characters: Red, her grandma, and the wolf. (I'm leaving out the huntsman here for brevity's sake. Sorry, fairy tale fanatics.) When you construct each character’s stance, you should include a distinct position for the feet. Red’s feet might be slightly apart, with the toes facing the audience. Grandma’s feet should be turned in slightly, with the toes touching and the heels apart. (Think of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz when she’s clicking her heels.) The wolf’s feet should be turned out, with the heels touching and the toes apart, illustrating the opposite of Grandma’s feet. Little details like this separate your characters and make it easy for you – and your audience – to keep track of who’s who.

- The direction you are facing. Turn your body slightly to the right when you are playing one character, and slightly to the left when playing another. If you only have two characters, the first should face forward while the other turns slightly to the right or left (your preference) each time he speaks. If you have three or more, you can vary your characters’ positions, but make sure that your central character is always facing forward, so that your audience can rely on one constant.

In addition to character pops, most competitors use different accents or “voices” – British, Scottish, French, southern, Midwestern, Valley Girl, Surfer Dude, Old Man, and so on – to distinguish their roles. But it’s OK if you don’t have an extensive repertoire of accents. All you have to do is use a different vocal interpretation for each person in your piece. You can do this easily by keeping your voice at a normal/loud volume for one character and then using a hushed, shy voice for another character. There’s also pitch – you can use a high falsetto for one, and a low growl for another.

The most important thing to remember when using character pops is that you must be consistent and confident. Character pops are a great way to challenge yourself and show off your talent in competition.

Character Stance Basics: Dramatic vs. Humorous

Pops have a tendency to appear comedic. Dramatic pieces that involve multiple characters require character development on a deeper level than a humorous piece when it comes to pops, and the reason is simple. In a funny performance, it’s standard operating procedure to include at least one or two characters who stand in a stereotyped or extreme way – Knees bowed in, hunched over, confused face, pushing glasses up on the nose to imitate a shy, nerdy person. Tall posture, one hand on the hip and other hand pointing at the audience for a Tim Gunn effect, et cetera. But you can’t get away with using stereotyped character stances in a dramatic performance because it comes across as a joke. Since it’s never a good sign if people are laughing at you during a dramatic performance, here are a few ways to differentiate between comedic and dramatic pops:

--Comedic pops can be “bigger” and more exaggerated, with broader movements and even audible shifting noises. Your gestures in H.I. or any comedic piece will naturally be more flamboyant, which you can use to your advantage when it comes to pops.

--Remember that contrast between pops is very important in a humorous piece simply because it’s funny to watch someone physically go back and forth between extremes.

--In a performance of a dramatic piece, you want to keep your pops somewhat close together and simple – for example, make one character slightly shorter than the other by bending your knees, and keep the focus on your shift in facial expression and posture rather than elaborate hand gestures.

--Dramatic pieces lend themselves well to silent, delicate character transitions. This goes back to contrast; your character stances should be close enough together to allow you to switch between them with minimal movement.

--Some competitors will actually “melt” between characters instead of popping, which is basically a slower, more relaxed transition. While this has its advantages because you don’t come across as stiff the way you might with a regular pop, it generally makes you look like you’re trying to do a pop and you’re not doing it correctly. Steer clear.

Simple advice, but it’s definitely something you should keep in mind when you’re performing any piece with multiple characters. I should also note that it’s important to make sure you aren’t wearing particularly noisy shoes for a competition if you plan on popping in any dramatic pieces. A well-placed squeak can really ruin a touching moment.

The Humorous Interpretation "Ensemble"

Humorous Interpretation is a one-person show. However, unlike most one-person shows you can catch at the theatre this show has a list of constraints. There is no moving from a fixed point, as if you have been super-glued into performance. Limited time is a factor. Content cannot be original. And all characters must interact with one another believably. Humorous Interpretation's attempt to sabotage your piece eventually pushes you to creatively overcome and surpass those weak hurtles. Not that it is easy. Believably acting with others as yourself is a particularly staggering feat. But here are tips on how to do exactly that:

--Height. Give this little touch when interacting as an "ensemble." Suppose your Humorous Interpretation is "Jack and the Beanstalk." Jack, the narrator, is represented by your height, but certainly your giant is ginormous? When your narrator speaks to the giant he would have to look up and the giant must look down. Use this information as your characters interact and slightly look up as Jack and slightly look down as the giant (NEVER hiding your face from the audience). This example exemplifies how a slight detail such as a head tilt due to height can create the illusion of an ensemble.

--Focal point. To solidify height use a focal point. A focal point is a fixed spot to deliver lines. Why is this useful? Reflect back on any conversation you have had in the past week. When you were talking did you glance all over the room and avoid the eye contact of the other? Most likely no. In Humorous Interpretation you need to establish where people are looking to give the audience, and you, an idea of "where" people are. A narrator tends to have a lax focal point and simply talks to the audience. Other characters though should have a designated area to look to add to the realism of people interacting. More than one character can look forward too. Some HIers like to have sub-characters turn slightly to the side to further distinguish them and add variety. The amount of characters in the HI, and the interpretation, will determine what sort of arrangement of people you will use for your ensemble. Find something that works with your piece and be consistent. Set focal points by training yourself on where/what angle to look for certain characters.

--"Physical" interaction. If characters in your Humorous Interpretation "physically" interact it needs to be absolutely real. Transfers of energy apply! Basically, if a character pushes or gives energy towards another, the other must show the reaction to that energy. A slap cannot be given without a head being turned. If someone hands another an object then that pass needs to be accurate and show the weight of the object being passed. If this interaction is to be as accurate as possible then your pops need to be as lightening. Newton's law of for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction is true--even in HI.

--Interpretation. The only thing that will truly bring your Humorous Interpretation to the highest level of ensemble performance is to know your characters and script. You need to know the lines cold so they flow between characters with no spacious pauses. You also need to have your characters' mannerisms memorized and embedded into your muscle memory so pops are swift. Further, your interpretation of the script itself must be thorough. Every character reaction and tactic used to gain a want must be analyzed and planned so you can create and perform the interaction believably. Humorous Interpretation is not something you can just leap into without careful thought and planning. You interact with yourself, often with such fast character transitions there is little time to mentally "wing it" and find the emotion. Finally, every character needs to have a distinct personality and physicality to be identifiable from the ensemble.

Following these tips can add detail and polish to your Humorous Interpretation that may boost your rank. In HI you need to believe that the invisible entity you are acting with is real--or at least understand that to your character that blankness holds a friend or enemy they are interacting with. The further you can give yourself over to you Humorous Interpretation the more convincing it becomes.

Humorous Interpretation: Shock Humor VS Risk Taking

Can I say THAT?!?! Maybe it is less of can but rather should...

Everyone has that moment in daily conversation where they want to say whatever thought has entered their mind but first must ask if it is appropriate. Even free spirits become entangled in these social constraints. Luckily for Forensicators, i.e. Humorous Interpretation performers, these boundaries are somewhat muddied and can be tip-toed, or rushed, across. In the quest for laughs pushing limits is acceptable and encouraged if done smartly. Yet, as with anything, there is a line within Humorous Interpretation. Stray too far and you become a shock performer.

--DO take risks. Having a Humorous Interpretation that plays it safe might be good enough to get you into finals, but you may not have a memorable piece. Why? It's conservative, a piece they have heard before. Sure, your interpretation and delivery may be immaculate, but the piece itself lacks the pizazz to really cause you to out shine other performers. However, using a script with a topic that is rarely handled, or with characters hardly seen, will cause you to be unique. Even if you choose a pretty standard, funny piece you can be risky with your interpretation of characters. Challenge your boundaries with characterization (vocals, physicality, facials, etc.) and see them differently as most. For example, Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka is strikingly opposite from Johnny Depp's risky take, but both are valid interpretations of the material.

--DON'T be vulgar and crude. What turns risk into SHOCK is when a Humorous Interpretation is nothing more than cheap, "OHHHHHH! Did THAT just happen?!?!" humor. A string of flatulence jokes is not funny. Nor is an endless barrage of dead celebrity jokes. And does the audience really need to see you grab yourself, curse uncontrollably, or be a massive stereotype? No. No they do not. CHOSE YOUR MATERIAL AND INTERPRETATIONS CAREFULLY! If actions transpire simply for shock, rather than for some sort of character development, then the piece is trashy.

--Exception to the shock rule... If a Humorous Interpretation possesses one or two absolutely shocking gags, solely done for the sake or causing a gasp and uncomfortable laughter, it can be okay. Judgment is required to ask if the joke is too risque, but if a majority agrees it is comical then keep the line. One or two blindsides to the funny bone is a risk worth taking WHILE sticking to a HI that relies on clean and smart humor.

Comedy and Drama allows for performers to take risks and question what is acceptable and what is not. In the pursuit of laughter and truth, Humorous Interpretation performers often are allowed to utter phrases and mime actions that in regular society would cause them to be ostracized. Audiences allow for some extremes due to the "unreal" context of the piece. However, push to forcefully and audiences quickly regain themselves and are reminded that certain behaviors are unacceptable. There is a line. A line where you can either be a Humorous Interpretation Risk-Taker Extraordinaire or the National Enquirer of HI.

Keeping A Straight Face in Humorous Interpretation

One of the reasons I love to tune in to the TV show “Saturday Night Live” is to see if one of the actors will crack up in the middle of a performance. Watching someone else try to stifle a laugh is one of the funniest things in the world. But in Humorous Interpretation, if you laugh at yourself while performing, you might as well hold up a sign that says "Game Over."

H.I. is typically treated more like a recorded movie and less like live theatre. Your performance, while side-splitting, should also be disciplined and polished. Some competitors can’t help laughing in the middle of a piece, and that’s understandable – it’s natural to be pleased with yourself if you are receiving immediate feedback from your audience that you are doing well. But if you smile or laugh when you are supposed to be playing a bewildered or angry character, it ruins the effect of your characterization, and it makes you seem conceited and unprepared.

Here are a few suggestions for how to keep yourself from laughing during an H.I. round:

1. Purse your lips slightly. Bring the corners of your mouth into a small “O” shape, pushing your lips forward. This will help to hide the smile spreading across your face. Raising your eyebrows can also help with this, although contorting your face in such a way might actually make matters worse if your audience finds it amusing.

2. Go with it. If you can’t make yourself stop laughing, work it into the piece. Find a way to make it correlate with whatever is happening in the piece. If you’re playing an antagonist who is supposed to be very angry, make that character suddenly snap and become a diabolical evil genius – translate your giggles into maniacal laughter. If you’re playing a sad character, pretend to be crying instead of laughing.

3. Don’t look at your audience. This is tricky if you’re performing a monologue, but it is one of the best ways to keep from laughing. When you look at someone who is smiling, it makes you want to smile, too. Find a way to look elsewhere – look up at the ceiling as if your character is reminiscing, or close your eyes as if your character is very serious. If your piece has multiple characters, you should hardly be looking at your audience anyway. If you avoid directly looking at the people who are laughing, you’ll be one step closer to maintaining a straight face.

4. Keep the piece moving. One of my choir teachers used to say, “The note you just sang is not important. What is important is the note you are about to sing.” The same can be said for speech: The line you just said is not important. Concentrate on your next joke, your next setup. If your audience bursts out laughing after a great line, just continue moving forward in your piece, and don’t allow yourself a moment’s hesitation to join in.

5. Bite your tongue. Not too hard, of course. But if you have a hard time stifling a giggle, this is certainly a quick way to make yourself stop smiling. Ouch…

6. Practice before you perform. You should always practice your H.I. by performing it in front of other people. Otherwise, you won’t know how the piece will fare in competition because you will have no feedback to base your interpretation on. Rehearsing in front of your friends and teammates can also be a huge asset to you because it will help you train yourself not to chuckle when your audience starts laughing.

Humorous Interpretation: Script built or performance based humor?

Which is funnier: the script or the performer? This old question causes headaches among all HI performers as they search for a script. Do you look for something that is funny as you read it? Should you think about how it would be performed and see if the performance adds any humor? How does timing and characterization affect the funny? All of these questions weigh upon an HI performer. Drama can often be easy to determine whether or not it is a good piece to perform. Did it make you think and arouse the emotions? Yes? Then you have a selection. Humor can be more difficult because everyone’s definition of what is funny, tasteful, or poignant is all different. Thus, most HI performers find themselves looking for a piece that is funny on paper in the hopes that a funny script is the answer to success. Sorry. That philosophy is simply not true.

In the realm of comedy there are numerous ways to get a laugh and ranked well. A script should have built in funny lines, or situations, so as you read you can laugh at the script itself. This is comedy after all. Most often when a script is not amusing on paper it most likely will be less amusing to the audience. There are exceptions, but on the whole if a script has not caused you to even smile it should be tossed.

There are situations where the script itself is “cute” and causes mild laughter but you may be unsure if it is the riot you wish to bring to Forensics. In situations such as this it is good to imagine the performance. What can you do with timing, characterization, voices, popping, etc to bring this to life? Imagine possibilities and think about how the performance factor can turn an okay script into something amazing.

Remember, most scripts were created not to be read but to be performed. The performance factor may be huge. For instance, “Pirates of Penzance” is moderately funny on paper; live, and with capable performers, it can be one of the most delightful comedy, operas you can see.

And if you think that how well you rank is linked directly proportionally to how many chuckles you get you are wrong. There is more to ponder when you begin to perform in HI. Sure, people should laugh at your performance. That’s why you are doing comedy and not drama. However, laughter is not the only factor that is being judged. There are characterization, interpretation, popping, vocals, gestures, how clean your performance is, and more to consider when ranks are involved.

A factor you may not have considered is the substance of the piece. You could be the funniest performer in the round, but if your performance offers little substance you may not win over your judges. You want them to laugh, but you also want to touch their core and move them.

So back to the original question: which is funnier, the script or the performer? It all is a matter of the appropriate balance of both along with the detailing of external variables that affect an HI (interpretation, clean pops, vocals, etc). Every piece will be different based on the material and performer combination. Where one performer may excel another may fall. Know your abilities and style of humor and look for a piece that accentuates them. User discretion is advised.


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