The original purposes of their stage names, however, remain as true today as they did when the two-act first was played. The comedian has nearly all the laugh lines and the straight-man feeds him.
Not only must you keep the characters themselves pure of any violation of their unity, but you must also see to it that every big laugh is given to the comedian. If the comedian is the one “getting the worst of it”—as is almost invariably the case—he must get the worst of it nearly every time. But that does not influence the fact that he also gets almost all the laugh lines.
Note the working out of the laugh lines in “The Art of Flirtation.” You will see that only on the rarest of occasions does the straight-man have a funny line given him.
The only time the feeder may be given a laugh line, is when the laugh is what is called a “flash-back.” For example, take the point in “The Art of Flirtation” beginning:
And does she answer?
She’s got to; it says it in the book.
Does she answer you with a handkerchief?
Yes, or she might answer you with an umbrella.
This is a flash-back. But, the comedian gets a bigger laugh on the next line—worked up by a gesture:
COMEDIAN Over the head.
Or take this form of the flash-back, which may seem an even clearer example:
Oh, I know how to be disagreeable to a lady. You ought to hear me talk to my wife.
To your wife? Any man can be disagreeable to his wife. But think—,
and so on into the introduction to the next point. It is always a safe rule to follow that whenever you give the straight-man a flash-back, top it with a bigger laugh for the comedian. How many flash-backs you may permit in your two-act, depends upon the character of the material, and also varies according to the bigness of the roars that the business adds to the comedian’s laughs. No stated rule can be given you. In this, as in everything else, you must carve your own way to win your own business.
PUTTING THE TWO-ACT ON PAPER
You have selected your theme, chosen your characters, thought out every angle of business, and mapped nearly all of your points, as well as your big laugh-lines: now you are ready to put your two-act on paper. Before “taking your pen in hand,” stop for a moment of self-analysis.
You can now determine how likely you are to succeed as a writer of the two-act, by this simple self-examination:
How much of my two-act have I thought out clearly so that it is playing before my very eyes?
If you have thought it all out, so that every bit of business moves before your eyes, as every point rings in your ears, you are very likely to turn out an acceptable two-act—if you have not played a “chooser’s” part, and your points are real points.