An old joke for you to show off your wit to your friends goes something like this:
Ask your friend "You know why I think I'd be a great comedian?" As soon as they start to answer (but before they finished), blurt out, "TIMING!"
Comic timing is the pattern by which our humor is developed. There are many different sorts of timing patterns that make jokes more hilarious than they actually are:
- Deadpan - When telling a joke, if you keep a straight face (or, in a more exaggerated fashion, act dull and boring) sometimes a joke with an outrageous punchline can be made funnier. Witness Ben Stein and Steven Wright as true masters of the deadpan.
- Nervousness - Some comic timing involves acting jumpy and skittery. It creates a crackling energy where instead of a joke, an entire situation builds upon itself until the utmost point of hilarity explodes in the room. Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen both have the stuttered leap to the punchline down to a fine science.
- Mania - Some comics take an alternative route to the quiet nervous routine, and instead use the mundane part of the story as a lullaby until they rage violently at some aspect that is worthy of further analysis. Lewis Black and Sam Kinison use this technique to fuel their angst-filled tirades, and make them over-the-top funny, instead of just whiny.
- Motor Mouth - Some comedians (and especially improv comedians) make up for a lack of genuinely insightful humor by using all of their energy and timing nonstop throughout a performance. Witness Robin Williams on any late-night show and you'll see how his timing consists of machine gun patter and constant motion.
There is also physical timing, though that is usually simplified as either unexpected and sudden disaster (think someone walking along and falling through a hole in the roof) where gravity and physics do all of the work, or the long and protracted comedy scene, where a certain amount of time is spent framing the comedy on the wall, and the rest is spent wallowing in the painful yet hilarious aftereffects.
Of course, the best comedians utilize a variety of these timings to create breathing and living characters onscreen and at the club. Steve Martin's use of deadpan combined with his "Wild and Crazy Guy" mania made him a hit in the early 70s. Jim Carrey's maniacal bursts of pain-filled melodrama and his motor-mouth of impressive impersonations earned him his first comedy gig on In Living Color. These and many other stars have managed to discover the inner mechanics of humor, ALLOFWHICHRELIESONTIMING. (See? You can even have fun with timing on the Internet!)