Colin Underwood on Creating Characters: Create a Character Brief

Part 4 of the 10 Essential Techniques That Professional Kids Entertainers Do Not Share

In my previous article, I talked about how you can utilize the action-reaction technique to enhance your character. Now we’ll move on to what can help you if you’re planning to put on a character show together: a character brief.

I must have been performing for many years before I found out about this technique. (I have honestly forgotten who told me about it.) In a nutshell, a character brief is where you write down key aspects of your new character.
To help you with this, here’s the character brief of a character that I’ve developed. Play around with the traits I suggested and add others of your own.
CHARACTER: Crazy Businessman
Type of performance: Walk-about character
Name: Mr. Barnaby Smythe
Place of birth: Surrey, England
Occupation: Insurance agent at Whiltelsby and Newcombe (insurance brokers)
Dress code: Sloppy
Suit: Dark; red tie; red braces; red handkerchief; bowler hat; red or black shirt; sometimes he wears a waistcoat
Props: Attaché briefcase, umbrella
Favourite food: Bananas and popcorn
Character traits:
1. Very polite to ladies
2. Tries to maintain a smart, composed attitude at all times, even when he walks into a wall or door
3.Life deals him with weird situations where inanimate objects always seem to attack him or cause embarrassing scenarios
4. Strange magical occurrences keep him confused about his environment
5. Walks with purpose—but still walks into walls
6. Sneezes confetti
7. The universe revolves around him and he is most of the time in his own world, not noticing anybody around him
8. Mostly silent but will talk if necessary in gibberish or a hot potato voice

 

What this does is give you a framework into which you can peg various gags and situations. Now that you have a more or less complete character brief, you can ask yourself the following:

1. What can I do with the items on him? (e.g., eat the banana, use zipper banana, forget to peel the banana, uses the banana as a phone)
2. How can I exaggerate a normal action? (e.g., braces get stretched, umbrella opens again and again and again and it becomes a fight to keep it closed, a can of Coke magically appears in his shoe)
3. What known gags or comical situations can you apply to the existing props? (e.g., floating suitcase mime act, take bowling ball from suitcase, take out a raccoon and shoot it with a cap pistol)

 

Now you can also add magical effects to the character.  Below are some examples.

1. He uses a well-known paper glue as a Chap Stick. The stick vanishes. His tongue now stretches or comes out completely. He glues it back in his mouth, but at an angle. Eventually, the tongue is fixed.
2. He tries to roll a cigarette (right next to a No Smoking sign), but then the paper bursts into flames and the lighter he borrows disappears. He opens his Fire Wallet to pay for the lighter, but the wallet bursts into flames as well. He can also make the cigarette vanish and appear continuously. He may place cigarettes into his bowler where they disappear and turn into a red sponge ball. The ball also vanishes and reappears. Eventually, the character places the ball in his mouth as if to eat it, but then he pulls a face, removes the ball, and finds another ball has appeared.

 

The Crazy Businessman character described above is solely for a walk-about situation-type character, but the principles I have mentioned apply to stand-up shows as well.

Imagine a pirate show. Create the same character suggested above. Work out a plot and subplot for the show. (The treasure has been stolen and you need the children to help you find it before Capt. Red Basket or Capt. Red Beard or Capt. Black Banana does) Brainstorm pirate props and ones that can be linked to known magic props.

Just a word about creating characters. Keep in mind that you’re not likely to have everything figured out in one sitting, in one performance. My Crazy Businessman character developed over time, with gags happening as I added new items of clothing or props. For instance, he didn’t have an umbrella until much later. The props in his suitcase also changed over time and aren’t fixed even to this day. I enjoy keeping this part pretty loose so there’s room for new ideas. Sometimes spontaneous comedy situations will happen which you can choose to recreate in your next shows.

When mapping out the gags and sequences, I suggest using mind maps. I’ve found that with mind maps, you can visualise links to certain props and gags that would otherwise take you a lot of time to link together.

This will also help you create new situations. Try to come up with small comedy-situation sets that have a distinct beginning and end.

For example, I draw attention to my shoe. I say that there is something in it that’s bothering me. I then proceed to take my shoe off and tip out maybe confetti (visual) or a large coin (audible). The surprise happens when I look at my shoe again and find a can of Coke in it. After this, I just carry on with the show.

I hope you find this method of character-creating useful. I certainly did.  Give it a try and make your character—and your show—a lot more interesting. Until next time.