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April 2014
Issue: September 1, 2004

FINDING THE FUNNY

By: By Randi Altman
Talk about pressure. The makers of "Joey" - the spinoff to fan and ratings favorite "Friends" - are embarking on their first season. I recently spoke with the show?s editor Steve Prime, himself a Friends veteran, who edited nine seasons of the show. He was nominated for five Emmy?s during his tenure.

I asked him about editing comedy. Easy or hard? "Yes. It's both," he says with a smile. "One thought I always try to keep in mind is, 'Where is the funny?' Simple set-up and joke deliveries are obviously attempts at being funny, but what is the drive or purpose of the scene to the episode, to the character development [especially in a first-year show] and to the series? Finding the funny can be ridiculously easy or frustratingly hard, and it's often a moving target. Finding the funny is a method of focusing on the essence of the comedy and exploiting it to its highest level."

And what about that canned laughter? Is anything really that funny?

"I came from a single-camera background and I didn't understand until I got into multicamera what the function of the laugh track was," explains Prime. "I always thought that all canned laughter was because a show was not funny and they needed to goose it, but the laugh track is really a timing mechanism. It's not necessarily telling us that something is funny; with it, you can get the rhythm and the pace of what that scene is, or what the show is, through that laugh track. So there are many times in 'Friends' I had to plug a laugh because [the audience's reaction] was too long. I think that?s a concept that might be lost on a lot of people? just because a show is plugged with laughter, it doesn't mean it wasn't funny. It may just be helping the rhythm and timing of the scene."

Prime says the idea of getting instant feedback is good for the editing process as well as good for the funny. "When we have a preshoot of something that's complicated or of an exterior set, that all needs to be cut and shown to the audience in border of the show, because basically the show is shot like a play. It's shot from act I, act II and end."

Prime, or his assistant Mark Dashnow, will do a cut of that to play back to the live audience. "They will sound the bell on set, they'll do the playback on the videos, the audience will watch it on the monitors and we'll record their laughs, which sometimes I'll try to use in my cut." Primes and crew are hoping for another 10-year run. Now, that would bring some smiles.