Sunday, March 8, 2009

Did That Body Just Laugh?


Corpsing is a British theatrical slang term used to describe when an actor breaks character during a scene by laughing or by causing another cast member to laugh. Though the origin of the term is unknown, the term might refer to an actor "murdering" the scene. It could also be referring to actors trying to get attention when they are supposed to be lying dead on stage (this is in concurrence with the stereotype of the vain actor). In American comedy "corpsing" is more commonly known as "breaking face".

A BBC TV programme on 18 November 2006 stated an opinion that the term "corpsing" originated when a living actor played a corpse on stage; there was sometimes a tendency to try to make that actor laugh.

Corpsing is not a term exclusive to the theatre, but is also used to describe actions designed to cause hysteria in live television or radio. One of the most famous examples of this is on Test Match Special in the famous "Leg-over" incident and another cricket commentary in which it was noted that "...the bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey".

Another example is in the sitcom Green Wing. In it, footage is sped-up and slowed down partly for comic effect, but is also used to hide corpsing. Green Wing actress Tamsin Greig (Dr Caroline Todd) has admitted to a tendency to corpse.

Corpsing is also a common event on the BBC Radio 2 Wake Up to Wogan breakfast slot with the show's presenter, Sir Terry Wogan, often breaking into fits of uncontrollable giggles and taking the rest of his team with him, such as Alan Dedicoat ("Deadly"), Fran Godfrey ("Mimi"), John Marsh ("Boggy"), with these occasions often lasting several minutes.

During the "Pete and Dud" sketches in the BBC comedy series Not Only... But Also, Peter Cook would deliberately ad lib in an attempt to make Dudley Moore corpse—and invariably succeeded. The comedian Spike Milligan often succeeded in making fellow cast members laugh during his BBC tv series Q through exaggerated characterisations.

A notable example in cinema is in a scene of Dr. Strangelove, whereby Peter Sellers, delivering a satirical monologue in the character of Dr. Strangelove, causes Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (played by Peter Bull) to visibly corpse, with the scene making the final cut unedited.

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