Corpsing as a verb - Brit theatrical slang

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Calderoni, Oct 9, 2006.

  1. Calderoni New Member

    Canada, English
    Michael Palin on p. 59 of his "Diaries 1969-1979: the Python Years" talks of a great on-stage performance during which he "especially enjoyed corpsing John [Cleese] (he maintains I got him five times)."
    I suspect this means something akin to making him laugh out of character, but I'd like to hear from anyone who knows this for sure.
  2. maxiogee Banned

    The actual reference is from plays where an actor has to play dead on stage. Other actors in the play often try to make the corpse laugh. The actor was unable to maintain control over what they were supposed to be doing.
    The expression then spread to any actor who, in a fit of the giggles, is unable to carry on with the play.
  3. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    This is one of the reasons that I contribute to WR. I learn stuff that I didn't know that I didn't know.
    I now have a name for the best part of television or films. The unguarded moments when the actors are unable to follow the script due to internal laughter. I think it is priceless.

  4. Calderoni New Member

    Canada, English
    Thanks for the complete description of this almost always hysterical phenomenon.
    I wonder if North Americans use "corpsing" or some other term.
  5. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    I just called a friend of mine. He has been a professional stage and television actor and film director. He currently teaches drama. He says he's never heard of any specific word to mean this, just the phrase "got him to break character" or "got him to break."

    If he hasn't heard anything, I'd be surprised if there were a common phrase in AE for it.
  6. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    Wikipedia and other sites seem to back up the assertions given above.
    I've also contacted a writer/actress friend in the US. She says she has heard the word used this way once or twice, but she normally uses "break," as JamesM noted.

    I agree with others this is particularly delightful to catch, if in the right context.
  7. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    Yes, context is everything. I watched a particularly dreadful performance of "Mousetrap" in London where the actors seemed to be out of character more often than they were in. It didn't turn a suspense into a comedy, but it did turn the whole thing into a bad joke.

    On the other hand, I still laugh when I see Tim Conway break up Harvey Korman in re-runs of The Carol Burnett Show. Half the fun of watching those skits in the first place was the hope that Tim would do it again. :)

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