10 times actors greatly improved their scenes by laughing when they weren’t supposed to.
Breaking character and laughing (or "corpsing," as it's known in England, because the worst possible time to laugh during a scene is when you're playing a dead person) is generally frowned upon in the acting/comedy community and usually considered unprofessional. But audiences love it, because it gives them a glimpse behind the scenes, however briefly, and because it usually means that whatever's going on is so funny that even the professionals can't keep a straight faces. That's one reason why Bill Hader's SNL character Stefon was so popular, and why the blooper reels are pretty much always the best parts of movies. And it proves that nothing is quite as infectious as laughter, except maybe tuberculosis.
Here are ten times actors just couldn't hold their sh*t together.
1. The chest-waxing scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Yes, that waxing is completely real, and yes, so was Steve Carrell's reaction. Director Judd Apatow set up five cameras to capture everything, since there was only going to be one shot at this. The scene wasn't scripted, and although the other actors were instructed "to pity him," they couldn't help but laugh at Carrell and the weird things he yelled after every painful rip ("Noooooo Kelly Clarkson!")
2. The police lineup in The Usual Suspects.
The lineup scene in The Usual Suspects was originally meant to be a serious one, but that became difficult when Benicio Del Toro (or someone) kept farting. No one could keep a straight face. The other actors were also supposedly trying to make ever-serious Gabriel Byrne laugh. Director Bryan Singer was really angry about this, but after a full day of filming the actors giggling uncontrollably through every take, he gave up and just put the funniest bits in the movie. The result is a nice comic break in what is otherwise an intensely not-funny movie.
3. Ross playing the bagpipes on Friends.
In season 7, episode 15 of Friends, "The One With Joey's New Brain," Ross is learning how to play the bagpipes in hopes of performing at Monica and Chandler's wedding. He's hopelessly terrible at it, which is pretty funny in and of itself. Then, he invites everybody to "sing along" to the basically unrecognizable song (it was actually supposed to be "Celebrate" by Kool and the Gang), so the always supportive Phoebe gives it a try, shrieking along wordlessly, while everyone around her tries their hardest not to crack up. In the cut that made it into the episode, you just see Rachel cover her mouth, but in the outtakes that played while the credits rolled, everyone loses it completely.
4. David Cross in "Change for a Dollar" on Mr. Show.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Show creators David Cross and Bob Odenkirk talked about which sketches they couldn't get through filming without laughing, and Cross recalled this one from the very first episode.
You can see me trying not to laugh in "Change for a Dollar" [from] the very first episode, when Bob is on the golf course as the president and it devolves very quickly into him doing this kind of dance and throwing his golf clubs around. We had to use certain takes or even cut away because I couldn’t stop laughing. I have my shoulders hunched and I’m looking down, and you could see my shoulders shaking because I’m laughing so hard.
It's almost not noticeable, because during that part of the sketch (at 4:10 and 4:20), the audience is focused on Odenkirk's ridiculous antics on the golf course. But if you look closely, you can indeed see Cross trying so very, very hard not to laugh and almost not making it.
5. Vocal warm-ups in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens with anchors Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) practicing vocal warm-ups before going on-air to deliver the news. Ferrell's vocal exercises start with some random non-sequitors ("The bishop wore buttless chaps to the Bat Mitzvah") before progressing to full-on shrill screaming ("They're coming in through the back door! Grab the children! Save the children!"), while his co-star Christina Applegate tries valiantly not to laugh.
6. Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report tries to say the name "Munchma Quchi."
Watching Stephen Colbert try not to break character while playing his ultra-conservative right-wing character "Stephen Colbert" was always a lot of fun because it so rarely happened, even when he was saying the most ridiculous things. In this clip, he starts to giggle while saying the "Arabic" name Suq Madiq, even hiding his smile behind the papers on his desk while he tries to recover. But it's the name Munchma Quchi that sends him over the edge, and he laughs for almost 40 seconds straight, to the delight of the audience. According to a completely unfounded statement on Reddit, one of the reasons he laughed so hard is that they changed the picture of Ms. Quchi from a stock image in rehearsal to a photo of his mother-in-law for the show (he does seem to lose it right when the picture is shown) but who knows. Those are some goddamn silly names.
7. Kevin sits on Michael's lap in The Office episode "Secret Santa."
Steve Carrell obviously has a talent for making everyone around him laugh, and The Office was no exception. In the season 6 episode, "Secret Santa," boss Michael Scott (played by Carrell) is jealous that Phyllis gets to be the office Santa, so he dresses up as Santa and holds an unofficial Santa-off. He invites Kevin, whom Phyllis said was too big to sit on her lap, to sit on his lap instead. In the cut that made it to air, you can see Kelly (played by Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the episode) right behind Kevin, trying and failing miserably to not laugh. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kaling said this was her favorite-ever Michael Scott moment. In the video below, you can watch the takes of the scene that didn't make it to air, because absolutely everyone on set was cracking up.
8. Tim Conway as a dentist on The Carol Burnett Show.
The cast of The Carol Burnett Show was well-known for breaking character, but they swear it was never on purpose. Tim Conway, especially, loved to make Harvey Korman laugh, like in this bit where Conway plays a dentist who accidentally numbs himself instead of his patient (Korman). Korman suppresses a smile about 30 seconds in, and for the next two and half minutes, just tries his best not to burst into hysterical tears. In an appearance on Conan, Conway revealed that A) this was based on something that actually happened to him in the army, and B) he made Korman pee himself laughing in the sketch.
9. David Spade and Christina Applegate watching Chris Farley as "Matt Foley" on Saturday Night Live.
Saturday Night Live is, of course, live (otherwise it probably wouldn't be in the title of the show), so there's no option to re-shoot a scene or cut away from an actor laughing. During the first appearance of Matt Foley, Chris Farley's infamous motivational speaker (you know, the one who lived in a van down by the river), Farley gives an amazing performance, and never breaks once. The same cannot be said of his co-stars in the sketch, cast member David Spade and host Christina Applegate. In the video below, from the documentary I Am Chris Farley, Spade and Applegate discuss the sketch and their reactions to Farley's larger-than-life character.
10. Rachel Dratch as "Debbie Downer" on Saturday Night Live.
In this sketch where Rachel Dratch's "Debbie Downer" SNL character manages to take all the fun out of a trip to Disneyland, the laughter really is contagious. Cast members Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz were known for breaking character often, much to the annoyance of some of the other cast members (ahem, Tracy Morgan) and the show's producer, Lorne Michaels. But in this case, after both Sanz and Fallon break, Dratch starts laughing, too ("By the way, it's official—I can't have children."). At that point, everyone else in the scene succumbs, making the sketch almost impossible to finish, and a complete joy to watch.