Funny business: the serious art of the comedy portrait

Caption: Straight up, with a twist! I photographed some of the cast of Open Slather exclusively for Foxtel magazine. L-R Glenn Robbins, Gina Riley, Michael Veitch, Shane Jacobson and Magda Szubansk
Caption: Straight up, with a twist! I photographed some of the cast of Open Slather exclusively for Foxtel magazine. L-R Glenn Robbins, Gina Riley, Michael Veitch, Shane Jacobson and Magda Szubansk

I’ve just spent an inspiring and exciting couple of months photographing some of Australia’s Comedy Royalty and rising stars for the launch of a new show for The Comedy Channel.

The photo-shoots included several cover shoots of the comedians both in character and as themselves.

The Comedy portrait is fast becoming one of my favorite genres because comedians can bring so much life to a portrait. They take it to another level and I never really know what’s going to happen.

This was not always the case. I can remember when I was starting out, I really struggled to photograph comedians because I was really rigid in my approach. I had this “one size fits all’ approach to my portraits and tried to make the portraits funny by asking the comedians to be whacky or zany for the camera.

Do you want to know what the worst thing you can say to a comedian is?

“Hey, how about you do something whacky or zany for the camera!” This is the comedy equivalent of telling a photographer that their camera takes really great photos. It took me quite a few shoots to work this out but after I started working with more and more comic geniuses, I learnt that there is a very serious side to being funny.

I noticed that the more intriguing portraits of comedians were not zany and whacky they were straight but with a slight twist.

That’s how I like to photograph them now as a straight portrait, with a serious or neutral expression and then introduce a minor twist to the portrait like a sideways glance or a wardrobe malfunction or a ridiculous prop.

Here are a few of my favorites from over the last few years…

Comedian Rebel Wilson reclining on a couch
Rebel Wilson is one of the funniest and most entertaining people I’ve ever photographed.
Comedian Peter Helliar looking sideways
Peter Helliar nails the sideways glance
Comedian Shaun Micalleff
Shaun Micalleff has always reminded me of a young Jerry Lewis so I wasn’t surprised to find out that Jerry was one of his idols.
Comedian Glenn Robinns turned sideways to the camera, his suit tightened at the back with clips.
Glenn Robbins plays it cool
Comedian Red Symons jumping off the ground, legs crossed with a neutral expression
I asked Red Symons to leap off the ground, cross his ankles and look neutral for this portrait.

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