People often talk about comic timing, but what does that mean, exactly? Well, here’s an example, from one of the best comedy routines ever: Elaine May as Bell Telephone (in several personae) and Mike Nichols as a self-confessed “broken man.” Watch it just for fun, because it carries a lot of fun. 

Then watch it again and note pace: note that sometimes they rush, sometimes they pause, sometimes they talk over each other. It’s so musical — they’re like two jazz musicians who’ve been playing together forever and have mastered each other’s natural rhythms. 

And then: not on the matter of timing, but rather delivery, you see the genius of Elaine May in three lines, one by each of the characters she plays: 

  • At 2:10: “Information cannot argue with a closed mind.”  
  • At 4:10: “Bell Telephone didn’t steal your dime. Bell Telephone doesn’t need your dime.” 
  • At 6:30, when Miss Jones is told that “one of your operators inadvertently collected my last dime”: “Oh my God.” 

Absolute genius, I tell you.