Lazzi are essentially "gags" or stock jokes which can be added into a commedia dell'arte play or performance in order to ensure the comic action keeps pace. Traditionally the writers and actors in a troupe would have lazzi memorized so that they could insert them where needed. This trick kept up in theater into the motion picture era, and some film and TV writers still use stock jokes to enhance their work.
These are commedia dell'arte lazzi collected from various sources. Several come from Mel Gordon's lovely book of Lazzi, which can be bought here.
Arlecchino, pursued, or to prove his identity as Arlecchino, leaps from the stage to the first spectator box and runs around the railing or the three sets of balconies.
Lazzo of Unspilled Wine
Startled, Arlecchino, holding a full glass of wine, executes a complete backward somersault without spilling the wine.
A Zanni, with either his hands bound or holding plates of food, slaps another character in the face with his foot.
Innocent Bystander Lazzo
Arlecchino and Pedrolino meet each other face-to-face and are armed to the teeth. They heap abuse on each other, relying on others to hold them back physically. Finally, when the Captain seeks to separate them, they strike out at each other with the Captain receiving most of the blows.
"Defend Me" Lazzo
The inamorata takes offense at something and demands that other characters should duel to protect her honor.
Arlecchino, about to be hit, grabs the nearest other character to use as a shield.
Woman pretends to faint or die. Zanni enters and suggests that the way to revive her is pull her hair or twist her limbs.
A zanni has either been mistaken for dead or has deliberately feigned death. When he gets up, other characters believe he's a zombie or a vampire and try to kill him.
Arlecchino (or Pierrot) pulls the chair away from the Captain just before he is to sit down. Or the Captain's cape is pulled, so he is forced from the chair.
Lazzo of Latin
The Doctor attempts to conjugate English words as if they are Latin (e.g. complaining he’s been attacked by “hoodla” instead of “hoodlums” or speaking of going “inside and exside.”)
Lazzo of the Foreign Language
Covielle (or any other Zanni) pretending to have met a foreign nobleman, quotes him by using made-up words or words associated with whatever culture the made-up nobleman is supposed to have come from. (“Dirka-dirka mohammed jihad!”) He then gives ridiculous and improbable translations for these phrases.
Lazzo of La Fontaine’s Fable
Using a mixture of Italian and French, Arlecchino manages to tell in a ridiculous and obscene manner the story of La Fontaine’s “The Miller, The Son and The Ass”
Lazzo of Greeting
Pulcinella greets the Captain or another character with apparent reverence. “Son of Jove, new moon, twice the last name of Alexander!” Then, Pulcinella explains, “The son of Jove is Bacchus. Bacchus is a goat. The new moon is horned, and the last name of Alexander is Magno, which, when taken twice, becomes magno-magno. Thus the whole greeting becomes: ‘Manga-manga, becco cornuto!’” (Eat it up, eat it up, you horned goat <cuckold>)
Learning French Lazzo
The inamorata is learning French (or any other language) from an instructor, and every word which she is taught sounds like a swear word, appalling her. Shakespeare did this lazzo as a French woman learning English, offended at being taught words like 'foot' [foutre - fuck] and 'gown' [con - cunt.]
Lazzo of the List
German innkeeper (or any character with an accent) reads from a shopping list. Everything is mispronounced, so “four chickens” becomes “four broken pillars” and so forth.
Water and Wine Lazzo
Turchetta faints. Coviello goes to fetch water for her. When Turchetta comes to, Fedelindo faints as he calls for water. At this point Coviello decides to faint and calls for wine.
Barber's Water Lazzo
Disguised as a barber, Arlecchino pours the dirty and soapy water into the Doctor's drinking glass as he shaves him.
A zanni is cooking a pot of something for dinner. He continually seasons the dish, then tastes it, then adds more seasoning, tastes again, and this goes on until there is no food left in the pot.
While Scapino is speaking, Arlecchino shows his indifference by taking imaginary cherries out of his hat, eating them, and throwing the pits at Scapino.
At the beginning of the meal, Harlequin arrives in a panic, saying that the kitchen is on fire. Don Juan and all the valets run there. In the meantime, Harlequin sits down and eats all he can. Optionally, when the others return complaining that there was no fire, Harlequin replies: “I said THE kitchen was on fire. I didn’t mean YOUR kitchen was on fire.”
Doggie Treat Lazzo
Brighella (or Columbina) offers Arlecchino food, which he eats with great enthusiasm. Brighella then pulls out more food, making whistling/calling noises as for a dog, then tosses the food across the stage. Arlecchino runs after the food and eats it off the floor.
Male character is glared at or otherwise given a seductive glance by female character. The look is so powerful that it causes his hat to fly off.
While spying or dancing, Arlecchino tips over a basket of glassware or dishes, breaking them.
Arlecchino uses a long straw to steal drinks of another character's beverage.
Stolen Silverware Lazzo
A zanni stands still while an entire banquet's worth of stolen silverware falls from his clothing, where he's hidden them. The last item that falls out is a coffeepot or centerpiece. This is best done at a time in the play when the zanni is swearing to his honesty or innocence.
Chamber Pot Lazzo
As Pantalone (or the Captain) serenades Isabella, the servant girl empties a chamber pot out the window, hitting him with the contents.
Rising Dagger Lazzo
Hearing about the physical perfections of a certain woman, Pantalone's (or the Captain's) dagger begins to rise between his legs.
Every time Ruffiana has sat on something, other characters complain about the spot being slimy.
Arlecchino (or Pedrolino) and Isabella (or Columbine) are alone in her room when knocking is heard. She tells Arlecchino to hide, since the knock can only belong to Pantalone. Finding no place to hide, Arlecchino is persuaded to become a chair (or statue.) Throwing a sheet over Arlecchino, who's arms form the arms of the chair and his knees a seat, Isabella calls in Pantalone. Unheeding of Isabella's warning, Pantalone sits in the Arlecchino-chair but jumps up, citing a pin in the seat. Pantalone assures Isabella that he is fine since the pin was so small.
The inamorata faints. Zanni revives her by peeing on her.
Kiss and Puke Lazzo
One of the women is obligated to kiss the vecchio. Pantalone announces that his eyes are closed and that he expects a big, wet, sloppy one. The first woman (obligated to do the kissing) shoves the second woman toward Pantalone while moving away to puke at the thought of kissing the vecchio. The second woman (equally disgusted) blows a kiss at the vecchio. The vecchio feels the blown kiss and is enraptured (he should be cued audibly). The second woman joins the first in puking. The vecchio notices the first woman puking, brags on his sexual prowess being to much for her, and performs some lewd physical action. The first woman rises/turns just in time to see the vecchio performing the lewd action, is disgusted again, and returns to puking. Alternately, when the vecchio performs the action, he dislocates his hip.
Doctor's Pee Lazzo
Another character visits the Doctor with some ailment. The Doctor prescribes the patient to drink urine. Patient is appalled: "You want me to drink my own urine?" The Doctor shakes his head and tells him not at all -- it can't be the patient's own urine, it has to be the Doctor's urine, and he charges $40 a bottle for the stuff.
A Zanni complains to the Inamorato about the bed(s) the Inamorato broke when alone with the Inamorata.
Harlequin performs some activity that would normally be done using hands (such as sealing a letter or carrying a tray) with his butt.
CLASS REBELLION LAZZI
One of the zanni asks his master for permission to spit. The master agrees on condition that he not spit on anything important. The zanni proceeds to spit on another zanni or vecchio.
Lazzo of Silence
Pedrolino (or Pulcinella) becomes dumbfounded when his master shouts at him for doing what he thought was a duty that his master requested. Other characters enter the stage, each with a ridiculous reason for scolding Pedrolino. All this time, Pedrolino is silent. When the Captain pinches Pedrolino to see if he is awake, he gives out a frightened cry that scares away the other characters, and calmly exits.
Mezzetino serves wine at a dinner, but keeps drinking it all himself before/between filling the cups of the guests. He feigns shock at the empty bottle, apologizes and runs off to get more wine; and the lazzo repeats.
Pulcinella interrupts his master's discourse. Three times his master tells him "Shut up!" Later, the master calls Pulcinella who shouts back to him "Shut up!" three times.
Pulcinella has been ordered to guard his master's house. When the master returns and asks if there is anyone in the house, Pulcinella attests: "Not a fly!" But his master enters and finds hoards of people. He scolds Pulcinella, who replies: "Well, you didn't find a fly. Just people."
Why Don't You? Lazzo
Coviello is ordered to do something difficult by the Captain, like capture a robber in the dark or enter a cave. Coviello continually replies, "Why don't you?"
Lazzo of the Inside
To create the illusion of ferociousness, Pulcinella, hidden from the Captain by a door, speaks in several fake voices, such as servants begging Pulcinella not to beat them anymore.
A character makes an obvious error about the historical era they're in, such as mentioning an event that takes place several hundred years in the future. Another character acts amazed that first character has suddenly become psychic, and demands fortune telling services. (A rumpology reading is particularly suitable.) This is a good cover-up lazzo for improvised shows where an actor makes a mistake that is unfunny and would risk confusing the audience.
Pantalone and Zanni search for the man who has beaten them. They practice dueling. But when the Captain appears, they suddenly forget how to hold their swords in their fright. Pantalone and Zanni try to persuade each other to fight, pushing the other toward the Captain.
An illiterate zanni is given a letter and a basket of 12 figs by his master, and told to deliver it to the Doctor (or some other character.) Zanni eats several of the figs before making the delivery. The Doctor reads the letter, which says how many figs should be in the delivery, and points out that the number is wrong, because "The letter says there should be 12." Zanni calls the letter a liar. Doctor commands the zanni to come back with the right number of figs. Zanni goes home, gets more figs. He proceeds to eat several again but makes a particular point of hiding the letter while he does so, so it won't witness the act this time.
The Doctor mispronounces Pantalone's name in stupid and embarrassing ways and then asks for sexual favors from his wife or daughter.
An inamorato or vecchio, or a smart zanni like Brighella, reluctantly goes to the Doctor as a patient. The Doctor promises to offer his best remedy. Patient: "Let me guess. Leeches?" Doctor: "Oh, I didn't know you were a medical man!"
Forgotten Name Lazzo
First character begins to speak to second but cannot remember the second character's name. ("Lee..." "Leandro." "Leo..." "Leandro." "La..." "Leandro." "Leandro, right.")
Stupid Discovery Lazzo
The Doctor, seizing upon some trivial and well-known fact, pretends that he has made the discovery, which is of the utmost importance.
Lazzo of Paying Homage to All Their Names
Pulcinella meets a number of characters. In an attempt to ingratiate himself with them, he begins to praise their names in ridiculously insulting and long-winded fashions.
Suicidal History Lazzo
Harlequin has been rejected by his beloved, and threatens suicide. He begins comparing his situation to those of famous people who committed suicide, but misremembering all the information: "Did not the Roman Lucrece kill herself for Mark Antony, Cleopatra for Tarquin? Did not Aristotle die for Galen?"
Yes and No Lazzo
Zanni attempts to play a ruse on another character. When the other character asks a question, Zanni answers yes. But when the ruse is about to be exposed, Zanni suddenly changes his mind about the answer and replies no. This yes and no routine continues through a whole battery of questions.
Zanni makes up lies and lies, each more stupid than the last. Optionally, the stupidest lie he thinks of is what convinces the others of his honesty.
Movie Quotes Lazzo
The inamorata or inamorato quotes famous lines from movies in a romantic, classical Shakespearean style. (e.g. "You talkin' to me? Well, who the hell else you talkin' to? &c. &c." recited in the approximate tone of "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?") The more vulgar or violent the line recited, the better.
Laughter and Tears Lazzo
Arlecchino begins to laugh hysterically. Slowly, his laughing turns to weeping and tears.
Pantalone’s wife puts a basket over his head, promising him a tart. As Pantalone bargains, his wife’s lover slips out.
Stopped Music Lazzo
Lindor (the Inamorato) is disguised as a music teacher in order to see Rosine (the Inamorata.) The Doctor boredly supervises the singing lesson, but begins to fall asleep. Once the Doctor is quite unconscious, Lindor begins to kiss Rosine, which makes the singing stop. This causes the Doctor to wake up, and the Inamoratti must quickly reset to their original positions. This continues several times.
Weeping, Arlecchino enters the stage. The Doctor and Trivellino question him as to his behavior, but Arlecchino only answers in monosyllables. Or, Arlecchino’s master questions him while Arlecchino eats. Concerned about a widow, the master asks increasingly complicated questions about her, while Arlecchino always manages to answer in monosyllables as he gobbles down the food.
Lazzo of Cussing Out the Master
Zanni #1 tells zanni #2 that his master (one of the vecchi) had treated him poorly so he cussed him out. Zanni #2 is surprised that he got away with it, and runs off to see if he too can get away with insulting the vecchio. Zanni #2 can be heard offstage insulting the vecchio and then crying out as he's being beaten in retaliation. Zanni #1 admits to the audience, that while he had cussed out the vecchio, he had not done so to his face.
Harlequin Doctor Lazzo
Harlequin disguises himself as a doctor, and prescribes ridiculous and obviously lethal remedies to his patients.
Lazzo of Pantalone’s Story
Pantalone begins to tell ridiculous and impossible stories about adventures he has supposedly had with well-known figures from medieval/ancient history.
PLOT DEVELOPMENT LAZZI
A popular routine where the victim is either secreted or tricked into a cloth sack: A) Zanni (or Arlecchino) hides in the sack which the Captain (or Scaramouche) trips over and begins to beat in anger. B) Hoping to be sneaked into his beloved's house or a room full of riches, the Captain (or Pantalone) is tricked into hiding in a sack; The Captain is then delivered into a pork butcher's hands, whose sounds of delight and knife flourishing frightens the Captain. C) Several Commedia characters are fooled into hiding in sacks; confused over the others' identities, they alternately attempt to beat and seduce each other.
Cola (or Pedrolino) hired to murder the Captain (or Zanni) fires his gun, but after the smoke clears, his intended victim walks away. Realizing that he forgot to put a bullet in the gun, he jumps on it and walks away.
Lazzi of Nightfall
As total darkness overtakes the scene, the characters grope around the street, climb ladders into various houses, falling, bumping into objects and people, discovering what they think are bloody corpses, putting their hands inadvertently down other characters' pants and blouses, mistaking identities and conversations.
Often a concluding lazzo, this involves the exaggerated and frantic scene of sudden recognitions between several pairs of characters.