This can take a lifetime to learn. Laughs can feel like a warm shower of approbation. They are seductive. To make an audience erupt into laughter can feel like the accomplishment of a lifetime. An actor can fall into a trap of doing anything to keep that feeling going.
And yet – there is (hopefully) a bigger picture – something with more meaning than a simple laugh. To sacrifice a laugh for the bigger picture can, indeed, feel like a sacrifice. It may feel like: “No, no, don’t give me all your love, no, it’s fine – I have this other thing to accomplish.” But it’s true – and sacrificing a dumb laugh can lead to deeper laugh, a laugh with shades of knowing, a laugh of understanding or of grief. Or it can lead to tears or any manner of surprising things.
Learning to make theatre for that one ideal audience member, that one judicious one, leads to deeper, richer work. And even the unskillful might gain from the experience.