non-improv

Failing greatness

WARNING: Not so comedic. Some discussion of suicide. (1) I’m not suicidal right now, don’t worry about me. (2) If you think it might be a trigger for you, or generally uncomfortable, you might want to skip this one.

 

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Prelude: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about laziness and depression.

I’m not depressed (probably?). I am lazy and insecure with self-confidence issues.

And I’ve been waffling about hitting the “publish” button on this for a couple weeks. Why do I need to be so open? Is it a cry for attention? Does it belong on this blog? Does it belong anywhere?

…Fuck it, let’s go.

 

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Two things I encountered yesterday morning:

  1. A quote from Amy Poehler, as illustrated by Zen Pencils: “Great people do things before they’re ready.”
  2. A quote from Stephen Thompson, towards the end of this week’s Pop Culture Happy Hour (31:13): “People who achieve greatness in all sorts of capacities are obsessive people.”

Neither of those refers to me.

I think it’s normal to see people we really admire (“great”) and analyze: what exactly makes those great people so great? What separates them from the riff-raff? What can I do to put myself on the right side of that threshold? —which is why these kinds of quotes are so prevalent, and why I assume so many people find them motivational.

My gut translation of quotes like that is: “Worthwhile humans have XYZ trait, but you don’t have XYZ trait, therefore you are worthless. Just give up. There’s no point.”

 

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Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal does a lot of comics about what he calls “the Blerch.” [link] [link] [link]

I haven’t been getting anything done lately. My Blerch is winning.

It’s always been a battle for me, as I assume it is for most people. (Why else would Inman’s Blerch comics be so popular, right?)

Do most people plan their whole lives around the assumption that they won’t do anything unless they have to do it? ‘Cos I do.

 

It’s why I have a rigorous schedule for improv (when I’m in it; I’m falling out right now [see “Blerch” above]): classes on Mondays, practice group on Fridays, show-watching on Wednesdays.

It’s why I know exactly what days I’m going to run a month in advance— it’s on the schedule, so I have to do it.

It’s why I don’t cook or clean— Nobody’s making me do it, so I don’t.

It’s why I participate in community bands— I know I won’t do any music on my own.

It’s why I won’t freelance— I know I’d be late on deadlines and have no repeat clients.

 

Laziness/Blerchness is the commonest and most shameful thing in our western culture.

Severe depression is its own thing that I have no frame of reference for, but I wonder: what’s the functional difference between severe laziness and mild depression?

 

(Side note on how to combat laziness: Here’s a link I found that suggests breaking the thing you’re avoiding into smaller goals.)

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Robin Williams committed suicide on Monday (8/11/14). (He was one of the contributing influences to this “Robin Cartwright” pseudonym I use.)

When the news broke, everyone cried, “I loved [that movie he did 20 years ago]!”

I have no idea what Williams was going through. But if it were me, and nobody had anything good to say about any work I’d done since c.1997, I don’t think I’d be handling it very well, myself, emotionally.

…..

One thing that’s come out of this is that people are talking openly and non-judgmentally about mental illness.

I haven’t seen the line “suicide is selfish” this time around*, which is refreshing. (That line never made sense to me; when I’ve considered suicide, it always felt altruistic, because OBVIOUSLY the world would be a better place without me in it.)

*Ed. The “selfish” thing started coming up later. Dammit.

What I have seen is a lot of “mental illness is a real illness; if you are ill, get help.” Which… it’s more complicated than that, innit?

…..

John William Keedy did a series of photographs about anxiety, and got interviewed by NPR.

There’s a stigma that goes with having a mental illness. It comes with this idea of weakness of will. Which is weird, because if somebody had a broken arm you’d never tell them to will their way out of it.

Here’s the thing: with a broken arm, it’s either broken, or it isn’t. You look at an X-ray, and you know.

With mental illness, there is a whole continuum, and it’s pretty fuzzy. Sometimes you feel shitty and it’s “normal”; sometimes you feel shitty and it’s “abnormal.” Drawing a precise line between “normal” and “abnormal” is incredibly unclear, and has been debated among trained psychiatrists for years, and that precise line shifts from year to year, from DSM to DSM, from one psychiatrist’s subjective opinion to another’s.

I self-diagnose myself as “subclinical pretty much everything.” I show some signs of dysthymia, bipolar II, PMDD, SAD, anxiety, agoraphobia, avoidant personality disorder, etc… but I can leave my apartment in the morning and hold a job, and I am therefore “functional” and not truly “ill,” so it’s hard to justify the time/cost/effort of seeking help.

…And by the time I get to seriously considering suicide, I’m just SURE that I’m fine, and suicide just seems LOGICAL.

Argh.

 

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I don’t really have a point, I just wanted to vent.

 

In closing, here are some better and more articulate thoughts about depression to read, if you haven’t seen them yet:

  1. David Foster Wallace writes about his depression (1984)
  2. Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half writes about her depression – Part 1 (2011)Prelude, and Part 2 (2013)

 

Podcast sharing time – Put Your Hands Together

Quick public service announcement:

I’ve been looking for a (free) podcast of various comedians’ stand-up routines for a while. I found one: Put Your Hands Together. It’s live weekly standup recorded at UCB-LA. There are big names, medium names, names I don’t recognize. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for, and I hope maybe you will like it too.

CLAP DAMMIT CLAP

 

Storytelling 101

He knew that great stories are never about success. They’re always about failure.

– Intro for George Plimpton, The Moth Radio Hour, Episode 1210

 

 

Just a thought— aside from coming up with stories for an Armando in a Level 1 class— the character you play can be competent and knowledgeable and believable, but she can have a shitty day. We can all relate to that. Comedy in truth.

How to be funny

WARNING: I have zero right giving advice about this shit. ‘Sall just my $0.02.

 

I’ve heard from multiple sources that you can’t teach someone how to be funny. You can teach them comedic structure until their eyeballs fall out, but if they’re not funny, then they’re just not funny, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

I agree that endowing a sense of humor onto someone is (probably) impossible, but if YOU consider yourself unfunny and just want to be funnier… maybe hold off on the dreams of being a professional comedian for the moment, but I see no reason why you can’t successfully self-direct your own comedic journey.

  1. Everyone has a sense of humor. If you don’t, then yeah, you’re probably screwed, I’m sorry. But let’s assume that something has made you laugh, ever.
  2. Immerse yourself in funny things. Watch comedy. Listen to stand-up albums. Read humorists. Surround yourself with funny people.
  3. What makes you laugh out loud? (You probably don’t need to overanalyze it the way I have, but it might help direct your particular brand of humor.)
    • Speaking as a person with a history of slipping into depressive episodes, there have been periods in my life where I haven’t laughed for weeks. So when I do laugh during these periods, it startles me. I can easily identify the stimulus & response as unusual, and immediately analyze the situation (‘cos that’s how I do). What was so funny about this thing? Why did it make me laugh?
    • In my personal case, I find the most effective qualities to be:
      1. Surprises and unexpected twists, especially when I don’t notice the set up. (And the twist must have some logic; i.e. “Ah, this water is refreshing. OH MY GOD THIS ISN’T WATER, IT’S CLEAR TABASCO SAUCE” is stupid.)
      2. Physical comedy (as long as it isn’t too slapsticky or buffoonish; see below, “trying too hard”)
      3. Smart people just being their witty selves
    • I find “trying too hard” (i.e. basically anytime I perceive someone trying to be funny) to be unfunny. Because of this, I have difficulty appreciating most written comedy (including sketch). (This is just me. Most comedy nerds will disagree.)
  4. Stop being shy, and second-guessing yourself, and just make the damn joke that’s on the tip of your tongue. If it fails, chill out. Even great professional comedians fall flat sometimes. One bad joke is not the end of the world.
  5. Surrounding yourself with funny people helps a lot. They tend to be more forgiving of your bad jokes, and their good jokes can inspire you and motivate you and propel you to take more comedic risks. And, as with every skill, the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably funnier than I am. What’s your take?

Running is gross

When you run, you hock loogies. I don’t know why. There’s just all this mucus and it needs to go somewhere. Polite runners aim for the harmless patches of grass.

Last week, I missed the snow-covered grass and accidentally hit a lamppost. Ew.

This week, seven days later, I ran past the lamppost again… and my loogie is still frozen to it.

EW EW EW. I sincerely apologize, New York, that’s fuckin’ disgusting.

Twitter +/- other people

I recently joined Twitter. <–(That’s a link to my account.)

I thought it’d be a good venue for learning how to consolidate rambling thoughts into bite-sized witticisms. So far, so good. It’s surprisingly gratifying, in the way that any creative pursuit can be.

And yes OF COURSE I am counting Twitter as a creative pursuit. It’s writing! It teaches us to (a) identify tweet-worthy thoughts/events, (b) frame these things in a way that makes them interesting to others, and (c) boil everything down to the briefest possible essence of the idea. These aren’t bad skills for general communication, either.

But.

I have no Twitter-friends, so I’m just broadcasting into the ether. I’m not communicating, I’m not making anyone laugh, I’m not getting any social-media validation. (Ditto with this blog.)

I guess this brings us back to a basic improv concept: Empathy. It’s less about what I can say for myself, but about what I can do to make blogging/tweeting fun for YOU. Why do you blog? What makes it worthwhile for you? Is it when people laugh at your jokes, or “like” your heartfelt essays, or leave you well-thought-out comments, or follow you in what appears to be an honest appreciation for your writing (in contrast to all the “GET RICH QUICK” followers I seem to have acquired)?

Awright, Internet: amuse me. I want to give you Likes and Comments and Shares. I want you to have fun. LET’S DO THIS TOGETHER.

Chad Stafko – OK, You’re a Runner, Get Over It.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304448204579186401818882202

The article is just a rant on “damn runners, forcing me to look at you bein’ all healthy and shit,” which is a dumb point, but I totally get where he’s coming from. I’ve been running seriously-ish for about three years, and I still get irrationally annoyed at runners who run for reasons that don’t fit with my personal philosophy of exercise, which is best described as “fuck yeah endorphins.”

Weight-loss runners? Shut the hell up, nobody cares, you look fine.
Novice runners who decide to take on marathons? You’re doing it wrong, I hope you hurt yourself.
New-Year-resolution runners who went out and bought expensive Lululemon gear that they’ll stop using and eventually throw away after their resolutions fall by the wayside in February? As long as you look cute, that’s the important part.