podcasts

Style

Back line podcast, #16: 13:44

When I think about… troupes with 4 people in them… it seems like there’s always

  1. an oaf, someone who’s falling down, bringing the lights, a clown, almost;
  2. there’s usually one person who’s very sardonic, who’s kind of a cynic, taking a look at scenarios and pointing out how dumb they are;
  3. there’s usually someone who… is just funny; they just say and do funny things; maybe this is through characters… they have a natural essence that the audience just loves, they’re very charming;
  4. and then the last one is somebody who kinda holds the show together, acts as the “improv dad” or the narrator… pushes the show forward, kind of brings an energy to it.

I think that’s pretty consistent for most 4-person troupes.

And it’s interesting to see teams that have two of those people on their team. Either they get along very very well, or there’s a non-spoken conflict, and eventually one of those people leave.

 

This is interesting to me less because I have plans of creating a four-person team, but more because it’s never occurred to me that you can boil (all? most?) improvisers’ styles down to such clearly-defined labels.

A comparison:

I’ve taken art classes. One of the first things an Art 101 instructor has to do is get all these pretentious art students to put aside their preexisting “styles”— which have usually grown out of avoiding whichever art skills they struggle with— and learn how to draw like everyone else. Style will come later. For now, learn the rules… then you can break them, consciously & intentionally, instead of breaking them because you’re incapable of following them.

My improv training feels similar. I don’t think I have a specific intentional style yet, but (like all improvisers) I do have a tendency to use the skills I’m better at more often, and ignore the ones I’m bad at. Bad habits + proclivities ≠ style.

 

……….

My first thought when I heard the quote above was, “I don’t have a style yet; I wonder which style I’d fall into.”

My next thought, after scribbling it down and rereading it, was, “…huh. no, if I were to form a four-person troupe tomorrow, I’d totally be the cynic.”

Calling out the crazy is something I can usually rely on for laughs, but several of my instructors have told me that I’ve erred on the side of “commenting” on the scene, of tearing my partners down, of saying no instead of yes. They’ve also praised me for “calling it out” and “saying the thing,” so I’m not totally doing the wrong thing— I just have trouble seeing that line and recognizing when I’ve crossed it.

…I’m digressing.

POINT: I’m not good enough to have a style yet. I don’t think my cynicism is entirely a style choice; it’s a scared improviser clinging to what seems to work.

But on the other hand… are “charisma” and “improv dad” conscious style choices? Or are they just… what people’s personalities lead them to be good at, and what they unintentionally fall into doing?

 

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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

 

Arrogance vs. self-loathing

As basically every post on this blog can verify, I have issues with self confidence. But I’ve got an ego, too, and feeding that ego feels really good— that’s the whole reason comedians go for laughs, right?

When I’m not filled with self-loathing, when I start thinking, Hey, I might actually be competent at this, or God forbid, Maybe I’m even GOOD at this, I’ll often catch myself and put on the brakes: Whoa there Robin, your last practice was probably unskilled as anything, but you were in an egotistical headspace, so it only felt good. You still aren’t good. You can only improve by addressing your flaws. So I’ll start focusing on all the mistakes I make, and I’ll realize I can’t do ANYTHING right, and I’ll crash right back down to self-loathing.

Self-loathing is an unwanted state of mind, because it makes me question every move I make, which leads to bad improv, which leads to hating myself for being terrible at improv. (Also because self-loathing is generally unpleasant and unproductive in life— let’s not forget there are several reasons why self-loathing is not ideal.) But I don’t want to be pompous and overconfident either.

I’m on an egotistical upswing right now, and I’m trying to fight my natural tendency to seek humility and find a happy balance.

To quote an episode of the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast:

[People always say to me, ‘Self deprecation/ low self esteem] is going to keep me humble.’

And I always say to them, ‘Humble? Not your problem. You don’t have a problem being too arrogant.’ …I will say to them, you know, as a therapist, I’ll say, ‘If I hear you sounding too arrogant, I promise you, I will tell you to bring it down a notch. Not my biggest fear when I think of you, being an asshole-dick-arrogant-schmuck. Not what I worry about.

Mental Illness Happy Hour, Episode 165: Mini Episode: Low Self-Esteem with therapist Dr. Guy Winch, segment starting around 22:16

 

So: go ahead and overshoot the confidence thing for a while. I give you permission, Self.

Finding passion

High on jet lag after a successful family reunion on the other side of the country, during which time I established myself as “one of the funny cousins” and remembered how good it feels to have people laugh at your jokes, I went to my first Del Close Marathon (#DCM16) on Friday night. After watching 7 groups of high quality improv, I’m starting to remember why I want to do this.

The best groups—in my estimation—look like they’re having fun. They are doing ridiculous exaggerated characters, and doing buttloads of physical silliness, and calling out everything illogical (which I love to do!).

I mean, that’s not all of it, of course. Part of what separates the wheat from the chaff (IMHO) is an extra helping of intelligence, wit, and fearlessness. And I have to face the reality that maybe I will never fully own those traits. But in the words of Rick Andrews’ Magnet podcast interview (~20:52):

“In Level 1, it’s ‘get over the fear,’ but it’s also like, ‘here are some tools,’ and you teach people character, and emotion, things like that. And they’re not tools just because, like, someone said they are. Like, the more I teach the class, the more it’s apparent to me that these are tools because they help us not think. Character and emotion helps you be in the moment and express yourself. They are ways to fight the fear. They are ways to kill that stuff so you can just follow your passion.”

and

“It’s just so much easier to follow passion than it is to follow…”
“…an obligation.”

My point: I’m finding that briefly distancing myself (both physically and mentally) is providing a helpful viewpoint for seeing that any worthwhile pursuit of comedy comes from love, not from obligation and dread… and I’m making a liiiiitle bit of headway in finding that love, and losing that obligation and dread.

Googling self-help (is how I do)

These are some links I’ve been reading lately, with improv in mind:

  • Social anxiety disorder : I’ve never really felt like I have diagnosable social anxiety, per se, but it does a good job explaining how I feel before/after performances. And if it’s treatable, well hey, let’s look into that.
    • “[Social anxiety disorder] is sometimes referred to as an ‘illness of lost opportunities’ where ‘individuals make major life choices to accommodate their illness.‘”

    • “[They] experience dread over how they will be presented to others. They may feel overly self-conscious, pay high self-attention after the activity, or have high performance standards for themselves. According to the social psychology theory of self-presentation, a sufferer attempts to create a well-mannered impression towards others but believes he or she is unable to do so. Many times, prior to the potentially anxiety-provoking social situation, sufferers may deliberately review what could go wrong and how to deal with each unexpected case. After the event, they may have the perception that they performed unsatisfactorily. Consequently, they will review anything that may have possibly been abnormal or embarrassing. These thoughts do not simply terminate soon after the encounter, but may extend for weeks or longer.

    • The main solution Wikipedia offers is cognitive behavioral therapy. I started doing improv as an alternative to CBT. Improv is my CBT. Sooooo if anxiety is making me unable to partake in my therapy for anxiety, that’s a snake eating its tail kinda situation. What’s the solution? More improv? Real CBT?
  •  

  • Mental Illness Happy Hour interview with Marc Maron :
    • What I realized about me is that I have anxiety–almost paralyzing anxiety and panic…. I would become overwhelmed by these possibilities that were bearing down on me, that were being generated by my mind through panic and fear, that I would become exhausted. And I would enter a paralysis. And that paralysis does not look that different than depression. – Marc Maron on not being bipolar, starting around 17:26

    • Can I also take a moment to mention—the fact that this podcast exists, that it started as comedians interviewing comedians about all the ways they’re fucked up—is awesome.

 

So far, this is all just in the spirit of “huh, that’s interesting. And familiar. I wonder how I can take lessons from these things that have already happened to other people and apply them to my situation.”

My “situation” is that I am not deriving a lot of pleasure from improv at the moment, and I am unsure whether this is a surmountable issue or not.

Am I just generally anxious and depressed, and when that fades, will my enjoyment of improv be rekindled?  Or am I done?

Am I consigned to being a mere watcher of improv?

Why do I want this? Is the high worth it? Do I even get a high?

Am I resistant to that kind of a high because— as an only child who is/was a self-centered attention whore (as all only children obviously are), who was self-aware that attention whoring was an undesirable trait, who consequently trained myself long ago to ignore that smug sparkle I feel when someone laughs to let me know I have succeeded in entertaining her– I ignore that joy instead of chasing it?

Comedy is hard. What’s my reward? Is it worth the pain? Is anything?

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.

Will Hines + working hard

I have never seen Will Hines improvise, but I know he is well respected in the improv community, I love his writing and interviews, and I have faith that I will love him on stage when I do eventually see him.

When Hines mentioned on Twitter that he and some other well respected UCB improvisers had chatted on Matt Besser’s Improv4Humans podcast, I was excited to give it a listen. Right out of the gate:

“What’s more important in improv, raw talent or practice?” asked Besser.
…”It’s not a happy answer, but the answer, I think, is raw talent,” answered one of the well respected improvisers.

Me being the sort of low-confidence person who usually sees myself as talentless, this was crushing to hear. The only reason I muster the strength to pursue improv at all is ‘cos I believe I can learn through hard work and time and effort and practice and experience. Yeah, well, fuck that, apparently.

Back to the podcast: that guy maintained that it was all about raw talent, but another guy (Will Hines?) maintained that practice was the key ingredient that got improvisers anywhere.

My takeaway point: even if a well respected improviser tells you you don’t have what it takes, there’s an equal and opposite improviser who disagrees with that guy.