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.”
“It’s just so much easier to follow passion than it is to follow…”
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.
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.
Will Hines did an interview with Splitsider in December. I don’t remember why I didn’t immediately post a link here. But now it’s been a couple months, and a line from the article stuck with me:
The most talented people I’ve seen along the way gave up and stopped. So a lot of those people go away if you wait. You’re intimidated by these people who are better than you but will probably be gone if you wait a year, two years.
I come back to this whenever I’m all “I’m terrible, I should just give up” (which is often). (Emotional dysfunction in comedy, what? Whole nother essay, stay tuned.)
Also: Hines too took his first improv class on a whim when he was 29! There’s hope for me yet.
I saw my first UCB show!
I recognized the headliner (Mike Birbiglia), but I’d never seen him perform, so for $5, what the hell.
I did NOT recognize any of his fellow improvisers, and my later research revealed that I probably should’ve. Most of them have their own Wikipedia articles and enough fans that Twitter rounds their followers up to Ks.
What I loved about the show— aside from the consistent hilarity you can get from professional comedians— was that Birbiglia wasn’t jokey. He’d tell a story or play a scene or banter with an audience member, and it would be funny because of (a) his delivery + (b) Truth In Comedy.
I love one-liners, but I couldn’t come up with one to save my life.
I dunno. Watching people be this funny without relying on wittiness gives me some hope.