Friday, September 19, 2008

Brutally Honest Improv: It's Funny!

I recently discovered, in a quite personal way, the very fascinating phenomenon of how funny and entertaining it can be to be brutally honest. Hammerspace has been experimenting with monologue openings in our improv shows this week. I have been using them as an opportunity to really open up and make myself pretty vulnerable. I am going through some heavy life changes. My world feels like it is falling apart. I feel shipwrecked, lost, abandoned, and alone. I am hurting, sad, and in pain. I don’t like it.

I made the decision to be honest when I did my monologue. I made it general and specific, but truthful… very truthful. I didn’t necessarily say why I felt the way I did, but I did say how I felt. That seems more important and ultimately more relevant to what would best enable you to express yourself in both a meaningful and artistic way.
The thing that is most interesting is how funny it was. It wasn’t a joke… it was as far from a joke as it gets. I simply told a short story about what was happening to me today, and how I felt today and as if by magic… it was funny.

We did a Thursday show recently and our audience was very small. At the top of the show it was just Henry Bermudez. He gave us our suggestion: How do you keep a woman happy?
We delved into a series of observations on happiness, how can anyone be happy, what it means to keep anyone anything, and other philosophical musings.
At one point during my monologue I told the audience I was currently experiencing depression… the “I want to drink myself to death kind of depression”. They laughed. It was funny and I don’t exactly know why but I wasn’t surprised that there was laughter. I certainly wasn’t trying to be funny. I was just being honest. I was being painfully honest about being in pain, and it was awesomely cathartic.

The monologues based on the suggestion led to a series of scenes that were very real, genuine, natural, emotional, and patient. It was fun and it was funny. The improv happened with the flow, ease, and grace that you sometimes get in real life. There were a few crazy situations but they seemed real because we were treating them truthfully. The show was deep. We all felt it and it felt like fucking magic. The four of us: Juli, me, Brittany and TJ connected. We connected with our minds and projected that connection outward and it felt amazing. The scenes were deep and philosophical and connected to each other with natural simplicity that all just seemed meant to be. It was incredible and ultimately I believe the gods and ghosts of improvisation revealed some of their truths and secrets to us through the performance of that piece. I felt changed. I experienced some growth during and in the aftermath of that performance. I experience growth as an artist, an improviser and a person. It was our deepest show ever and one of the very best by far.

We did a 4-person Hammerspace show in the Black Box (me, Kelly, TJ, Brittany). The show was so great. It wasn’t quite as deep or as philosophical as Thursday, but it was the closest to it we’ve had. It was a little shorter but it was also very honest. The suggestion was: Do soul mates exist? It was real and genuine and had conflicts of the heart. We did a very good hot-spot monologue opening. I opened up again. I started by saying that I was going through a lot right now so I’m reading a Zen book called When Things Fall Apart (by Pema Chodon). Everyone laughed. It was a sad thing to say and I was as honest and heartfelt in my delivery as I could be and people laughed. They weren’t being mean about it… we were sharing a moment. I spoke of the value and virtue of hopelessness and I was being serious and the audience was laughing and it was wonderful. During the show I wound up playing a girl stuck on the toilet in a bathroom stall at prom. She was calling for help on her cell phone trying to get rescued and scared that she would wind up telling this story her whole life and it would be a horrible prom story to be stuck with. It was really hilarious and realistic. The whole piece was that way and we all felt it. We all knew we had shared an honest experience, and we hadn’t just shared it with each other. We shared it with the whole audience.

The bible of long form improv is called Truth in Comedy. I understand why on a level of personal experience now. We discovered for ourselves that brutal honesty and vulnerability is funny. Audiences really appreciate it when you take the risk by opening up and letting them in. It is a wonderful thing and I am grateful for the experience.

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