Sunday, April 08, 2012

My evolution as a comedic artist

During the week I run a software company.  In my free time, my own time, I am an artist of comedy.  What does that mean exactly?  I am working that out.

Five years ago I attended a seminar about "creating the life you want" or something like that.  We were supposed to define the goal of who or what we wanted to be.  At first, I was going to write down business goals for the software company.  But then, just for the hell of it, I wrote down that I aspired to the type of career of the performance artist "Laurie Anderson".

Of course once I wrote that down, then I received "career counselling" about the steps needed to get there.  Once of the steps was improv training.  My response was "what is improv training?"  After the explanation, I was intrigued.  At the time there were no classes locally, so I signed up for one in Hollywood.  I blogged about that before.  See:

http://cwellens.blogspot.com/2007/08/total-immersion-improv-class-second.html

So I have been working on improv for the last few years, practicing with friends and family and  developing characters.

This past weekend I took an advanced training class.  In the middle of the class I hit a wall.

The teacher  emphasized the importance of the actors focussing on and responding to the human behaviors.  In other words, he wanted the actors in a scene to focus on the core emotional issues, and not concern themselves with the context -- the who, what and where.  For example, the grown son who stands up to his father and leaves home, or the wife who tells her husband that she is in love with another man and wants a divorce.  

Maybe that's what audiences want, but I found myself bored out of mind!   Watching the other actors do this was like watching the Hallmark channel -- saccharine, shmaltzy.   I just didn't buy it.

Plus, it wasn't funny.

Theoretically, in improv, the humor is supposed to come from the interaction of the characters, being present in the moment, and just blurting out whatever pops into their heads. 

But honestly, that only seems to result in something funny about 5% of the time.   So, as a member of the audience, the chance of you being entertained at an improv show is pretty low -- 95% of the time you will be bored.

No doubt it is excellent training for actors for lots of reasons that I won't go into.  However, if you don't want to be an actor, if you want to be an artist of comedy like me, well, you can't get there from here.

To me, the thing that is really funny, is the who, the what, and the where.   For example, the accountant who thinks she is the third coming of Christ -- that's funny.  Or the Greek tour guide who has no concept of geography or history but has a huge ego and immense self-confidence about her abilities -- that's funny.  The way these characters interact with other characters and their environment -- that's funny.

What is funny?  Well I'm working on that, but it seems clear I need to get off the performer on the stage path, and get onto the comedy writing path.  I think really good comedy is more premeditated.









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