The comedy world is an undeniable geek cult; a mid sized humor university. If you don’t know the person from that iO show, you probably know a friend of theirs or you’ve seen them in passing or you’ve drunkenly jammed with them at barprov or you’ve had them as a teacher. There are cliques of people who only improvise together, and it is annoying when all you are good for is a facebook invite to the show of said clique.
In this world, I am constantly surrounded by funny people. Because of this array of hilarity, how one becomes funny has been made abundantly clear to me.
There has to be something incredibly wrong with you.
Not to hyperbolize, but I do think that people who are the most talented when it comes to the art of comedy also have something touchingly sad at their core. Not to claim that all good improvisers are depressed, but generally I think being funny is usually in compensation for something else. It only makes sense.
Ivy Leaguers have social and cultural influence on how they become so successful. Crack heads certainly have had a somewhat clear path to their eventual downfall. You can see that in all wakes of life being unbalanced from what is perceived as “normal” often leads to a certain path. And, since doing comedy usually is not limited to a type of socio-economic class, the root thus comes from emotional events.
Perhaps saying unbalanced is a better description than wrong. Because saying wrong is mean and that is not my intention on this blog.
I can scan the funniest people I know and easily figure out how they got to be funny. Sometimes is due to appearance, or lack of confidence elsewhere, or intellect, and even tragedy. You hear of many famous comedians who had a parent die and how they used humor to cope. You see countless sitcoms of fat men who say funny shit about how they are fat.
I see one improviser who has a lazy eye, another who is a tomboy with a deep ballsy girl laugh. I see charming guys who get the girls from wit, I see second child syndrome where the older sibling is a lawyer, I see really smart folks who are too smart for their own good, I see theater folks who desire stage-like attention and how the discovery of laughter trumps any sort of applause.
And those who don’t seem to have those vices usually don’t make me laugh.
All of these funny indicators make me think about myself as an improviser. At first I got worried because for the longest time I couldn’t figure out where my unbalance was, where my sad core had to be. Did this mean I wasn’t funny? Oh my God, I’m one of the not funny ones! I mean, I grew up great. Had a loving family, no close deaths. I was never bullied as a kid. I love theater, but I’m not exactly a theater nerd. I’m not a genius.
Oh my God. I have no vice.
The other day I had a few people from my high school friend me on facebook. Now, I am not someone who remembers high school like it was yesterday. In fact, it has become quite the opposite. Though I am still friends with a lot of people from that time, our relationships and personalities have changed so much that I really have to rack my brain over specifics from those four years. Basically when I graduated, I left and never really came back. Sure, I’ve been back to Colorado for family stuff and holidays, but I left the era of high school almost the moment that last bell rang.
However, on occasion, (i.e. new high school fb friend requests) I have quick memory flashes of my high school life. And recently I had a series of flashes that also made something abundantly clear to me.
High school gave me my unbalance.
Up until now I have always glanced at that time as fun and happy for me. Little drama, lots of academic success, friends, and opportunities. And it’s not that that interpretation is false now, I stand by my idea that high school wasn’t awful like it seemed to be for so many others, but rather I have realized that there were two sides to that high school coin.
For me, attending Longmont High School was a huge personal struggle. And I came out of it with humor.
I remember my freshman year of high school and I didn’t get a date to Homecoming. Not only did I not have a date, I didn’t have a prospect of a date. And I remember convincing a group of us dateless girls that we should get dressed up and go as a group and it would be just as fun. And I remember I bought a dress at Deb that was boring and had Jen Carpenter come over from Niwot High to do this weave thing with tiny rubber bands resulting in a innocent ponytail covered in rhinestones in the back. (Think: Mexican cruise braids) I wore a big blue Claire’s ring on my pinky finger and I think we went to Johnny Carino’s for dinner. Or did I not go to dinner? I don’t remember. And I remember standing in this dark gym with no one to dance with and quickly realizing that it wasn’t fun to go stag and then really examining myself and seeing how ridiculous it was that I even came. I couldn’t dance sexy, my shawl kept making me stand with granny hands, and I was pretty sure that if I had left no one would have noticed. But I couldn’t leave because I couldn’t drive. I didn’t drink, not because I was a goody goody but because I had no idea how to acquire alcohol. Not only that but I had very recently learned that people drink in high school.
Right before that dance, before that school year began, my big brother Brian (who was a senior and who seemed to have it all together) took me to Chipotle to give me the high school “talk.” He told me kids drank and smoked pot and that I should know that kids did this before I was in for shock of my life. I asked him if he drank, and he said yes. And I remember my response was “but you play soccer.” Don’t get me wrong, the conversation was very sweet and kind of my brother, but in the end I remember that I welled up with tears right in that very Chipotle. Not because my mind was blown at the prospect of underage drinking (which it was), but more because my brother knew me well enough to know I was too naive to see that coming. Not only was I not cool enough to drink, I was too lame to even know it happened. And it was the first time I realized my brother knew how lame I was. Welcome to high school.
As much as I wanted to prove that wrong, to prove that I was cooler than my brother thought, I still went to my sophomore year Homecoming the same way, only THIS time all the girls in my group wore red dresses.
I remember flourishing in the classroom, both socially and academically. In the classroom, I was free to make smart ass comments to get a class chuckle while still swooning the teacher into an A. Kids wanted to be in my work groups, mostly because I was creative and made whatever we were doing fun. In a bizarre way, I always felt classroom popular. I wasn’t a know it all, I worked hard, and I got away with murder. (Except for a social studies class in which I got kicked out into the hallway for acting like SNL’s Sean Connery during a Jeopardy style class quiz.)
I remember that when the bell rang, I would get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach because I had to venture back into the high school reality known as the hallway. I wasn’t real life popular, only in that tiny classroom for ninety minutes. I dreaded the hallway. I was backpack girl, the one who carried everything on her back and didn’t get a locker and dragged everything around all day. There I would go, huge backpack and all, and I would have nowhere to stand. I had friends, of course, but not really clumped into a nice little group. (i.e. my three best friends were a band kid, a cross country runner, and went to another High School.) I would go to the commons and stand with one group of kinda friends, and I knew I was always in the zone of silence. I had nothing to add the conversation, or I had no interest in what they were saying, and vice versa. I would get anxious. I would think of any sort of errand to run to leave the circle. I would go to class early and do my homework or I’d run to my car to, I dunno, check on it. I filled my lunch periods with clubs and activities, and I believe now that to this day the reason I am so prompt to homework or tasks is because of that anxiety of having no where to stand during passing periods.
I remember one time crying in the hallway before fourth block over something I don’t even remember anymore (indicating how trivial the tears were) and having my brother catch me and drive me home to chill out. And I remember being mad at him for the bulk of that year for that being the only nice thing he did for me while we were in the same building.
I remember all the girls in drama club senior year hating me because I wanted the lead. An outcast in the group of outcasts.
I remember upperclassmen thinking I was so cool, but in a sort of Cousin Oliver sort of way. I was adorable, but I sure as hell wasn’t their friend.
I remember the boy who dumped me because I told him I loved him after a month of dating. I remember that he was right to dump me, as I had told him I loved him after only a month of dating. And I remember the reason I told him I loved him was because really I was just really impressed that he could drive and had an earring.
I remember my cool friends setting me up on a blind date with a dude who I then continued to date even though we had nothing in common and I actually didn’t really like him that much.
I remember the death of a few girls who were my age, and how it almost became a fad to out mourn each other in tassels and ribbons and murals. I remember feeling guilty for being annoyed with that thought.
So many more memories I could share here, but really I think this blog is about the overall reason these memories are shunned away from recent thoughts, and also are a clue as to how I got here today.
Because also, I remember all the times I made myself the butt of the joke to avoid any more of those stomach churning memories. I wore odd outfits and had odd school supplies. I threw Ben Affleck Birthday Parties and initiated Senior Ditch Day. I made t-shirts that said “Look at me I’m Hot” and “Muhammed Ali.” If I was an outcast I was gonna own it, and I think it worked.
I capped it all off with giving the funniest commencement address I could give at graduation. Almost coming full circle with that speech, as if to say “I got through you, high school, and I came out victorious and funny.”
Maybe in the end I don’t have a deeply sad core, but I think that in those teenage years I shed enough tears to implement an unbalanced part of me that will forever result in the funny.
I’m an improviser in the Chicago Comedy Cult, and yes, there is something incredibly wrong with me.
– One L
“Nomadic is just a kinder word for flaky.”