For those of you who know me, you know that I have a long and complicated history with Comedy; comedy with a big C, a stand-in for amateur and professional improv, sketch, stand-up. For those of you who don’t know me that well, well: I have a long and complicated history with Comedy. I have, for many, many years, professed that I Did Not Care for Professional Comedy, with all those capital letters in my voice.
Despite those protestations, I actually know a fair amount about the history of improv in the States, mostly run through the Chicago filter, and enough about the practice of it to be conversant. I used that knowledge to write a few short stories years ago. Mostly, though, since I left Chicago, I just Ignored Comedy. It wasn’t there, so it couldn’t ping all my triggers and make me full of rage or angst or ennui.
But then in 2011, I started listening to a handful of comedy podcasts — Jordan Jesse Go first, and later via shep., Sklarbro Country. Suddenly I was listening to people talk about comedy, and specifically, often, comedians talk about comedy. And I realized that I think comedians are interesting. I like listening to them talk about their work. I like laughing at their work. And I found a hell of a lot of inspiration in listening to comedians talk about what they do.
The first and most important rule of improv is “Yes, And”. You never shut a scene down with a “No” answer. You say yes, and then you say and, and then you move on. I’ve always liked that, but the more I listen to comedians talk, the more I believe that it should be the first rule for all artists, no matter what art you are making. Always be open to the next possibility. Don’t say no just because something scares you. (Do one thing every day that scares you, says the desk tschotke the Maternal Unit gave me for Christmas. Eleanor Roosevelt apparently said that.) Yes, and. Yes, and. Yes, and opens doors.
The other thing that I’ve learned is how hard comedians work. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. On episode 73, the Sklars talked to Andy Daly, and listening to him recount his career, and what he does now, it isn’t so different from what I did, and do, and will do. You never stop working. You hump and grind and not in a sexy way, in that hard work way, and you take the opportunities that you get — even the ones that don’t necessarily seem great at the time. Maybe they will be. Maybe they won’t. You’ll learn something either way.
I work very, very hard behind the scenes of this blog. Do I also drink a lot of whiskey and take a lot of naps and watch a lot of episodes of Bones on DVD? Sure. I read crappy mystery novels and brain-rotting young adult novels and yell at football on TV, but I spend as much time working hard, and saying yes and in ways that lead to me not sleeping much, at this photography stuff as I do at my day job.
Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I fail miserably. Let’s not talk about the time a publicist sent back a reply that simply said “No” to my carefully crafted pitch email. I fall on my face, I’m often literally covered in bruises — no, really, where did this fist-sized bruise on my ass come from? — I fight and fuck up and struggle and sometimes I have good luck and great friends and a little bit of talent on my side. I don’t always know what I’m doing, but I do know that I am always trying.
Del Close, the father of long-form improv as you may know it, once said Fall, and then figure out what to do on the way down. Yes, and. Step off the cliff, and maybe you’re going to fly.
Comedians, you guys. Ten years on from college, the first time I encountered Close’s long-form improv Harold, I’m turning to comedians to give me some guidance in making art and flailing around in the business part of it. Would I have guessed? Hell, no.
Does it make me happy? Yes, and.
(PS IMPROV OLYMPIC IN CHICAGO OVERCHARGES FOR THEIR BEERS, I’LL NEVER GET OVER THAT EVEN IF I FORGIVE COMEDY.)