Last weekend I went to an audition for a newly forming troupe from Blue Blanket Improv. I had done a full two hours of improv games for a really long time, and I was definitely rusty, but it was a lot of fun. I was hesitant to attend because there’s a pretty strong focus to the group – non-profit community events, and performances. I’m not sure I care that much about either. With that emphasis on performances comes a need to be funny for an audience. When I interviewed Chris Miller about improv and creativity, he noted the difference between improv and improv comedy, and this is definitely about improv comedy. But Chris also encouraged me to go to the audition, simply for a chance to play. I’m glad I did, because it was absolutely a chance to play, but it also clarified something for me: that I am fascinated by the problem-solving aspect of improv games…the need to follow the constraints of the game (i.e., a one-minute scene that is improvised, then repeated in 30-second, 15-second, 7.5-second and 3 second versions), be collaborative, and be creative. I love the laughter that comes from the participants in the activity (and even if you aren’t in the scene, you are going to get up and do it yourself next, so you share in that creative act) but I’m not so turned on by improv as a form of entertainment for those on the other side of the proscenium.
I got the call last night telling me that I passed the audition and was invited to join the troupe. I had to decline; I love the process and the way they’ve set up a structure for trust and creativity and collaboration, but I can’t go down the road of committing to performing for others right now.
It was sort of a stunning decision to make; I can imagine at various points in my life I would have given anything to be part of something like this, especially at this nascent stage (essentially they are building a new troupe from scratch in our community).
The day before that call I had seen a posting up at CCA for writing classes at
Killing My Lobster
This class is a six-week boot camp where the main requirement is for you to write funny and keep writing funny. If you’ve always had a curiousity [sic] for comedy writing, had funny ideas and have wondered “what would happen if I actually took this to the next level,” and enjoy learning and creating in a fun environment this may be the class for you. The class will culminate in a live reading of your favorite material.
I really enjoy sketch comedy as an audience and this class (sadly already in progress) sounds really cool. It’s another set of creative problem solving tools with some very different constraints and philosophies than improv, but perhaps a valuable exploration in expanding storytelling skills.
And finally, a piece about laughter and social context in the NYT today.
The women put in the underling position were a lot more likely to laugh at the muffin joke (and others almost as lame) than were women in the control group. But it wasn’t just because these underlings were trying to manipulate the boss, as was demonstrated in a follow-up experiment.
This time each of the women watched the muffin joke being told on videotape by a person who was ostensibly going to be working with her on a task. There was supposed to be a cash reward afterward to be allocated by a designated boss. In some cases the woman watching was designated the boss; in other cases she was the underling or a co-worker of the person on the videotape.
When the woman watching was the boss, she didn’t laugh much at the muffin joke. But when she was the underling or a co-worker, she laughed much more, even though the joke-teller wasn’t in the room to see her. When you’re low in the status hierarchy, you need all the allies you can find, so apparently you’re primed to chuckle at anything even if it doesn’t do you any immediate good.
“Laughter seems to be an automatic response to your situation rather than a conscious strategy,” says Tyler F. Stillman, who did the experiments along with Roy Baumeister and Nathan DeWall. “When I tell the muffin joke to my undergraduate classes, they laugh out loud.”
Mr. Stillman says he got so used to the laughs that he wasn’t quite prepared for the response at a conference in January, although he realizes he should have expected it.
“It was a small conference attended by some of the most senior researchers in the field,” he recalls. “When they heard me, a lowly graduate student, tell the muffin joke, there was a really uncomfortable silence. You could hear crickets.”