An excerpt from the book “Meet Your Playful Self”
I believe that laughter is a language of God and that we can all live happily ever laughter.
– Yakov Smirnoff
We all like to laugh. We all like to be funny and enjoy the funny in other people. We all have heard quotes and read accounts of the value of laughter as one of the most healing energies of human existence resulting in longer life, higher self-esteem, and success in business.
So, what is funny? Let’s take a peek at what happens when we find funny. Since all of the exercises have been developed in the course of training people to perform in the theatre as actors or improvisers, the technique of improvisers is a likely place to look for funny.
Improvisation is generally equated with comedy and has been the forerunner of The Second City and Saturday Night Live. Yet, improvisation and meeting your playful self
is not about being funny. That may come as a mild shock to some, since Second City, Saturday Night Live and Whose Line is it Anyway?, seem to be all about funny.
Many people come to improvisation workshops and classes with the idea that they should show how funny they are. In response to this expectation, I don’t know how often I have heard teachers of improvisation say something to the effect of: You will never be funny if you are trying to be funny. Being funny is not the result of doing or saying funny things but doing the steps and following the paths to your playful self. You cannot decide to be funny any more than you can decide to be poised before an audience. You can be funny by opening up and making yourself vulnerable by choosing to take the path to embrace your playful self.
You may have already guessed that being funny is related to being. You cannot just decide on being , but you must follow a path to get there. This leads to how being and being and listening figure into being funny.
Conceptual vs. BEING – Funny
The use of the word being is beginning to ring a familiar tone by now since you have encountered being in sharing an image and being and listening and here it is again in being funny. The very same nagging resistances of self consciousness and AJE (analysis, judgment, evaluation) will deprive you of your freedom to be funny just as it prevented you from holding your image in playing with image. The same AJE rears its ugly head and stands in the way of being funny as it did when it blocked your freedom to and talk in public. AJE has become the usual suspect and is also the barrier to being truly funny. So, here we are at being again in – being funny.
Let’s look at the difference between comedy emanating from ideas or wit, which we will call conceptual funny and comedy generated by emotional identity, we will call being funny. Since the most available and common tool for springing into laughter is a joke, lets look there. A funny story or a joke contains the ideas for a set up and a punch line that we may find funny. Thus we have the long line of situations or ideas for the set-up: the farmers’ daughter, Ollie and Lena, or you are really a red neck …if – jokes.
Why can two different people tell the very same joke, with the result of one getting a reaction of side splitting laughter while the other gets polite smiles?
I would suggest it is because one is being in the story and the other is being conceptual.
When someone says, Hey, here is a funny story, I want to run. What follows is a person, whose motivation is to try to be funny telling a joke, launching into a narrative to arrive at an eventual punch line, at which time everyone is expected to honor the telling of the story by laughing whether is really funny or not.
Being funny is being in the story with the result of engaging the listeners to identify with you emotionally, as a human being. This leads to a laugh stemming from emotional identity. On the other hand, being conceptual is saying words that set up a twist, or punch line which might be funny in it self. The laugh, therefore is a heady laugh.
The comedy of emotional identity is the home of the belly-laugh, when we identify with the players as real people involved in the every-day, real-life situations of being human. The funny comes after our identification with the characters, so we are empathetic with the narrative because the joke teller has moved out-of-control and into the intuitive or playful.
Funniest videos are funny for this very reason, ordinary people doing ordinary things suddenly forced out of a control and into funny when their dress catches on a nail, or they back into a wadding pool, or smash through a fence.
How many times have you watched a TV show, film, or play that is billed as funny and found yourself in the kingdom of The Emperors New Clothes?
You are among the masses that hear a laugh track and observe odd human behavior and are expected to agree with the funny of it all, just as the subjects of the king are expected to react as though the king is fully clothed even though he is quite naked. It is not that the scenes and conversation are not light or full of witticisms. They are. Yet, even though they self generate a laugh track, they do not inspire a real belly laugh. Most of the material in situation comedies on the TV and silver screen , seem to gravitate toward this conceptual comedy of ideas and wit.
My favorite example of a TV situation comedy that was successful on both levels is All in the Family. Here we had the set up of situation, coupled with emotional identity. Mike, Archie, Edith, and Gloria could enter into the wit of comedy like name calling – Meat Head and Ding Bat – yet they each allowed us to identify with them emotionally. They dared to move out of the safety of pure wit and into the real emotional lives of human beings who could cry real tears, and lash out in real cruel anger.
The result for the viewers was real and frequent belly-laughs. The comedy often arrived through subtleties; out of a look, or an action, rather than the words, ideas, and wit. The laughter came from what was going on beneath the words as expressed in their body language. The words of the script may not have been funny at all even though the laughter was loud and long.
So, how does this All in the Family example relate to telling of a joke? A joke teller who relates to the narrative is being conceptual gets the chuckle or polite laughter, while the joke teller who moves beyond the words into being funny, as exemplified by Archie, Edith, Mike and Gloria, gets the belly laugh.
We are conceptually funny when we are relating the narrative of a joke; we believe it is the words that are funny. If the narrative is funny we may get a laugh. In emotional comedy we are moving into being with the narrative and, therefore, being funny.
Being funny is where the deep healing belly laughs dwell.
The Funny Mistake
Another example demonstrating how being conceptual is less funny than being funny, is when something goes wrong in a scene. When the line is dropped, or a drink spills the actors react honestly setting up the funny of emotional identity by mistake. Some of the most electric moments on stage were the result of something going wrong. (Remember the original dictionary definition of improvisation?) You may have heard stories told by actors of the times when someone dropped a line, missed an entrance, or dropped a plate or a glass.
Let us imagine a scripted play where the butler is bringing in a drink on a tray and it slides off and lands on the lap of the unsuspecting actor. What happens? Actors will agree to a feeling of panic of the most intense kind usually described as – YIKES! Suddenly, the moment is up for grabs as the actors must adjust to the spilled drink in the context of the play. The unexpected has moved the actors into being.
What happens to the audience? The play has been rolling along as planned and rehearsed in safe mode. All the lines were flowing at the appropriate times, the actors were relating and moving as rehearsed, and then, the drink spills off the butler’s tray, and the focus of the audience is peeked. They lean forward with great interest, even if they do not know whether the spilled drink was an accident or not. Why?
The audience is engaged because for the first time in the play, the action on stage was not acted. All the actors moved into being. It is real because the actors were emotionally identified. The actors were forced to react in a real way, moment to moment, and the audience pricked up immediately, and without even knowing why.
Do you see how this example of sudden discomfort in a rehearsed play relates to being? In meeting your playful self you are following the steps or paths into being, without the need for the unexpected spilled drink, to end up at the same place of being or being funny.
So, it ain’t about the words. The power of words and talking are vastly overrated in comedy and our day-to-day conversations.
Our facial expressions and body language are far more important and powerful in the message we convey than are the words we are speaking. What is it that activates all of these powerful expressions? How do we get to the emotional life of the words? We bring our words to life and create emotional identity – through being.
Meet Your Playful Self