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Posts from the Other Cool Stuff Category

Have you ever been ill before a show or rehearsal, so ill that you felt you couldn’t go through with it, yet somehow you did and ended up having a great set?

Not me, but the lovely Jet Eveleth with Paul Brittain - Photo © Adrianne Gagnon

(Not me, but the lovely Jet Eveleth with Paul Brittain) – Photo © Adrianne Gagnon

When Paul Brittain offered a workshop in Toronto, I signed up months in advance. I was super excited, and looking forward to learning from the SNL alumnus.

But as the date got closer, I got sick. We’re talking coughing up toxic sludge, sweating profusely, SARS-kinda sick. Still, I was determined to attend. (Who cares if I was carrying the Plague? This was clearly all about me.)

The day of the workshop, I awoke feeling mummified. On the subway ride there, I was sure I was going to pass out.

Standing outside the classroom, I was torn between vomiting or dying. Mostly, I was furious at my body: How dare it get sick, now of all times?

At the last moment I made a decision: I wouldn’t participate, I’d just monitor the class. It was better than missing it altogether.

And then a funny thing happened.

I sat and watched as the first group performed. But when Paul called for four new people to go up, I joined them. My performance was far from amazing, but I enjoyed learning a new form.

I returned to my seat and watched as another group tried a different form. When he called for a new bunch of people, I went up again. This time I was a little more playful.

As the afternoon progressed, Paul switched to two-person scenes.

Standing on the sidelines, I thought of an initiation: I’d go in as Tom Jones, a callback to an earlier scene.

But as I strode forward, my hand cupped like it was holding a microphone, the girl walking towards me endowed me as a computer salesman.

Without breaking stride, I became an Apple Genius, and the microphone became a pen. I saw the store in 3D all around us, and started showing her a MacBook.

With every line my scene partner spoke, words and phrases peculiar to my character (not me) flowed from my lips, and I discovered more things in our environment to play with. I didn’t have to look; they appeared spontaneously.

During the scene I was aware of only one thing: that I wasn’t thinking or anticipating at all. It felt like things were being fed to me, constantly, intravenously.

Afterwards, Cameron asked if I’d seen Paul laughing. I hadn’t, but it was only then with the workshop over that I realized I hadn’t thought about being ill the entire time.

Two hours earlier I wasn’t sure I could stand. My only goal was to get through the workshop without puking. But during scenes, I was like a person possessed. It was one of the funnest, most freeing experiences I’ve ever had.

Maybe I oughta get sick more often.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.06.26 AM

One of the things that made Much Music (Canada’s MTV) a joy to watch back in the day, was the fact that so much of it was unscripted.

With live programming broadcast in eight-hour chunks, there was no way everything could be written or pre-planned. And while it was almost entirely music-focused, there was lots of room for comedy.

One guest of those early days was a young and lanky Mike Myers. Before Much Music, he and VJ Christopher Ward improvised and did sketch on an all-night video show called City Limits. (I remember coming home from clubbing and watching their low-tech green-screen antics till dawn.)

Much’s producers also invited Weird Al Yankovic to “take over” the station with his own brand of insanity. And it was always great to find out which visiting rock stars had a sense of humour.

Now that Bell Media has axed all but a handful of jobs from the station, we thought we’d share some nuggets from the past we dug up on the inter webs.

 

People often argue about whether improvisation is art or comedy. Del Close believed the former, while Bernie Sahlins argued it was a tool to develop sketch comedy.

I think it’s both. And the more I learn about comedy, the more I realise the lines between art and comedy have been blurred for some time.

“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” – Brian Eno

Cameron and I have always been drawn to art with ideas.

Whether it’s Michael Craig-Martin’s Oak Tree (a glass of water and a piece of paper that explains how the glass is, in fact, an oak tree), or Gillian Wearing’s Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say, and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say, it’s amazing how many great ideas are also funny.

David Shrigley, Jason Polan, and Banksy use humour liberally in their work. And like improvisers, they often do it to make a social statement. It’s the contrast of light and dark, frivolity and foreboding that often makes art so powerful.

Banksy Mobile Loversidbigw

Image © Banksy

You can Banksy on it

Other “serious” artists with a sense of humour include Damien Hirst, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Salvador Dali, and the venerable Gilbert & George.

And let’s not forget Andy Warhol. Anyone who films the Empire State Building with a locked-off camera for 24 hours and then shows the result in theatres is having a laugh.

When Canadian customs officers refused to let his Brillo boxes over the border because they looked like, well, Brillo boxes, and as such were subject to customs fees, Andy must’ve been pissing himself laughing back in New York.

Reporter: Does it bother you that you can’t hear what you sing during concerts? 
John Lennon: No, we don’t mind. We’ve got the records at home.

The Beatles weren’t just talented musicians, they were incredibly witty. In fact, listening to their Christmas records, you’d swear they were a tight-knit improv team.

John appeared on Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore’s sketch comedy show Not Only, But Also. And George later teamed up with Monty Python in The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash. He also helped fund The Life of Brian.

Some musicians inject humour more directly into their work. Bands like Cake, They Might Be Giants, and Godley & Creme combine solid tunes with quirky lyrics. For a tour de force that’s part song, part sketch, check out Godley & Creme’s classic, The Party.

And while Flight of the Conchords are arguably comedians who just happen to sing and play guitar, their songs are undeniably catchy.

Who’s Afraid Of The “C” Word?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has long favoured drama over comedy.

It’s a safe bet that Elizabeth Taylor wouldn’t have won the Best Actress Oscar® if Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? had been billed as a black comedy instead of a drama. It’s both, in my opinion.

As Judd Apatow pointed out, “It’s been like five times in a zillion years that [a comedy] has won Best Picture.” Maybe next year we’ll finally see a category for films like The Edge Of Tomorrow. (That’s a comedy, right?)

“That’s the great thing about advertising. You could have a crawl space under your kitchen floor filled with little girls’ bones and as long as you can dream up a better Chuck Wagon commercial, you’re in.” – from Dry by Augusten Burroughs

Some of my favourite authors are laugh-out-loud funny, even when their material is dark. A few of my best-loved books include:

Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs (autobiographical short stories of growing up gay with a family of weirdos in middle America)

The Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison (television commentary with a side of vitriol)

Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken (political commentary from SNL-er turned Senator)

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot by the late John Callahan (harrowing but hilarious autobiography of hardcore alcoholic who becomes a cartoonist)

My Custom Van by Michael Ian Black (fictional short stories, including A Series Of Letters To A Squirrel, and What I Would Be Thinking If I Were Billy Joel Driving To A Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going To Be A Piano)

“Art is anything you can get away with.” – Andy Warhol

What makes any art truly great is its ability to connect with the audience.

We may not always remember things that are smart, but we remember the things that make us feel. That’s why improv will always be art to me.

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

Top row, from left:

1. Improvise (inscribed “Fuck it! – Mick Napier”)

2. Burrito, the Official Food of Improvisers

3. Christmas gift (came with Portlandia DVD)

4. Because sometimes a photo booth is more fun than an iPhone

5. Kinder Egg Franken-toy made from two figurines

6. Nug Nahrgang’s Instagram feed

7. High-end U-lock key for piece-of-crap bike

8. Profits from show (split three ways)

2nd row:

9. Business card - Bam!

10. USB with Piñata Full of Bees

11. DIY guitar pick

12. Gum (for post-burrito green room politeness)

13. Old timey postcard for sending message from the past

14. Emergency toothpicks/Christmas gift igniter

15. Jetstream rollerball

3rd row:

16. Best. Show. Ever.

17. DCM wristband

18. Hipster room key

19. Master Class notes

Bottom row:

20. Koosh ball

21. Lucky dollar bill from CIF

22. Deodorant (for rehearsals)

 

What’s in yours?

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