My family is hilarious. My brother can get you laughing so hard you'll wet your pants. My dad, while a serious and talented business man and all around mechanical / can build or design anything genius, is as goofy as they come and he gets us laughing just by being his silly self - I could tell you stories about our trips to Home Depot. My mom, well she wrote the book. Everyone, including extended family, all have big, loud (I mean loud!) laughs that get other people laughing.
But, I always felt they were funny and I the audience. I excluded myself.
I never gave myself or my wild, loud, obnoxious and totally catching laugh credit. Let's just say my laugh is so unusual that my friends record me. I laugh at absurd times & absurd things. I break silence. I think lots of things are funny when others don't. And, I am the first to laugh at my own jokes. I felt out of place. I felt like I needed someone to teach me how to be funny because I couldn't possibly be as funny as my family.
I decided to go to "clown school". Or rather, take a class at a local acting school on Personal Clown. That means you learn how to be a clown through a process of self identifying experiences.
Boy was I in for a surprise.
Bear in mind as you read, I took this class over 2 years ago. It hasn't been until just recently that I feel ready to talk about my experiences.
To clown class I went.
There was very little instruction, but there was much "experience" and "opportunity to fail" offered. The clown is born in the moment of failure. What we laugh at is usually the breaking point for us as humans. It's the tragedy we laugh at because we recognize and relate to another's failure, whether we consciously realize that or not.
Oh. My. God.
This class turned out to be even harder than presenting to corporate executives with extremely high expectations and no room for failure. I honestly left each class, often in tears, thinking, "Why the hell am I here? I'm paying for this non-teaching bull shit? Now what am I learning from all of this!?!?"
But wait - there is something good to be gained from all this.
We were told to "Be Funny" and given exercises to try which I always failed.
I did stupid things, and the other clowns in the audience laughed at my failure. Oh, that was the point, wasn't it? But, I was so heartbroken at failing that I couldn't see beyond it.
Remember that moment in school when your notebook falls open to the page with boy's name you're crushing on written a million times over and with your first and his last name? Remember how embarrassed you felt and how you wanted to run away?
Yep, that was every moment of this class.
And I was far from the only one in tears. It was the process of learning through our own failures and our own experiences how to get back up again, put full attention on yourself, and get the audience to laugh. So much harder than I ever could have dreamed.
Thanks to this class I can actually use that moment of "failure" to see where else it will take me. I did not feel that way when I finished class. I was, as George puts it, raw, vulnerable, angry, and unsatisfied. I was bitter. Angry. I was a victim. My spirit was broken before I went to the class. I was in the process of healing from some very deep emotional wounds.
A year or so later ... including several costume changes, many tears, and a few embarrassingly funny stories from my clown's failures... I have come to realize that I gained a great deal from that class.
It broke me open and allowed me a chance to fail and recover from it in a somewhat safe environment (even though I didn't know a soul in my class when I started). That is invaluable. It's something I think everyone should have a chance to experience and learn from.
Lessons don't always come easy and often the breakthrough occurs right after the moment of intense struggle. If I could have just let go and quit trying so damn hard to please everyone else, I might have had more fun.
I now have tremendous respect for comedians like Ed Wynn, Dick van Dyke, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, The 3 Stooges, Doris Day, Joan Rivers, Carol Burnette, Phyllis Diller, Laverne & Shirley, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Bill Cosby, Rosanne Barr, Everyone on In Living Color & Saturday Night Live, Terry Pratchett, Mindy Kaling, Miranda Hart, Jimmy Fallon, James Roday & Dule Hill, Jack Black, Vince Vaughan & Owen Wilson and so many, many more.
It takes a huge act of bravery and courage to put yourself and your flaws on display for the whole world to laugh at. Even if you're portraying a character, and not yourself, there's still a little part of you in every role. Thank you to every comedian for playing the fool and teaching, nay reminding us, to laugh at ourselves and our flaws.