If you were peeking surreptitiously through my window tonight and saw me groaning in pain as I reached under the kitchen sink to grab a garbage bag, you could be forgiven for wondering:
“Is he a mild-mannered writer by day who uses Krav Maga to fight crime at night? Is that why he’s so stiff and in such obvious agony now, having over-exerted himself during the off hours in his zeal for intemperate Justice?”
Honestly, right now it feels exactly like I do go out at night, but not to pummel ne’er-do-wells. Nope, sadly I think it’s more akin to them pummeling me.
But that is not the source of my discomfort.
It’s something much simpler:
That darkest and deadliest of the comic arts, requiring its oh-so-foolish practitioners to work…without a net.
Dangerous stuff. Really gets the heart a-pumpin’.
Yes, instead of finishing his latest short story or the third book in the Marlowe and the Spacewoman saga, this mild-mannered author / engineer by day is moonlighting as an adrenaline-seeking improv artist during his “down” time.
And I’m not very good at it.
You see, in Comedy Which Is Improvised, as lay people call it, the audience expects to laugh. Ideally by something you or your fellow artists are saying and performing on stage.
You know, acting out wacky and hilarious scenes based on prompts from the people sitting in the dark in front of you, fidgeting in their seats, hungry for entertainment.
And if you aren’t wacky and hilarious?
Well, the audience still needs to feed. And if they don’t get the delicious comedy they expect, there is a substitute they will accept.
Turns out if you can’t make with the funny using words, the audience will eat up pain.
A very specific type of pain.
Sure, you may think it’s funny to punch a castmate in the face and break their nose. Especially if they’ve been hogging the stage all night and stepping on your lines.
But not the audience. Oh no. From them it’s nothing but shocked gasps and indignant muttering and offers to testify on your castmate’s behalf at the assault trial.
Fall flat on your own face?
First a silence so deep descends upon the audience they can hear your teeth crack from the impact.
And then, a beat later, laughter.
Uproarious, gleeful laughter.
The more self-inflicted and gasp-inducing your injury, the more they lap it up.
And once they’ve supped on your personal misery, they discover too late they’ve developed a taste for it.
They want more.
They need more.
They. Must. Have. MORE.
More of your saucy, delectable pain.
So this past weekend I ended up flinging myself upon the hard, unyielding boards I was trodding in a desperate attempt to find a balance between killing myself (too much pain) and angering the audience (not enough).
Oh, how they laughed at my anguished wailing, how they chortled at my plaintive whimpers, how they guffawed at the gush of my hemoglobin all over the floor of the stage, hot and sticky and metallic.
Which is why today, I don’t have the strength to lift my damp, still blood-stained costume out of the washing machine.
Or a garbage bag out from the cabinet under the sink.
Today I learned it’s a good idea to have, if not a medical degree, at least an Associate’s Degree in anatomy if you want to get into the dangerous, high-stakes life of improv comedy.
Or, if you have the knack for it, be funny.
Either way, I think I’m in over my head.