Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul struggles to explain how he improvises his Saturday afternoons.
Thanks to my New Year’s resolutions, I’ve begun participating in something that’s hard to talk about. Not in the sense that it’s emotionally difficult, mind you. But as an activity it’s just plain challenging to explain. It all started a few Saturdays ago.
“What kind of stuff did you do at your improv class?” Chef asked.
“Oh, today we mostly did object work.”
“I’m not sure what that means.”
“Well, like how we interact with fake objects. Like we stood around in a circle and passed each other a thing that we mimed, and then we would change it and pass it to the next person. It was really funny.”
“I imagine,” he said incredulously. “And that went on for 3 hours?”
“Oh god, no. Then we played like we were in a health club. And I fell on the treadmill and hurt my knee. I think I’ve got a bruise.”
“I don’t get it. I thought it wasn’t real.”
“Well the treadmill I made up. But the floor I hit was real. Work with me here.”
I realized pretty quickly how difficult it was going to be to explain my enthusiasm for Improv 101 at People’s Improv Theater (www.thepit-nyc.com), so changed the subject. The following Monday, Susan wanted to hear all about.
“What are the other students like? Were you the oldest one like you feared?” she asked.
“No, there’s this guy Gary who’s older than me. Kind of funny embarrassing though, when he passed me his fake object he farted.”
“He fake farted?”
“No, he really farted. His fake object must have been so heavy that it caused him to really fart. It’s was so funny.”
“Sounds hilarious,” she responded dubiously.
Despite the fact that I can’t seem to explain to anyone what exactly we do in the class, I am having a terrific time. Having to push outside my boundaries, think fast, and perform in front of a group is exhilarating—takes me back to college when I last performed in front of an audience (I don’t count all the corporate presentations I make my living doing).
The hard thing for me is judging whether or not I am still good at improv performance—or if years of directing and writing have worn away the live performance skills. Am I just fooling myself into thinking I’m funny?
Last night, I met up with a new friend from class Clare. Last week, she and I did some hilarious (I think) scene work in a submarine where we had to speak in gibberish and a suicidal encounter in Starbucks—funny, right? She laughed when I told her my insecurities about my talents—and inability to articulate the class to lay people.
“Oh, I totally know what you’re talking about. I was trying to tell my husband about you. I said, ‘There’s this guy Jon Paul in class. He’s hysterical. We couldn’t talk to each other. And he made this face at me. It was so funny!’ And he was like, ‘Sounds hilarious.’”
Glad to know I’m not the only one dealing with an improv translation challenge.
By the way, our student “graduation” performance is at 7pm on March 7 (the night of the Oscars—how did I manage that?). Everyone’s invited—but trust me, I’m unable to tell you if it will be funny.