Tag Archives: comedy

The Improv Rules For Better Relationships & a Better You

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 9.33.42 PMI’ve had trouble with social anxiety since I was a kid. For holidays I would hide in the bathroom or some hidden corner of my room just to avoid having to talk to family members we didn’t see on a regular basis. Today I am the most grateful person for Dominoes online ordering service so I don’t have to actually call the store and converse with whoever answers the phone. Initiating conversations in general sounds pretty horrifying as far as I’m concerned (note my job as an internet blog editor).  So it is with a great flare of irony that I didn’t find my footing in Los Angeles until I started taking improv classes at Upright Citizens Brigade.

For those not familiar, Upright Citizens Brigade specializes in long-form improv. So you and your scene partner start having a conversation and build a comedic scene around a “game” or a repeatable funny idea. And it’s all made up on the spot. So basically, you spend 3 hours a week for 8 weeks starting random conversations with people you just met. At the end of the course you then try to have one of those conversations (praying it’s funny) in front of every friend and family member you could convince to pay $5 to see it. It’s insanity – the definition of my worst social nightmare – and it’s the best thing I’ve ever gotten myself to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I have to pry myself off the back wall for every initiation I make. I want to throw up before 90% of shows I do and when I see the pros do it I am astounded at their ability to make it look so easy. What I’ve learned through my two years of classes and indie shows though has not only helped me develop as a performer (When I moved here I would rather be hit in the face with a shovel than be accused of being an actor, but now I have head shots. It’s definitely part of the dream) – but the rules of improv have helped me become a better person in life. Don’t believe me? Try a few of these basic principles and see the good it does for your own relationships.

1. Listen – This is the first and most important rule of creating any scene – but it should be the first rule of any interaction you have. Get out of your head and stop thinking of what you’re going to say next and actually take a second to hear the words someone else is saying. Watch their body language. Take notice of the intonation of their voice and make sure you understand what it is they are trying to tell you. For better or worse, everything said at the top of your scene if your foundation but it is only through listening that you can lay down bricks next to each other in a coherent fashion. Listen first, and you’ll be shocked how much easier it is to talk second.

2. “Yes and…” – Tina Fey has a similar list to this in her book Bossypants (which everyone should read) and she talks a lot about the “Yes and..” rule. This is actually the first thing you learn in improv. Your job as a performer is to agree. What does this mean? Don’t deny anything your scene partner says. You do not have to agree with it, but you’re not allowed to negate it or say that it isn’t true. It’s disrespectful and ruins the progress their contribution made. In real life terms, saying yes being means staying open to someone else’s ideas. It goes hand-in-hand with listening, really. The truth of the matter is that we’re all on this planet together and no one gets anything done alone. Honestly, it’s a lot more fun when you’re contributing together and a lot less stressful than trying to build an empire by yourself.

That brings us to “and..” This is the hardest part. You have to agree, and then add to the conversation. You have to participate. Otherwise you leave your scene partner doing all the heavy lifting and often times a scene will stall. It’s the same in life when you just plod through saying yes without actually getting involved. You become an inactive observer and before you know it you’ve watched so much go by without ever being part of it. So be open and jump in.

3. Be honest – When you’re building a scene it only works when everyone agrees that what you’ve built is real. If halfway through someone says “Ha, but I lied!” then it negates all the work up until that point. If you tell one lie then it’s impossible to be sure if anything that you’ve said has been the truth – on stage or off. An extension of this is don’t be coy. A lot of beginner improvisers will pretend to have a secret or delay saying their full idea because they think it will prolong the scene but really all it does is prolong the frustration. When you’re direct with what you’re thinking then it can be dealt with and built into the universe. When you’re dealing with real life relationships being direct may cause more confrontation initially, but the problems can be dealt with immediately and you learn only to make issues out of things that you really care about. When you purposefully try to be sneaky you waste scene time on stage, and you waste time in your relationships, for what? Something you’re going to have to deal with eventually, so just do it now so you can move on to better things.

4. Be a human – My favorite improv coach started our first class by saying the most popular critique he would give us would be “Be humans to each other.”  It sounds like common sense, right? I mean, how would we not be human to each other? What he meant was to combine all of the aforementioned rules and react to our partners like real people. We may be making things up but comedy comes from truth and you create a richer scene when you play it real. Being a human means you have to listen to what your scene partner says and be affected. If they insult you then you need to be honest and show that you’re insulted. If you’re not insulted then you better “yes and…” with the reason why. Sometimes in the real world we don’t take the time to be affected by the things around us. We’re moving too quickly in our own bubbles to absorb the events in our lives. When you take a second and process how something makes you feel and you react honestly to it you make progress. You learn. You grow. You’re more empathetic to others and you’ll find that it’s much less stress for you.

Improv hasn’t changed who I am, but it has given me several tools to be a better version of it. I will probably always choose the online option over calling it in, but at least I know I can get off the wall if I want to. I know that not all the pressure is on me, and if I can listen and react honestly then there’s the potential to create something out of nothing. Isn’t that the magic we’re all looking for?

How do you try to be a better human? Share in the comments below! 

Thursday Morning Melody: Me And You Grandma

It’s entirely possible that with a week left til Christmas, you’re already tired of hearing every version of “Jingle Bells” imaginable on the radio.
We have the solution.

Erin and MeLissa are a pair of comedians who sing songs and tell jokes in Los Angeles by way of Nashville, TN. This Christmas, they released their newest song, “Me and You Grandma”. It is a tribute to the most under appreciated holiday date you can have: your grandmother. She buys you things. She knows a thing or two about costume jewelry. She doesn’t care how many cookies you eat. That’s love.

So pause your Bing Crosby playlist.
Listen to a little bit of Erin and MeLissa.
Call your grandma.

If you need more Erin and MeLissa, visit their website, listen to their songs on Soundcloud, and follow them on Twitter or Facebook. You won’t regret it. (And we’re not just saying do it because MeLissa is part of our team, but because it’s going to make your life better and filled with more joy).

What do you think of the video? Who are you most excited to see this holiday season? Tell us in the comments below! 

VOD: Is Russell Brand an Anarchist or Just Smarter Than We Give Him Credit For?

Russell Brand has been known to rustle more than a few feathers for speaking his mind. He gets a bad wrap for his crude sense of stage humor or the details of his short-lived marriage to Katy Perry ending up in the tabloids. He doesn’t mind telling off reporters when they slack in asking thoughtful and researched questions and he’s all about sharing his enlightening experiences with yoga and meditation. But would you peg him for a political scholar?

He just finished a week as guest editor at New Statesman despite having never voted in his life. In a recent interview on the BBC’s Newsnight, Russell shared his disdain for the current political system and how it favors the rich hierarchy. He spends a large amount of time defending his position of not voting as his way of refusing to comply with a system that clearly doesn’t benefit the lower classes. Having grown up poor, Russell explains that’s why a lot of poor youth don’t vote – their apathy comes from growing up in a system that clearly doesn’t cater to their needs. Newsnight host bawks at Brand, saying he has no right to complain about a system that he doesn’t put a voice into – and Russell argues back that it seems pointless to voice an opinion in a system that doesn’t work. It seems like revolutionary talk, but the further he explains the more you realize it actually makes sense. Is voter apathy a sign of youth laziness or a call for political overhaul? Does it make Russell irresponsible for promoting these tactics or is he on to something?

Even if you don’t agree with Russell’s political sense, you should also check out this interview where he explains that every person is just a different physical representation of God – or the ordering force of the universe. You’ll see it sounds pretty similar to this Deepak Chopra interview. And you probably thought he was just a comedian with crazy hair.

Way to go Russell.

VOD: Amy Poehler’s Emotional Speech About Helping Orphans

“Close your eyes,” Amy Poehler says during her Variety Power of Women speech. Then she asks the audience to imagine their children, or themselves as children and think of the things that made them feel warm, safe and okay.

Poehler was giving the speech in celebration of her work with the Worldwide Orphan Foundation, the non-profit founded by Dr. Jane Aronson to raise awareness and help the millions of orphans around the world. The Variety honor comes after Poehler teamed up with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm to host an “Emmy Losers” party that raised over $30,000 for WWO.

“There are children in this world who have nothing,” Poehler continues, her voice starting to break, “So who are we to be in this room and to be living this life without helping them?”

Amy Poehler is already a winner of the great human being award for her comedy and work for women’s rights. This speech puts her on another level thought. It is not only motivation to care about orphaned children less unfortunate than us, but she encourages everyone to use their privileges to help others. “It’s great for your skin, and makes your ass smaller,” she jokes (speaking to the Hollywood crowd of course). It’s a message we can all take home and put into practice.

What causes are close to your heart like the WWO is for Amy? Who do you plan to help today? Share in the comments below!

VOD: Stephen Colbert Marries Couple Whose Wedding Was Marred By Government Shutdown

When the government shutdown everyone was in outrage (as they should be) over the obvious programs that were closed – Meals on Wheels, Headstart – and the hundreds of thousands of government workers that were sent home with pay. As the days went on though, the less obvious consequences of the shutdown started to become apparent.

For many couples that had planned their weddings at national parks like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon they will have to postpone or make last minute (expensive) adjustments. That’s what happened to this couple, who were planning to get married this month at the Jefferson Memorial (the site of their first date, aw!) Luckily, comedian and Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert came to the rescue with the funds from Colbert Nation.

He flew out the wedding party (and a few other special guests!) and married them on the show! It was full of spoofs and laughs (check out the bride’s rather shiny bouquet). They may not have gotten the wedding they planned, but it is definitely one to remember!

What do you think of Stephen’s wedding gesture? Tell us in the comments below! And if you have a video of the day you’d like us to post let us know! 

3 Videos That Explain the Government Shutdown

Yesterday, after Congress failed to pass a new budget (or a continuing resolution to give them more time to work out a budget), the federal government was shutdown. But what does that mean? It means that government services deemed “non-eseential” were closed until Congress passes a bill to allow them to re-open and some 800,000 government employees are currently not working.

VlogBrother Hank Green (the other VlogBrother is NYT Bestelling author John Green) posted a video yesterday that more clearly explains what it means when your government shuts down, what services are effected, and the deeper root of this problem:

But why is the government shutting done? 

To answer that question we turn to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D)  from Massachusetts. On Monday, September 30, Senator Warren gave a speech on the Senate floor about her disbelief of the current situation. “[The shutdown] is a last gasp of hope for those that can’t deal with the reality of this democracy,” is a quote from Warren’s speech that you have probably seen plastered all over your Facebook pages. Senator Warren drops even more knowledge about the Tea Party contingent of the House of Representatives forcing this shut down as a way to gut the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) in the full version of the speech below:

Wait, this is about Obamacare? Didn’t the Supreme Court already say it was constitutional? 

They did. The Affordable Care Act has been through all the proper steps to become a law – passed by the House and Congress, singed by the President and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. It has checked off all the verses in that infamous School of Rock video we all had to watch in Civics class. And Obamacare is exempt from the government shutdown so it still went into effect yesterday, October 1, making the entire situation even more infuriatingly pointless.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to make a joke when explaining the reality is too baffling. Jon Stewart may have made the best metaphor possible on Monday night’s “The Daily Show” with a new segment “Rockin’ Shutdown Eve.”

In essence, politicians are playing chicken with the paychecks of almost 1 million government workers at stake. They have suspended vital services to underprivileged children and the elderly to bargain for their ideological ideals rather than by their desire to do what is best for this country, and that is unacceptable.

Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, supporter of the Affordable Care Act or not, we can all agree that politicians need to stop holding America hostage for their own agendas – and that goes for both sides. We the people elected Congress to represent and work for us, and they need to do better. That’s really what you need to know about the government shutdown.

What do you think of the shutdown? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Mindy Kaling’s Rules For Writing in a “Voice Checklist.”

mindy-kaling-mindy-projectI’m a huge fan of Mindy Kaling. She is one of the geniuses behind one of my very favorite TV shows, The Office–and also played the great character, Kelly Kapoor. I love her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). And I’m looking forward to binge-watching her newish TV show, The Mindy Project. (Added bonus: I love anything that’s an “___ Project.”)

Mindy Kaling also gave one of my favorite happiness interviews here. One great passage: “When I was 18 years old, I took a semester off from college and was an intern at Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It was the most glamorous job I ever had, and I idolized the writers there. I remember lying in bed every night telling myself that if I ever got a job as a comedy writer, I would be so happy and all my dreams would have come true. Six years later I got that job, working on The Office. I felt incredibly happy and grateful for a about a week, and then a whole new set of complaints set in. This would’ve shocked and disgusted my 18-year-old self. It’s helpful to remember the younger version of me because it reminds me to feel grateful when I want to be snotty.”

Mindy Kaling was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly this week, and the accompanying article included “Mindy’s Rules for Writing,” which is the “voice checklist” that hangs in her writers’ room. “The truth is,” she explained, “it’s much easier to write a bunch of mean zingers.”

Characters are helpful and kind.

No one is a moron.

Characters are polite.

Conflict should never come from a desire to be cruel or mean.

Do not fear nuance. Comedy from avoiding conflict, not instigating it.

Characters don’t have to be maxed out to be funny.

To me, this list also suggests how TV writers can avoid cliche. We’re also so familiar with the tired stock characters, the broad insults, the unrealistically extreme behavior that falls into the same patterns. These kinds of rules make it fresh.

What do you think of these rules?

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Also …

  • Are you reading Happier at Home or The Happiness Project in a book group? Email me if you’d like the one-page discussion guide. Or if you’re reading it in a spirituality book club, a Bible study group, or the like, email me for the spirituality one-page discussion guide.

This Is What Real Love Looks Like

Burning Love -- Spring Botanical Red Tulip Flower“Real love is something so deep, so energizing, that you will not know it unless you experience it. Love is an expression of energy, not something that is transacted. Tell me one thing: can you love people when you meet them for the first time?”

(From the audience: No Swamiji! We don’t even know them, then how can we love them?)

Exactly! This is what you think. Let me tell you, with a little bit of intellectual understanding and meditation, you will realize that you can love anyone without a reason! You can love the trees on the road, you can caress them and feel the energy flow from you. You can love people whom you pass by on the road without even knowing them. Love is actually your very being, not a distilled quality that you possess.

Nothing is as misconstrued as love is today. Today, love is more of a transaction. If someone says something nice to you, you love him; tomorrow if the same person falls short of it, you don’t love him that much or you probably hate him.

Even your lifelong friend, with whom you chat everyday on the computer, will seem suddenly not-so-close if he says something that goes against your approval. Where is your love at this time? It has suffered temporarily!

It is just games that you play; a game in which love and hate surface alternately and interchangeably. And this love-hate relationship is not love at all. Be very clear. It is simply your reaction to a person or a situation, that’s all. This is what we call love. This is not real love. It is subjective love, that’s all.

Real love knows no object. It is simply there whether there is an object or not. Real love is the subject itself. It does not know any object. You are the subject and you have become love, that’s all. Any object that comes in touch with it, feels it. Just like a river flows naturally and people enjoy it at the different places that they encounter it, real love exudes from a person and the people around him will be able to feel it.

There is absolutely no room for conditioning in real love. The energy in you should overflow and express itself as love. It is then that you can break through the highly knotted boundaries of relationships and express yourself beautifully, as a loving being!

In order to discover the quality of your being, that is love, two things can be done. The first thing: repeatedly listen to words like these so that they create a conviction in you about real love; so that a space is created in you for the process of transformation. Second thing: meditate so that the transformation can actually happen.

In practical life, when you go deeper and deeper into relationships, you will understand that all that you feel is not real love, but just some form of give and take. It is all just adjustment, some compromise, some duty-bound feelings, some fear, some guilt. It is all there in the name of love.

Meditation will take you beyond these mis-understandings of love. Meditation will work at the being level. That is why it is a shortcut! When you have to go through life and know it by yourself, it will take you a lifetime. But with meditation, a space opens inside you to experience these things clearly for yourself, whatever your age may be.

Just understand this one thing: when you are able to love without a reason, you will expand like anything. Your world will suddenly seem larger than life. It will be so ecstatic. You will become an energy source to yourself and to others. You will be so overflowing that the energy in you has to touch others. There is no other way. Others will be naturally drawn to you.”

 

Originally posted September 2011

Watch Russell Brand Give MSNBC Anchors a Piece of His Mind and Lesson in Manners

Russell Brand, comedian and star of such hits as Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, has been the brunt of many tasteless jokes since he rose to fame. Let’s face it: he’s an attractive guy, with a raunchy sense of humor, and a history of escapades. What many don’t realize, though, is that Brand is also a committed yogi, meditator, writer, activist, and more. His real interests and intents, though, are apparently too “serious” for this group of MSNBC news anchors to explore. So they decide to comment, instead, on his appearance, his accent, and what they see as his inherent silliness. Expecting Brand to dance and sing for them like a good celebrity puppet, the anchors get quite a shock when he turns the joke on them and gives them a piece of his mind.

The confrontation is subtle and never fully explodes, but there does appear to be some tension around that table. After Brand’s lengthy explanation of the examples and global situations informing his upcoming stand-up tour, “Messiah Complex,” one of the anchors can do nothing more than comment on the thickness of the comedian’s accent. More than once Brand has to remind the anchors that he is sitting right there and would prefer not to be referred to as “he” and “him.” Basic manners, people. In the final climactic moments, Brand shows them what real, relevant news-casting might look like, taking over reporting duties altogether.

Sex, drugs, and celebrity aside, there are some basic courtesies we would expect professional news-casters to show their guests. We’re glad Brand had the presence of mind to stand up to them, especially as playfully and endearingly as he did.

What do you think? Does Brand’s response seem reasonable to you?

Hilarious Acting Moment From the Late Jonathan Winters

zefNrgqIf you’re an improv-lover, an actor, or watched any comedy television from 1960 onwards, then you know the name Jonathan Winters. A pioneer in the comedy world, Winters passed away last night at the age of 87. He was responsible for almost single-handedly making improv a known and beloved style of comedy around the country, with shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? cropping up in his wake. You may also remember Winters from films like It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and the television show Mork & Mindy. Or perhaps you have your own favorite Winters movie or moment?

Here is Jonathan Winters at his finest, dressed up as a farmer and fictional past classmate of longtime Tonight Show host, Johnny Carson. Permission to laugh at loud, wherever you are:

We will miss you, Jonathan Winters! Rest in peace.

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