Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Utilizing Pain for Humor

Pain is an essential part of humor.  Strange, but true.  True, there are ways of being funny that don't involve pain like surreal humor, knock knock jokes, and puns.  Although, you could argue that those things are painful in and of themselves.

But pain.  Pain's funny.  Not when it happens to you, of course.  That's tragic.  But, even if it does happen to you chances are other people will laugh (if they think you're still okay).  Anytime I hurt myself, whether it's falling down or hammering my fingers, my wife's first reaction is not to swaddle me and ask if I'm okay... no, it's a giant laugh.

Pain comes in all sizes and shapes.  Slapstick comedians emphasize physical pain.  Think of the Three Stooges--that's 100% bodily harm pain.  But, even slapstick comedy can emphasize other types of pain--social awkwardness caused by weird bodily movements--think Jim Carrey in Liar Liar, when he beats the crap out of himself in the men's room.  Other actors and comedians utilize emotional pain--whether it's from being a failure (see Charlie Brown), fat (see Louie Anderson), sexually frustrated (see any American Pie movie), broken up with, socially awkward, a loser, an underdog, etc.

You name it pain is essential for humor.  Of course, hopeless pain that leaves a person empty and despondent is tragic.  That's not funny.  But, pain where the hurt person still is somehow okay (even if that being okay is debatable) can be funny.

So, how to insert pain into improv comedy?  There's lots of ways... here's some ideas:
  • Draw from your own life/failures.  Sure, this is risky.  But, true comedy is.  Also, chances are these faults of yours will be the most authentic, funny, and resonating with an audience.
  • Pick a pain and go with it.  Be it emotional, social, physical.  Pick something and take it with you in the scene.
  • Cause pain.  Be a bully, overtly or subtly.  Try it.
  • Remember the addage--"hurting people hurt people."  That means that people who are hurting themselves, tend to hurt others.  If you're a bully, that means it'll be funny if you reveal what hurt has caused you to be a bully.  And, if you're suffering, it's funny if you end up causing other people to suffer too.
Pain is an intimate experience that makes other people uncomfortable.  Most people g around walking like nothing's ever wrong, or that they're strong/perfect people.  Pain opens the curtain to what's really going on.  It's offers a ripe opportunity to let the audience into a human experience that they'll be relieved to find out other people experience too.  

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