[Continued from part i]

as i said before, one thing i take really seriously in life, is humour:

‘To me, clowns aren’t funny. In fact, they’re kind of scary. I’ve wondered where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus, and a clown killed my dad.’

[Jack Handey] 

‘I imagine a horse drawn carriage would be a really ugly thing. For starters, it must be almost impossible to grip a pencil with hooves. Plus there is all that fine detail around the edges to consider.’

[Brett Andy]

[one of my funniest guys followed by one of my attempts at making humour like on of my funniest guys, which you can find more of here]

so i didn’t actually plan to write the previous blog post – it just kinda was there and i started on it and suddenly it became this thing needing to be ended off before it became a book and since i hadn’t finished going where i was wanting to go when i started it, i figured i should carry on. it was one of the most personal blogs i have written and contained some stories and revelations that i have never really shared with anyone, especially the bullying stuff. i guess because my self-identity was pretty strong from quite a young age, due to my faith in God, that that stuff never really got to me so much, or at least not in a way that led to any destructive behaviour or anything.

one of the main points of it was that i really hoped to be quite funny in life and in certain contexts and with particular people i have been – and maybe that is enough, or should be – but i guess i always secretly harboured the hope that on stage or in a book or online or something i would be ‘discovered’ and a whole lot more people would find me funny. and also wanting to write a funnier blog [not always but sometimes, something that would really make people happy] and realising that for me that is a really difficult thing to do – i really seem to struggle to write funny [more than i struggle to be funny] and i’m not sure why that is, but stop it.

someone who i think achieves that writing-wise is a woman named Jamie Wright who calls herself The Very Worst Missionary and her blog makes me smile and laugh on quite regular occasions, but she also totally knows how to drive an uber serious point home and nail it between your eyes. [a classic of hers would be how she manages to capture so brilliantly awkwardly her mistrust and lack of skill at ‘The Hug’ – take a look at this one!]

when it comes to stand-up, which i’ve always wanted [but been too scared] to try, i have a strong feeling that once i got going i would be great because one of my skills is working a crowd – i have just never been able to come up with the starting material to lay a good foundation to be able to work a crowd from. and so i never have. and perhaps i never will. [although in my mind i still like to at least think i will and maybe the material that is naturally rushing towards me in the Americans and African Geography theme might be enough for a set one day altho i will need to disclaim that this is a true story… no, South Africa itself is a country. please stop asking me what country i am from. still South Africa. yes.]

THE FRIEND WHO DID LIGHTS AND AN IMPROV LIFELINE

i guess one of the things i am most grateful to my ex-girlfriend Kirsty for, is having a friend called Karen.

Karen used to do the lights for an improv comedy show in Cape Town called TheatreSports [altho these days they are now called Improguise and they do TheatreSports]and because we were friends with her we ended up going to see quite a lot of their shows. and because we went to see quite a lot of their shows i feel like we eventually got to see them for free or something.

but i sat there for a year and i watched these masters of comedy and improvisation and i thought to myself repeatedly, ‘i can do that’ although in my head i imagine the word ‘better’ probably ended off that particular sentence.

and so, somehow i ended up doing the TheatreSports course with one of the scariest women [when she is mad] who was [and always has been in my experience] the most gentlest person when leading people through a very scary-by-nature class where it is all about making things up on the spot [and perhaps trying to have those things make people laugh!] and who led [and leads] and incredible class and i really, honestly believe that everyone in the world should do the Introduction to TheatreSports course once in their life as it is so helpful for learning to think creatively, for helping break your inhibitions and for teaching you how to be generous in helping other people look good.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

# let me give a bit of a sidebar here, because i believe this is of the utmost importance in terms of my journey – the way TheatreSports generally works is that you do the course and then there are three options given to you:

1. Thanks for doing the course. I hope you had fun. You will make an excellent librarian.

2. Thanks for doing the course. I hope you had fun. We would love to have you as part of our team. Feel free to join us for class once a week and we would love you to do the front of house and lights for approximately 6 months before you ever have a hope of being on stage. [this is not said to people but is the general understanding – new people from a course do door and lights for about 6 months before any of them are given a shot on stage and some of them might never be]

3. Thanks for doing the course. I hope you had fun. We would like you to play in two week’s time.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

From most of the courses i have been around for, i can’t remember many more than three people [out of a group that might be 15 to 25] be asked to join us for class. i think everyone who has been invited to class has been a number 2 in terms of the descriptions above.

In fact, i have only ever seen one number 3 that i remember [and that could really just be my memory, but this is the one that stands out] and that was me. And i honestly don’t know that i would have managed to stick around for 6 months not playing if i had not been given the chance. Hopefully i would have. But i know for absolute sure, that the fact that i got on to stage to play with them almost immediately was the hugest boost for my confidence and in my opinion, improvisation is 80% confidence and 20% skills and funny or something like that.

Ashley Brownlee and Megan Choritz, now Furniss, are in my opinion the best TheatreSports players i have ever worked with [and there have been a bunch of other hugely talented people as well] and the secret with them was that they could come up with amazing ideas most of the time… but on occasion they could also have a pretty crap idea and deliver it with an amazing character or with such incredible confidence that it would be brilliant and the audience would love them. i have seen many lesser skilled players have amazing ideas and deliver them nervously and they have crashed and burned. so much of it is confidence. and i am so grateful that, for what ever reason [maybe shortage of players when i was around] i was given the chance to get on to the stage quite quickly.

and sometimes i was good. and sometimes i was really really bad.

i remember one excrutiating Rag show we did in the Baxter theatre [an annual show for the local university students where they got stand-up often filthy comedy for an hour and then we brought our family friendly show for an hour] where we were playing a warm-up game called ‘Environment’ which is a guessing game where the audience pick three words while you are out of the room and then you come in and play the scene in the environment they give you and try stumble on to the words.

Ashley Brownlee: best guy i ever played with.

Ashley Brownlee: best guy i ever played with.

 Ours was set in a Spur and i got stuck on stage as the head waiter or chef as teammate after teammate came on and guessed food suggestions for the last word we just couldn’t get and left again. Embarrassing, awkward, awful and i died a little inside. fortunately i also remember one of my highlight moments ever came at the end of that show and i forget the exact scene but we were playing Music Style Replay and Ashley and i managed to get our tongues stuck to a frozen ski lift and were singing a rousing duet that brought the house down.

i played with the TheatreSports crew for just under a year and in the beginning there is very much [even if just in your head] the feeling of you being the newcomer and this subtle gap between you and the regular players – they don’t treat you any differently and it is probably again linked to a confidence thing [as early on, most of the notes sessions we have after a show where we discuss how things went and try to learn from them, seem to be aimed at you because you are messing up the most] but i do remember the moment ‘it happened’ and suddenly i was one of the team – and having played for 11 years with them i got to see that dynamic happen with other people as well where there is this moment of ‘yup, you’re really in’ and i imagine each player probably experiences that differently.

so if my first lifeline was being thrown quickly on to stage, my second lifeline happened a year or two later. as i mentioned i was with TheatreSports for a year and then i went overseas to do the Youth With A Mission course that i did in Holland, heading to the UK and London specifically first so as to make money to pay for it. but before i left i really thought it would be a great idea to proselytise the entire team and in a very messy way that was brought about by circumstances and time constraints and fear i guess, i ended up writing a long letter comparing aspects of TheatreSports and improv games and then giving it to each of them and leaving the country.

it did not go down so well.

SO MUCH GRACE AND LOVE 

and i was away for just over a year and i knew that everyone was really pissed with me. and so i just tried to keep/build relationship by sending postcards and emails and staying in touch and letting them know that i missed them.

time managed to heal a lot of wounds. and my TheatreSports crew were incredibly gracious. i remember literally having one moment back stage with my ‘Stunt Double’ friend Sarah before going on to do a show and then it was left in the past. it was a few months after my return that i felt my moment of transition from ‘new guy’ to ‘one of the team’ and i just soared from there.

so much fun. so much funny. so many great memories and great memories of not-so-great-corporate-show memories and trips to Namibia and Sun City and all around Cape Town for a whole bunch of very different shows. i loved getting to lead TheatreSports courses with Megan and others in the team. fionaquite possibly one of the fun highlight moments of life [and a running gag between me and my teammate] was the time Fiona Du Plooy and i were doing a workshop at a boy’s school in Cape Town and playing a game where you basically set up the next kid in line with an action [with the strong instruction to never make anyone do anything you would not do yourself] and one of the boy’s when asked ‘what are you doing?’ [usually the answer is something like ‘I’m eating an ice-cream’ and then the next kid mimes eating an ice-cream] responded with ‘I’m sucking a ferret’ and despite losing Fiona almost completely to giggles at the suggestion, before we had a chance to interject and re-emphasise the instruction, the next boy in line mimed sucking a ferret as if it were a giant lollipop… needless to say we needed a time-out to get Fiona back and it has been a private joke between us for years…

the key focus of TheatreSports is teamwork and making each other look good and i think i took a little while to learn that one, whereas i was surrounded by generous folks who were always modelling it for me – but i tended to try to get the laugh for myself and often do it at the expense of the scene or the believability of the scene and that was never very cool of me and i often got ‘shouted at’ in notes. i guess it was the struggle between finally having the space and the skills to be funny and having people [a whole audience of them] think i was. but i owe so much to that tireless group of improvisers who showed me grace and forgiveness and patience on so many occasions as i learnt to do improvisation more as a team player.

altho one aspect does stand apart from all of that. my favourite game from the beginning [my watching days] was a game called Sign, where much like the recent Mandela memorial service, someone gets up and makes up a whole lot of sign language. the game is played as an interview where two people are given a topic and the third person recreates the entire interview in a made-up sign language.

in my opinion, Ashley Brownless is the king of that game. is and always will be. i used to love watching him do the sign language and because he was so good, no one else ever wanted to try it. if we played Sign, Ashley was going to do the signing.

signi imagine there must have been times when Ashley wasn’t around during our time at TS together and i probably would have tried doing it. but it was really when Ashley left that i started doing it more and more and then suddenly i became the go-to person for sign and at some point people even started referring to it as my game. that was a big moment for me. i have always said that i am not as good an actor as most of the rest of TheatreSports [who generally had some kind of dramatic training] and so when it comes to creating [and holding] characters and making scenes happen, i was always on the back foot [especially in the early days, hopefully i’ve improved]. so i used to generally excel at games that involved words or quick wit or cleverness [my absolute favourite game being one we invented as a team called Jonathan’s Lisp where we would get two consonants from the audience and if it was a ‘F’ and a ‘P” then ever ‘F’ in the scene that our characters spoke would be replaced with a ‘P’ – it was a lot of silly pun].

so the idea that i was really good at one particular game really was a great ego and confidence boost for me. and i just also loved playing that particular game so much as well.

and so being part of that amazing group of creative and clever and witty and adventurous and generous people is one of the things i really miss a lot from being away from South Africa [for close to three years now – although in Jan this year they let me play a bunch of shows when i was there and that was so much fun!]

MY NON-EXISTENT [SO FAR] INTERNATIONALIMPROV CAREER

and i did audition for two shows while i was over here:

[1] the first was a group called Comedysportz in Philly and they were really great – as with TheatreSports days of old i would sit in the audience and watch their show and think, ‘I am definitely better than at least half of these people’ and so i was super amped to play but in all honesty probably would not have had the time with our Philly work/home schedule – I went to an audition [and i really suck at auditions – my humour, as mentioned, works well playing off an audience] and thought i did decently, but they auditioned about a hundred people in three days in three minute auditions and so i really didn’t have much of a chance and didn’t make it. i was bummed, but playing improv for 11 years with an amazing bunch of people back home and knowing i could do it, meant that it didn’t ding my confidence or identity at all. their loss really. i still enjoyed watching a bunch of their shows and made friends with some of the people who played and they had some really great players as well.

[2] in the first few weeks in Oakland we found a place online and i went and auditioned there and they said they would email us back with the results within 24 hours and i never heard back from them. i auditioned with about 12 other people and easily thought i was in the top 2 so really didn’t think i wouldn’t get in. however, while i was auditioning, my wife Val was outside waiting for me and got to witness their ‘A-Team’ practising and she told me later it was a really horrible experience with people blocking each other and fighting on stage and just doing a bunch of stuff that didn’t make for good improv. so bullet dodged i guess.

but i do miss playing and am looking forward to a guest appearance at a show or two in Jan/Feb when we head home for a visit which is but weeks away. i have been playing around with the idea of perhaps running an improv course here in Oakland and seeing if we can get a little something together. but we will have to see.

so the TheatreSports crew and my years in improv definitely helped play a huge role in terms of me finding my funny and it has been so amazing to perform for and entertain literally thousands of people over the last decade and more. thank you thank you thank you to everyone who played big and small roles in that.

i feel like there is one more part to share [anyone make it down this far?] which will focus on the more recent years, my failed attempts at viral success and my discovery of a really tiny audience who really appreciate my funny way more than they should and have inspired me to keep on trying simply because i love seeing how they interact and looking at attempts at Jack Handeyesque humour, a nutcase called Brad Fish [who at least four schools in South Africa invited into their online classrooms to teach English to], my standup pulpit and the biggest [and sometimes hardest but most fulfilling when it comes] laugh to strive for – that of tbV.

to close off, one of my favourite movie lines which comes from a Bond movie and was perhaps meant in all seriousness, but which i find one of the greatest and funniest lines of all time – picture Sean Connery’s James Bond strapped to a table with a gold laser beam making its way slowly towards his privates as villain Auric Goldfinger looks on:

James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die.

[to be continued…]

corpsing megan

I did that. Gold medal right there.

and of course in 11 years of improv’ing where more often than not i have been on the opposing team to Megan, one of my favourite [naughty] things to do is when we do play a game together and i find a way to corpse [make her break character and laugh] her – because she is such a pro that it doesn’t happen often, hence the challenge, and the reward when this results:

[To continue on to part iii which looks largely at my stand-up preaching and the three jokes i invented, click here]

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