Nobody laugh: UCB at the Bank Street Bookstore
When I woke up at 7:45 p.m. yesterday, the lights were out in the JJ12 lounge, and Aeschylus’s “Oresteia” was lying on my face. Nevertheless, sprinting like a somewhat maniacal brother of the Atreidae, I managed to make it to the Bank Street Bookstore in time to catch Will Hines, supervisor of the improv curriculum at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and co-editor of “Comedy Improvisation Manual.”
At the bookstore, Hines’ audience saw a few quick exercises from the Manual performed with finesse by members of Control Top, Columbia’s all-female improv group. Then we got down to (funny) business and began the interview.
So could the UCB Manual be of assistance to, say, a Spectrum writer reduced to making cheap puns in her story because she has about as much “funny” potential as a brick? Probably not, according to Hines.
“I don’t think you can teach people to be funny,” he said.
Oh. I thought this was a comedy manual. I thought I was going to learn how to wittily slap down the main thesis of that irritating know-it-all in my Lit Hum class.
“But you can teach people how to maximize the funny that they have,” he added. “Most people are somewhat funny, at least—sometimes very funny.”
(Hope is rekindled.)
“You can teach people to take the things they are amused at in the real world and translate that to the stage,” Hines concluded.
As it turns out, though, there’s nothing funny – or at least nothing frivolous—about teaching those skills.
“['Comedy Improvisation Manual'] is more of a scholarly manual than a humorous book. [UCB] wrote this book, at least partly, to argue [against] the perception that improv is this silly, disposable thing,” Hines said.
We had spent the past half hour watching the Control Top members act out scenes which predominantly hinged on garbage, empty milk bottles, evil toothbrush bacteria, world domination-obsessed dentists, carrots, rabbits, gardening, and any combination of the above. I was skeptical, to say the least.
But Hines makes a compelling argument.
“Improv is a real art form that can be worked at and that takes preparation. When you ask people to be funny, they initially become very critical, mean, and competitive. Improv encourages cooperation and support and a spirit of camaraderie.”
It’s a notion that Control Top Co-President Olivia Levine agrees with.
“Improv forces me to listen to people, to support and cooperate,” Levine said.
No insulting my classmates, then, if I want to become hilarious one day: A message of the “Comedy Improvisation Manual” that readers probably won’t find in the “Oresteia.” Although I can’t be sure—I still haven’t read it.
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