Strapped in my car seat on a breezy morning when I was three or four, I glanced at my mom’s eyes scanning past her bangs in the rear view mirror as she pulled up to a stop light. She glanced over at the person who just cut her off moments before. When the light turned green, she grabbed the crown of her head and pulled the wig off of her bald stitched head, shot him a terrifying expression, and sped off. We both giggled.
Grieving is a lifelong process that once we feel it, it’s there forever, in different ways over different stages. Over time it becomes our deepest strength our source of ‘grit,’ our unfair advantage, and our secret weapon. Who is this person?? You may be asking. Well I am a comedian who is, yes, you guessed it! GRIEVING! I’ve been riding this rollercoaster since I was a wee one in that car seat and it never stops being an interesting, hilarious, and painful one all at once.
But enough about me. Improvisation has evolved into a mainstream art form. There are many schools of thought on how one should perform it. The main tenants usually involve the ever popular first rule, “Yes, and…” Interestingly enough, if you lined up the stages of grief with the rules of improvisation, you’ll start to notice a pattern. In fact the rules of improv are mirror opposites to the stages of grief. Which made me wonder, by practicing the rules of improv am I being a more emotionally intelligent and resilient individual? The answer: of course!! The comedy community alone is proof that this practice is not only addictive and supportive but it also strips you of any disingenuity and strengthens you as a person AND performer. It doesn’t thicken your skin, you actually learn to feel more, and by feeling more, listening more, being more empathetic to yourself and others is truly the best way to find the pain, then feel the joy, and use it as art.
There are many ways in which you can instill improv into your daily life if you’re feeling like shit or if you miss someone so hard your stomach aches. The general rule is to find a way to inject a joke into any crevice possible.
Find the joke. (Game) My bald dead mother would tell you, ya can’t kill the Irish! OK fine, I’m still working on that one but you get it. Find every possible way to make a joke in every possible situation. Yes this is within reason, and appropriateness at your discretion but is guaranteed to put pep in your step rather than trudging through life like it’s the fucking drag that it can be.
Talk to strangers. (Exploring reality of the scene, support) Work with what you got. Whoever you are, whatever you look like, wherever you are: be aware of it and use it to connect with people. Isolation is really what keeps grief bubbling underneath the surface, connecting with people will always make your day and your jokes better. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or everything in between, trust the circumstantial extrovert/introvert (me) on this one.
Don’t bail. (Commitment) If you’ve made a commitment to meet someone, go to that thing you’ve been wanting to do, see that show you’ve been reading about, or approach someone you’re interested in. DO IT, DON’T BAIL! Not bailing on your inclinations will help you trust yourself more and your confidence will blast off into the intergalactic space. In the words of some annoying Pinterest meme, “On the other side of fear is freedom.”
Focus on the moment. It’s very easy to get sucked into other people’s lives since we’ve been primed to consume content through every avenue possible but it’s so important to focus on what you’re doing in the moment. Truly hear people when they talk to you, repeat someone’s name after they tell you, really engage with people and your life as it is right now.
Write it down. Repetitive thoughts can strike at any moment that can lead us astray and into a downward spiral. When you feel this coming on, just write whatever is in that fucked up head of yours, no matter how mundane or repetitive your thoughts are. Write until you have nothing left to write. And then suddenly like the fog lifting from a bog you’ve cleared your head of the nonsense. This is a ritual I like to do before doing improv to help me be completely present for my scene partners and more available for the improv gods to bestow upon me their golden nuggets of wisdom.
Find a fellow griever and meet up. (Agreement/establishing relationship) Just like a typical improv scene, the power of two people on the same page is a beautiful thing. Meeting someone who has been through a similar loss as you can be a profound connection. After all there’s all this bullshit around people getting uncomfortable when you want to talk about the person you’ve lost and you eventually turn it off to avoid bringing people down. But fuck that! Because with your grieving fellow you both can exchange dark or hilarious stories all night long and it’ll honestly be the hardest you’ll ever laugh and cry at the same time. Warning: moving forward, you both will be able to read each other’s thoughts. This is a proven theory by me.