Ever notice that really funny people are often really angry people, too? I figured that out after dating one of them. Then I noticed the characteristic in some professional comedians. One of the worst nights of my life was watching "second rate" comics in the back room at a famous comedy club. These were some bitter people. Since the crowd was tiny, they ended up doing inside jokes to each other and demanding sit-coms from any audience members who might be network execs. Miserable.
I bring this up because I think an improv teach of mine has been sucking the bitter teat, as well. It took me a couple of classes to notice that his smiley warmth was undercut with a pissed-off vibe. Quite disconcerting when you are trusting this person with judging your comic talent, critiquing your stage style and handing out your grade.
It was all just an undercurrent my intuition was picking up on until the day when I stayed after class to ask him a question. His body language was stiff, his face straight as he spoke to me and asked if he was right in suspecting I wasn't a professional actress. I copped to the fact that I was just a civilian who loved me some mental play. (I'm thinking my Marcel Marceau mugging tipped him off.)
As he punched the air conditioner button off, he let me know that the class I was in was really structured for the working actor. The school had intro classes for the rest of us who just got our jollies doing scenes to make strangers laugh. As we talked and walked out of the classroom, he went back and forth between saying it shouldn't be a problem to wishing the person at the registration desk had been more clear. Finally, he said he was willing to work with me and that I should let him know if he was pushing me too hard. Very polite and all. But my intuition is now setting off little alarms that this is a grudge he will not really be able to dismiss when it comes time to pass or fail me. For instance, he once made a comment in class that outsiders didn't understand "the struggle" that actors went through.
Well, hell, I do understand. After sitting through one recent casting call where I was on the comfy couch with the creative team, not under the hot spotlight, I realized what a miserable life it can be. The auditions with the dismissive director saying vague stuff like "Play it warmer," the constant rejection, the non-speaking parts to pay your dues, the waiting tables, the disapproving parents. I get the struggle. So why can't I come play in his world, even though I'll never play Hamlet or Hamlet's mom? C'mon. Neither Phil Hartman or Will Farrell, who both got their starts at this same school, did the acting thing until they were in their 30s and look at their trajectories. Or maybe that's part of the problem?
So now I'm dreading the first day back in class with him. Part of me wants to prove him wrong and use his attitude as an impetus to improve. But I really don't want to feel like I'm in a White Shadow episode every week when he gives me a criticism that leaves me wanting to ask, "It's because I'm black, isn't it?" On the other hand, I could stick around, impress him with my non-chops chutzpah and walk outta there at the end of the semester with him bellowing after me in a thick Scottish brogue, "Who's the man now, dawg?!" Will I be the girl in the PG movie who everyone is rooting for? Or will I ignore the advice of every hip-hop celebrity and not stay in school? It's all comes down to who prevails between the punch line and the punching bag.