Venice Improv Percepts render Very Important People. And versa vice. Whenever I travel through Venice, I run into people, and the improv begins. We engage in the paradoxical exuberance of being through language, running the gamut from spoken word, gestures, dance, song, poetry, jokes and beyond. I could be talking with one of Linda Ronstadt’s best friends (who is also a labor activist), then a street performer who is moving the groove, then a Renaissance painting expert, then a prominent photographer, then an everyday person, then an angel, then a bugger, and all this time know I am so lucky to be strolling through Heaven on Earth.
I saw Treeman as I was thinking about this essay at the vortex of the multi-verse (Rose and the Boardwalk). He asked about the new BeachHead issue. I said, “You have ESP.” He responded, “Tree-S-P.” TranscenDance of the soul. One encounter can be with a friend sweeping the Boardwalk for free, then the next person has the job cleaning up the Boardwalk. Or, as the Sponto mantra goes, “How much are we not paying you, double that!” We revolutionize diversity.
Are we trying to get more control over our spontaneity? What is irreverent? What is essential? What evokes extemporaneousness? What adds to our pleasures? Go with the flow?
A new movie touches on ad-libbing. For Madmen Only: The Stories of Del Close is directed by Heather Ross. Reviewer Brian Tallerico writes, “Comedy started to shift to something more ambitious and progressive than it was before Del Close came along. He taught people simple rules like be present in the scene, don’t go for cheap jokes, make unlikely choices, be intelligent, etc. These might sound obvious to generations raised on the talent shaped by Del Close, but it wasn’t a couple generations ago. He really rewrote the rulebook, blending his fearless anarchy into a new art form. He was one of the first people to assert that improvisational comedy wasn’t an element of other things but an actual art form of its own.”
Sounds like Venice to me.
Comedy guru Del Close can teach us a lot. He started his career with Mike Nichols and Elaine May. He trained most of the SNL original cast, and almost everyone from Bill Murray to Tina Fey. Robin Williams called it the “Church of Del.” Close emerged as a personification of the creative impulse itself.
This engaging new documentary is a story full of life and the challenges of interacting with others. Del Close taught how to work improv as a way to “treat each other like poets and geniuses.” Much like our efforts in Venice, when you encounter another person, treat them like a star. Funkify Sly Stone: “Everybody is a star.” We can make the world a funnier and funner place.
In the GQ Magazine (8-17-15) profile of Stephen Colbert, Venice resident Jeff Michalski is praised. Jeff has been a vibrant participant in our discussion groups for years. He appears in the experimental Venice documentary The Brother Side of the Wake. Jeff currently teaches improv at the Fanatic Salon in Culver City.
To quote the GQ article by Joel Lovell: Colbert met Del Close, the legendary improv teacher and mentor and champion of the idea that improvisational comedy, when performed purely, was in fact high expressive art.
“I went, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I have to do it,’ ” he said. “I have to get up onstage and perform extemporaneously with other people.” He was part of the same Second City class that included Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello and Chris Farley. “Our first night professionally onstage,” Colbert said, the longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”
“It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.”
Jeff is an amazing teacher, and knows the history of improv’s background with Viola Spolin and Neva Boyd. His comprehensive awareness of play and engagement applies to this theme of embracing others. No matter who they are, we can enjoy their beauty and the emotional power of connecting in commonality. And if one fails, life always rises from the ashes.
James Joyce stressed redemption in Finnegans Wake. Our laughtears become the ocean in which our dreams flow.
Don’t be afraid to be friendly. Invert fear into stimulation. Turn a breakdown into a break through. Flip a rejection into a redirection. Have the courage to fail when you encounter other people in Venice. If ya fails, brush yourself off and start all over again. Reach out and start a conversation. “Jump back and kiss yourself” – James Brown. Be bold! Expand it to “very very important persons” V.V.I.P.
Another recent film touched me deeply, the ALI documentary by Ken Burns. I am proud to say that one of the producers is my friend, Stephanie Jenkins. When George Plimpton asked Ali, “What would you like people to think about you when you’ve gone?” Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.) responded, “I’d like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then, he mix willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stirred it up well, then he spreads it over his span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”
Everybody deserves a smile. Everyone is a VIP. Spread love Venice Improvisers.
I welcome your input. Gerry Fialka Laughtears.com Join us Sunday, Nov 14 at 7pm for the Venice-based PXL THIS Toy Camera Film Festival – our 31st year, live on YouTube. Lo-Fi Hi-Jinx. Electronic Folk Art.
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