My pastor just celebrated 25 years at our church. Twenty-five years! He’s a real funny guy and is always making me laugh during his sermons. Unfortunately, I attend a church that is mostly Scandinavians, so I’m the only one who laughs out loud. Sudden public burst of laughter just doesn’t seem to be in our genetic make up.
Nevertheless, my pastor is one of my best friends.
But, he’s always frustrating me because he perpetually dresses better than I do. For instance, if I go to camp, I’ll be dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Then he shows up wearing nice slacks and a nice shirt. Yet, if I go to church wearing slacks and a nice shirt, he’ll wear a nice suit and tie. Inevitably, when we go to heaven, I’ll be wearing a white robe and he will be decked out in an electric white, diamond-studded jumpsuit and a “Pope Hat”. People will mistake this pastor from Minnesota with Elvis! (which might cause some to laugh… but not the Scandinavian Christians.)
One year, about six guys from my church attended a Men’s Retreat together. Since there were so few of us, we had to bunk with other “Philistines” from other churches. One of the guys from the other churches snored REALLY BAD. One night, at about 10:30, we were all kept up with what sounded like this guy trying to siphon wet spaghetti through a garden hose.
By 11:30, he sounded like he was drowning in that same spaghetti.
By 2:30 am, I snapped. I jumped out of my bunk and ran across the cabin to his bedside. I started shaking his bunk (not touching him, for fear that I might get sucked into his nasal passages). Despite my pounding his bed up against the wall, the guy wouldn’t wake up. Repeatedly, I slammed his bunk side to side… all in vain.
Then I heard this voice behind me, loudly and urgently say, “Daren! Stop shaking that man!” It was my pastor.
“WHY?!” I replied.
“I read an article that said that a guy once shook awake a snorer, and the snorer suddenly died of a heart attack.”
Confused, I asked my pastor, “You don’t want me to kill him??”
“Right! That’s right, Daren. Hate the snoring, but love the snorer!”
So, thank you, Pastor Duncan for keeping me out of prison.
Although, I’m pretty sure any judge would have ruled in my favor.
Next, my friend Jacob Danielson joins the show. Jake – like all of us – is getting older. He looks at his dad and doesn’t like the destination that he seems to be heading in. His dad has gotten to the point where the old guy tries to say something profound, but ends up just trailing off and mumbling incoherent sounds. And, when he does speak clearly, he often says something and then follows it up with something that has nothing at all to do with the original topic. For instance:
“My shoelace just broke.
How are we going to pay the mortgage?”
It makes you wonder what causes all these seemingly unrelated synapses to fire simultaneously. Is it just multitasking?
One aspect of Jake’s life that might be speedily driving him toward where his dad “lives”, is that fact that in addition to his comedy, Jake has picked up a job. It’s like he’s obsessed with it – he goes in EVERYDAY! But, what makes it rough is that he works third-shift, from 8pm – 5am. Yet, his friends call him at 11:00 in the morning (makes sense for their schedules, but Jake just tucked himself into bed!) To even the scales, Jake called his buddies at 4:00 am! They didn’t see the humor in it.
The true lesson of it all is that coffee is what makes the world go round!
Finally, I check in from Lifest at Appleton, WI – an annual festival featuring great music and comedy… and me. Probably the best reason for them having comedy is the guys and girls from Happy Fun Time! Wes Halula, Nica Halula, Mike Hadley and Nate Forsberg, amazing improvists each, joined me recently over lunch to talk about the Genesis of comedy at Lifest.
A few years ago, Wes went on staff with Life Productions and was kicking around some ideas, which included the Happy Fun Time Lounge. It turned into a huge success with people from all over coming in to enjoy the list of comedians and impov teams. Even after Wes and Nica moved to Los Angeles, the guys in Wisconsin continued to keep the comedy ball rolling from year to year, as it was such a huge hit.
The Happy Fun Time gang has been working together for over 14 years, beginning when Nate and Wes were just a couple of bachelors yucking it up at youth camps.
Their first business plan simply consisted of posting calendars on the wall, assuming that they would magically fill up with booked dates at the nation’s greatest stages.
It didn’t happen. At least, not right away.
Today, though, they are in incredibly high demand, thanks in part to Nica. You’d think that she’d find it tough to balance out all the testosterone from the three guys that she is constantly surrounded by, but since she grew up with three brothers, she’s gotten used to it since childhood.
Now, unlike many other improv groups, the Happy Fun Time gang introduces a very theatrical element to their comedy particularly references to classic literature and theater, instead of the run-of-the-mill allusions to pop culture and tabloid fodder. This comes from their wide-spanning interests off stage, including Wes and Nate’s love for political literature, Mike’s knack for physical humor and Nica’s perfect timing.
The four of them also are extremely talented writers. Yet, as Wes puts it, improv is writing. To do improv well, you need to understand the structure of a scene, character development, and so many other elements that are critical to effective writing. So, each time they improv a scene made up of audience suggestions, it’s like they are writing a five-minute scene, on-the-fly!
But, when they write something scripted, in front of a computer, then there are the perpetual battles with doubt and double-thought. Whereas, in improv, there’s no time for any of that. The performer just vomits it out without even thinking. And, surprisingly, it’s often that unrehearsed “vomit” that is the best thing that could come out of your mouth in the context of that particular scene!
Now, I often say that in the context of stand up, a comic is often as good as the enthusiasm of their audience (or maybe 60% comic / 40% audience… I’m no math expert). According to Nica, the ratio is 70:30 when it comes to sketch improv, but she’s not saying which group is responsible for which percentage. But, either way, they really do rely on the audience, initially when it comes to suggestions that set up the scene, to random historical, literary and film references that individual audience members pick up on and burst out in laughter. Luckily, for Wes, Nica, Mike and Nate, the four of them can feed off of each others when the audience isn’t responding, in hopes that the audience response will follow shortly thereafter (which it always does!)
But, when it comes down to it, whether the performer is a stand up comedian cracking wise or an improv troupe entertaining as a group, it’s our job to engage and draw out laughter from each person in the audience and make sure they have fun.