On Comedy and Community

At the beginning of 2016, I posted on Facebook about the Comedy Bang! Bang! Tour coming to North Carolina. Two of my friends, Rachel and Nellie, immediately commented:

Carson!

Come with us!

I said yes. But I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I only had a vague idea of what CBB was. So I started listening to the improvised comedy podcast incessantly.

With such a devoted fanbase, the podcast benefits from inside jokes and callbacks that layer on top of each other. As I listened, I grew more and more to love it. Some of the episodes that make me laugh hardest are probably inscrutable to someone who is listening to the first time (if you’re a new listener don’t know the phrase “hey nong man,” you will soon enough).

The thing about CBB is, it becomes more rewarding the more you engage with it.The more you become accustomed to the style, the guests, and the running jokes, the more you fall in love with the podcast and the people involved, and the more joy you gain from it.

So of course I did what I always do when I love people, which is draw them – that is, the folks going on the tour: Neil Campbell, Scott Aukerman, Paul F. Tompkins, and Lauren Lapkus.

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The original drawing. This was done, incidentally, before it was announced that Neil Campbell would attend half of the tour and Mike Hanford would take on the other half.

I am lucky that my friend Rachel took the initiative to tweet the drawing to everyone in the picture (I was too hesitant to tag anyone outside the official CBBTV account). Scott retweeted it, then Lauren, and later Scott reblogged it on tumblr. He was the first person to reblog it, and it quickly became my most liked and reblogged drawing ever. More people shared it, comedians and otherwise, and it kept going.

It’s a little thing, maybe, to retweet a drawing. But nobody had to do that. They did it because they wanted to. It’s a little kindness that lit up my entire year.

Which brings me to the fans. There’s a feeling of comraderie that comes with bonding over an improv comedy podcast.

I loved reading online posts from people who had attended the tour and post-show meet and greets, saying “I was so awkward meeting them!” because I felt like that, too. I loved seeing photos from the shows that people took. It felt communal, joyful. Much like the show itself.

If you want to listen to the live show I went to (the May 10 date), you can find it on Howl. I remember the simply-set stage with three barstools, a number of Blade Runner references, and a loose, improvised feeling (because that’s what it was). But it felt right. It felt like we were supposed to be there, as an audience: a part of this weird, joyful experience that would only happen for us.

After the show, we hurried to the meet and greet. I had copies of the drawing to give as gifts and get signed. I was nervous. We could hear Paul laughing as we inched closer in line.

Photos by Rachel & Nellie. I’m the one in the glasses.

When we made it to the table there was Neil. After a quick hello, Nellie put her copy of the drawing on the table and pointed to me. “She drew that!”

I dropped four copies of the drawing on the table and felt a heavy, awkward pause linger in the air. I hurriedly explained that I had brought four extra copies if they wanted them.

Neil, kindly, said, “Of course, I would be happy to have one.” He turned to Paul: “She drew that!”

“What! You drew that?” Paul extended his hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

I greeted Paul, Lauren, and Scott, falling into the rhythm of saying hello-my-name-is and shaking hands but at a loss for words, too nervous to think of anything and hoping somehow my “hellos” would convey how grateful I was to see greet them at all.

“The drawing is beautiful,” said Scott.

In the back of my mind I knew I wanted to say how much it meant that he had shared it, but it simply came out as “Thank you.”

After the three of us said our final thank you‘s to the four comedians at the table, we headed back to the car. There was an energy in the air. But there was something in addition to than the giddiness that comes with talking to people you admire. Driving back with my two friends without whom I wouldn’t have been able to meet those four at all felt communal, joyful. Much like Comedy Bang Bang itself.

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P.S. For an article that expresses better than I ever could why fans feel so connected to this  podcast, please read “‘Comedy Bang Bang’ Is the Jam Band of Comedy” by Nathan Rabin on Splitsider.

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On Comedy and Community

Movie review: Submarine (2010) – Life is painful, life is funny

Courtesy of rockshockpop.com

In the movie Submarine (2010, dir. Richard Ayoade), a son’s insistence that he does have a girlfriend results in a mother questioning his authenticity, correcting her mistake with an abrupt hug. and giving him two uncertainly confident thumbs up before closing the door.

These moments of fumbling humanity are what make Submarine worth any level of emotional investment.

The story of an adolescent boy and his web of acquaintances – parents, neighbors, love interest – could be told any number of ways, but this one is constructed with care. That said, the attention to color, symmetrically framed images (any shot could be hung on a wall as a photograph), and artfully cut scenes would all mean nothing if it weren’t for the truth held in the characters.

The characters hold a cruel humor while still caring about one another (the son, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), bullies a girl for the sake of a love interest’s possible affection (named Jordana Bevin, played by Yasmin Paige), but when the girl falls in a pond he makes an immediate effort to remedy it, vainly thinking he is wise enough to help her). The main character has a sense of self-importance, and we can imagine Oliver carefully placing the camera for every shot, trying to make his life look as dramatic as possible. And yet, we do not dislike being in his head. He is us. Oliver is not a mean person, the confused mother (played by Sally Hawkins) is not cruel – they are just fumbling, trying to find their way through life without much understanding of how other people do it.

Scenes such as when Oliver visits Jordana’s emotionally distraught family for dinner are somehow not painful to watch. They are too real. They are funny because they are true. We have all been Oliver sitting at the table eating a meal without knowing what to do as the people around him fall apart. As Oliver says with an air of affected mystery, “No one can truly know what anyone thinks or feels.” Certainly. But we work through and find something beautiful all the same.

Movie review: Submarine (2010) – Life is painful, life is funny