Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Want of An Understanding Ear

Jonathan Browning

Guest Blogger

"The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them - words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller, but for want of an understanding ear."

- Stephen King - Different Seasons, The Body

This is one of the most beautiful quotes that I have ever read. The fact it came from a man who also gave us killer automobiles and blood soaked Prom Queens, shows that those who create darkness must also know beauty.

I posted this quote here because I believe it should resonate with artist in a deep and profound way. Anyone that creates should feel a special pull when they hear this quote. I believe that to truly create something special, you must reveal a part of yourself. Those who see, hear and/or feel your creation should also know the creator.

Over the years, I have immersed myself in a number of art forms. I've been lucky enough to do improvisation, traditional theatre, stand-up and short films. If you look at any of my work in these areas you will see a very definite set of “landmarks” that lead directly to who I am at the core. Currently I spend most of my time writing and directing short films. None of them are even close to being “autobiographical”; I am not a Day Laborer, a woman, a homeless man, a CEO, a Ninja or a super hero. Each short does reveal who I am and a little piece of that part I try to hide from the world, where my secret heart is buried.

While some of the films have received positive reactions, others have not. That is the cost of creation. To risk showing strangers, friends and family something that, inside feels so important and so revealing, only to have them shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s OK.” But that is their genuine reaction and the one offering his/her work can’t judge the honest response of the receiver. You have to accept the bitter with the sweet.

I said earlier that this is an important quote to any artist. This blog is mainly read by people at The Second City and I want to apply it directly to anyone that improvises or creates sketch comedy.

How different would a performance be if, in addition to playing “hilarious” characters on stage, we revealed ourselves as well? Instead of trying to be “clever” we chose to be honest. Instead of trying to get a laugh, we listened and reacted from a place of honesty. That is not to say that we can’t play characters or try on the skin of someone different than ourselves. (I encourage you to play a 90-year-old grandmother or a two-year-old boy and everything in-between.) But instead of playing your “idea” of them, what if you allowed them to share the same fears and hopes that you carry with you every day? What if these characters took a risk and shared their “secret treasures”? What would happen next?

That doesn’t mean that every scene would be a sad exploration of fear and loss, although I would take that over another scene where a bunch of people stand around talking about what they could do later that day. I generally find that I laugh a lot more in “real” life than I do sitting in a theatre or in front of the TV. Life is funny. Pain can be funny. Honesty is almost always funny, it is definitely more interesting. The shows that really make me laugh are the ones that capture what is real for me. (Extra's, The Inbetweeners, Modern Family and The Original Office are just a few examples.)

This goes for anyone working on sketches too. As an exercise try asking yourself, “What is a revelation that would cost me dearly if I revealed it?” That is what your next sketch should be about. You can exaggerate it or "heighten it" for comedic affect, but in its core it should be something that truly matters to you.

It’s funny to me that millions of people watch the same TV show, eat at the same fast food restaurants and wear the same type of clothing. But we think we are all alone in the world when it comes to feelings and secrets. You are not alone. People laugh because you said something that they have felt and perhaps, never shared. To quote Homer Simpson, “It’s funny because it’s true!”

That’s my blog for this week. I must admit that I feel self-conscious about writing something that could be called “sappy” or “self-indulgent”. But it is a revelation that I wanted to share and I truly hope it means something to you as well. Thanks for indulging me. Next week I shall return to tales of jet packs, over weight zombies and the dangers of dating 80’s rock bands!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Open Letter to the World's Scientist

Jonathan Browning
Guest Blogger

Dear Eggheads,


You heard me. It is 2010 and if I want to transport myself from one location to another, my options are limited to earthbound devices. Why am I not pushing a small, red, hand held plunger that ignites the pack on my back to lift me (gently) into the air where I have the option of hovering or propelling myself headlong through the sky? What's the hold up?

Here are some of the things invented in the past 60 years; the remote control ('55), the birth control pill ('57), jet airliners ('58), Music synthesizers ('64), high yield rice ('66), smoke detectors ('69), Automated Teller Machines ('69)Cell Phones ('73), GPS ('78) and Prozac ('87).

The TV remote was invented in 1955! Do you know when the first TV show aired? Me either. I tried to google it but all I could find were a bunch of websites that talked about the first episode of Friends and how long it took Rachel & Ross to hook up. So let's just say TV started in the 30's. It took less than 30 years for scientist to say, "I am sick and tired of walking six feet to my television set in order to change the channel. To the lab!" And how many channels were even available in 1955? Two? Three? Again, I don't know. I'm not very good at utilizing the google search. But if you type in "Chuck Norris" and hit "I'm Feeling Lucky" that is some pretty funny stuff. Anyway, these guys were sitting there, six feet from the TV and they are so desperate to see what is on one of the other two channels that they invented a device to switch the station. It was no easy task. Nearly 400 men were killed in the building of the first remote control. The locals referred to it as "The Widow Maker". It was only spoken of in hushed tones and whispers.

Then we jump up to 1958 and look what we have here...The Jet Airliner. They are now so close they can taste it. Massive jets are breaking free of the Earth like Daedalus. (The much less famous father of Icarus. Why memorialize the one that ignored sound advice and plummeted to his death? His Dad was the one with a sound plan to escape King Minos' punishment for them both. But nobody remembers old Daedalus. You know what Icarus could of used? A jet pack.) But I digress. Hey brainiacs, how about taking the technology you invented in '58 and just making it smaller. Throw a couple of those jet rockets in the back of a knapsack, put on a football helmet and let's get this thing done!

In 1957 you created a digestible pill that would literally prevent the creation of human life. Since the dawn of time women have involuntarily released an egg. You made something that says, "Um, nope. No more of that, thank you." 53 years ago you had the technology to alter the very fabric of nature. Yet, I am still putting one foot in front of the other, like some kind of jerk, whenever I want to go someplace.

Don't even get me started on your high yield rice and your fancy Green Revolution! The same goes for your hoity toity smoke detectors, ATMs, cell phones and Prozacs. All would have been obsolete once the jet pack was invented. Oh my God, my house is on fire! Luckily I can just fly out of that hole in my roof IN MY JET PACK! I could use a little cash this weekend to see a movie....OR...I could just spend the weekend spinning around IN MY JET PACK! Hm, I wonder what my friends are doing at the mall. I could speak to them on a tiny voice box or I could just fly over there and hang out with them IN MY JET PACK! Prozac? Who could get depressed when they have a jet pack? I didn't forget Music synthesizers. You know what's cooler than a guy hovering with a jet pack? A guy hovering with a jet pack while playing the synthesizer. Throw that guy in a leather jump suit and now you have yourself an awesome 80's music video!

We are a divide nation right now. You want to get the Tea Baggers and the Tree Huggers to unite? Give them a jet pack! I long for the day when Sarah Palin says, "What's my International experience? I can see Russia from my jet pack." Every time I get on a plane, get in a car or place one foot in front of the other...the terrorist win.

Now, just give me my jet pack.