Ventral Striatum Stimuli

“Do you know any jokes?” – “I know one, but I forgot how it goes”. This conversation is always the same with me.  It’s annoying. I have so much useless information stored in my brain. I’m not saying a joke would contribute to the useful side, but I’d rather be able to tell a joke than list all cast members of Two Broke Girls. Or Baywatch. Or Community. All cancelled. But who knows when those might come in handy… I’ll keep them in a dusty drawer for now, just in case.

Did you know that comedy and horror are closely related? For one, in both genres, the viewer looks toward the protagonist to overcome a difficulty over the course of the movie, relatable to real life. Also, if you watch those around you if you’re not jumpy during a horror movie (like me), people usually scream, followed by a relief of laughter. We could get into the whole social function of comedy and laughter, but it would take a bit longer. The “relief theory” is quite intriguing.

But this only on the side (and in an attempt to justify my love for horror and comedy without outcasting myself). What makes me laugh and slap my knees or any knees that are available to me:

5: Any kind of comedy really. Louis C.K. is currently one of my favorites. It’s gotten so far that I’m expecting him to make me laugh and when five minutes go by and I haven’t, I’m just waiting for it… But he rarely disappoints. Physical comedy as conveyed by Jim Carrey, the late John Ritter or Robin Williams appeal to my comedic understanding like no other. I love going to comedy clubs for the entire evening experience and admire the artists for not being afraid of judgement whatsoever… Most probably are, but they’re doing a very fine job concealing/ dealing with it.

4: I’ve been looking for a certain location in LA for a few years now… four years, to be exact. For a photo! A photo that everyone has probably already taken, but I want one too, damnit! I’ve been searching whenever I saw photos taken from that location and finally figured out where it is. The photographers don’t like to reveal that spot because it is pretty sweet, and so I’ll keep the peace as well. Since I’m not there right now, and it was bugging the heck out of me, I asked a local LA friend for advice. It sounded a little bit like this: “Watch ‘Falling Down‘ with Michael Douglas… No… No… watch ‘Falling motherf*cking Down‘ with Michael Douglas””. It made me laugh out loud because it showed so much passion and conviction and was just so natural. It wasn’t the location though… but I see where he got it from.

3: Plays on words always get me. As do bad puns. In that sense, I’m a 70-year-old grandpa who desperately tries to reconnect with his grandkids through bad jokes. Exchanging the first letter of each word (which I do all the time without intention… but people don’t find this funny, it really is just me I’m afraid). I normally keep this to myself… for a reason ;).

2: Seeing or hearing other people laugh. It’s contagious. If someone has a very deep and hearty laugh, you just can’t help but chime in.

1: Whose Line Is it Anyway: I know, it should be part of number 5, but it totally deserves its own category. I adore Ryan Stiles. He doesn’t even have to say anything and my eyes start filling up with laughter tears. All performers’ timing, intonation, humor and general attitudes are just so on point. They never disappoint.

I like “clean” comedy. My friend (the one from number 4) wants to send me to see Bob Saget… I don’t think I can handle it. But I survived Tim Allen at the Laugh Factory… And I’ll watch him once more any old day, gladly. Can’t wait to hit the clubs again.

PS: The ventral striatum is the part of our brain mainly responsible for comedic understanding and laughter.

#30DayWritingChallenge

Day 24: Post 5 things that make you laugh out loud

Whose Line

I felt relaxed before the show taping. Not that I would be in it, but usually just visiting those recordings makes me extremely nervous and excited – I can only imagine what the performers must feel like. Although they are professionals and it’s their job, they do this on a daily basis, I’m sure some of them are still uneasy about the result of a taping, how it affects their careers, if it’s up to par. The fame and fortune are supposed to be the reward, but sometimes, it just doesn’t seem to show.

I got into comedy a while ago. I believe it all started with Whose Line. I used to watch how Ryan Stiles poked fun at Drew Carey and when Colin Mochrie had (a little more) hair. Their outer appearances never impacted their on-stage performances… and if they did, it was only for a pun that was well worth it.

Thanks to this show, I discovered my love for improv-comedy. Not to do it myself, but to appreciate what others can do. And sometimes, it’s absolutely magical… as it was this evening.

If I can be part of something like this, I feel that it’s real and not imaginary – which is why I usually go to premiers: Just to see that everything I see on screen is in fact, real. It never is… It’s Hollywood… Nothing is real here.

The taping.. so: I wasn’t nervous, I was just excited to see the performers without the dividing TV screen, and to be part of something hilarious. I didn’t know if I would get in… so to make sure, I arrived waaaayyy early (about 4 hours) – I lived 30 min. away from the studio and rented a car because I wanted to beat the odds. Streets were clear, weather was beautiful, parking garage was not admitting any parking yet. So far so boring… I turned around and decided to get a coffee at a small place in Studio City, which killed the remaining 30 minutes it was supposed to. I returned to the parking garage where they still wouldn’t let the guests park, so I chose the street (which is usually not only frowned upon, but also prohibited in most residential areas in LA because the residents get annoyed). Tonight, they didn’t.

I parked the car, stepped through the leafy streets (LA in January is like fall in most other places – leaves covering the streets, you can wear a jacket or not, and it has the smell of uncertainty and comfort) and joined the end of the line. There were about 50 people in front of me. I sat down and started reading a book (after attending several TV tapings, I know to prepare to kill time). You’re not allowed to bring your phone (and if you manage to sneak it in, well, then there you go), and what else are you going to do if you’re by yourself?! I had no interest in talking to the nerds in front of me – and I do not mean that in a degrading way, it’s simply a fact. I did not care to listen to their advice on how to get into a show, how to treat the people letting you in, how to pass time, and why you shouldn’t bring any weapons. I pretended to read my book. I got lost in it so much that I missed the lady behind me screeching “’scuse me, umm… we’re moving”. Well, good for you, I thought, until I realized she meant me.

The line was actually moving – one duck after another, to form a new line inside the parking structure that deviously had shut its doors on me before. The number of people in front of me magically multiplied and increased to about 150. I had no idea how that happened. Apparently, the previous bunch was only acting as a place holder for those getting extensive McDonald’s meals and Starbucks Coffees and taking walks. Poor place holders. Then there were the groups who had reserved tickets. The VIPS’s. Mostly Asians. Those are the special ones – the close friends, relatives, and invitees of the cast, crew, and anyone who has something to do with the CW and CBS Studios.

About 50 people in, they let us know that everyone was on stand-by, which drastically decreased my hopes and chances of getting in.

I got in.

And so did about 50 people after me.

The studio was fairly small – it fit maybe 200-300 people. It’s always exciting for me to be there: You see the camera people, the creator (Dan Patterson) and of course, the performers, and all the behind-the-magic things that you would never think of in front of your TV screen. Tonight, the performers were Jeff Davis, Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, and Ryan Stiles. They entered the room one by one, and I was mesmerized. I felt close to them… I had been watching them for over a decade now, but seeing them live and in person was an experience I would never want to trade for anything else.

The introductions were quick and funny, the warm-upper was nice, and the comedians worked their improv-art for a whole 2 hours. And then 2 and a half hours more. They were never bored or annoyed, except for the last hour and a half. I don’t know Mr. Patterson, but his perfectionism is evident. And the audience has no idea what’s going on behind that stage either. It’s the director’s show, so he can shoot however many takes he deems worthy. And there were a lot. He produced 4 episodes that night. I originally thought that most of them would be censored and not used for vulgar language and inappropriate content. Apparently, I was wrong – this is comedy. Almost everything goes.

Ryan Stiles is the funniest person when he’s angry or tired. Or he wasn’t either and was just funny. He conveys an attitude of an insider. He knows how to treat the others, how far he can go, and that he’s one of the main reasons why this show has been running for so long, so he’s allowed to swear at the director. As is Colin Mochrie. He was just sweet – he interacted with the audience just by looking at them, awaiting their reaction and/or approval.

I had seen Wayne Brady in a couple of shows before-his individual show, and two audience tapings. His improv-talent has always impressed me, as has his gift for singing. He likes to interact with his fans at and after smaller shows, not so much at tapings… or at least not this one. I attended “Let’s Make A Deal”, where he didn’t bother to greet his audience, who had spent hours, days, lots of money and time on costumes and was psyched to be there and see him. Tonight, he seemed to be wanting to get in and out, and done with it. He was still funny and showed off his talent. I can completely understand if you are sick and tired of your jobs and circumstances sometimes – as an actor, you have to constantly watch your back, get the next gig, watch your reputation, take care of your fans, and play nice with the directors and producers. So if this catches up with you at some point, I believe it’s only natural. At the next taping (I try to go about once a year now), he was at an all-time high and I was reminded why he is in absolutely everything. So maybe it was just a bad day or a circumstance / something the audience could have no way of knowing.

My fandom was passed on to Jeff Davis. He dressed well, behaved well, seemed like a gentleman, performed clean (fairly clean as I remember) comedy and was still hilarious, caring and funny until the very end. When the director wanted to re-shoot another applause, and re-take another scene, and “we’re starting again at “scenes from a hat” and big laugh” (audience laughs- totally natural), he conveyed a sensation of being content and grateful. According to my research, he has been in the business for a number of years, and has acquired the appropriate expertise and insider-knowledge of how everything in comedy and on stage works. What surprised me was that he didn’t show that he was tired or annoyed. He didn’t make it known that he was mad that another scene was taken over and over and over. Audience: Laugh. Haha. Audience: Clap. Clap clap. More enthusiastically. Clap clap clap clap. He smiled, and interacted with the other comedians. He was on cue, went into the audience (was not afraid to come close to those who do not get paid to sit there for 4 hours).

He had me the second he stepped into that studio. One of the few gentlemen that this genre has left.

After the taping was over, I was still high… High on laughter, on applause, on the feeling of being close to the ones I’ve always admired. Improv takes a lot of guts and talent. Sometimes, it just seems like a couple of guys and gals standing on a stage, and doing what they’re told. The result is a circumcised version of a multiple hour taping. But the truth is, those artists truly have a gift. No matter if you, the guest, the admirer, the on-looker, is feeling particularly good that day, or if you’re sad, if something bad has happened to you, if you’re distracted, you should be doing other things, etc. They take you away for just a little while. And once you return to your minute world… you realize that things aren’t that bad. Your Universe still matters, but now it’s more like a small grain of sand on the big beach of life (sigh).

Comedy has helped me in so many ways in my life. It’s like a mini-vacation. Not to avoid what’s necessary, but to make everything a little lighter. The performers share their gift with us. And I’m very appreciative and will always support Improv comedy (especially WLIIA). I’m still in awe of that night and I’m hungry for more. Perhaps I should change professions. Again.