I have to say, looking back on this moment this morning on my computer, the thing I was most impressed by was how red my hair looked on TV.
Now, I should point out, what was happening in this picture was that I was getting a move called “The Regal Stretch” performed on me by NWA champion pro-wrestler Colt Cabana, a move that involves being thrown on the ground, grabbed around the neck and stretched upwards while an NWA champion puts his knee into your back, thus causing intense pain.
But I am color-blind and people often tell me that my hair is no longer reddish as it was in my youth, a strange disjunction that I still see it that way, the way memory or nostalgia colors even the reality we perceive.
“Nope.” My couch-crasher Jeff told me, looking at the play-back clip. “It’s just a red light. Everyone’s hair looks that way on TV.”
If you want to know how I got into this situation, I am a strange and marginal character named “The Man Behind The Plant” (because I sit behind a plant) on a strange public-access/internet TV show called “The Chris Gethard Show”. The bit that night was that people could call in to see former NWA world champion Colt Cabana do wrestling moves on Chris or any of the other masochists on the show, but unfortunately for me, my improviser friend Shaun Farrugia is going through a bad breakup and too much free time and as a way “to kill the pain” decided to call in to ask Colt to do a move on me, by name and, well, improvisers don’t say no on stage.
After some intense back-pain and some grumpiness, I hobbled home, walking the 3 miles down 8th avenue to pick up my other couch-crasher Teddy from the improv mixer he was at, before walking and walking home.
In parts of my life, I find myself fearless, shameless and in others, paralyzed.
I speak of this abnormally, but it is normal, I’m sure.
I had my first Advanced Study Harold class with Neil Casey over at UCB and I came in to a class that some people freeze up in, a master class with a top performer and approached it fearlessly, a mile a minute, my heart pumping adrenaline off some sort of in-the-groove high causing me to talk a mile-a-minute after class getting food and in the break. People wanted to hang out with me, sent me messages on Facebook asking me advice, my only note I got was for breaking in my own scene because I was having too much fun. Something in me knew after I got in there, maybe after the initial fear, that there was nothing they could do to me now. I had taken so many level 4s at UCB, been rejected so many times. This class wasn’t an audition for anything, just an opportunity to learn. So I tried having fun and did great, I stunned myself in how great I did. I felt like a million bucks that day.
And then the next day I went to sign up for auditions for the UCB’s house teams and even just waiting in line looking around, confidence abandoned me. Here were all these people, nervous and experienced. I was just a number again and everyone seemed more together more belonging. Who was I? I wondered. What chance did I have in this wide sea?
I have had the honor for the past few weeks of being coached in a small team and a larger show by Christina Gausas, the best teacher and performer I’ve ever had the chance to study with (who is, incidentally, also beautiful), who somehow ended up taking me and my best buddy Sebastian under her wing in some miraculous confluence of events that I can’t even seem to recount now. In her workshops that I took, I did the best work of my life playing way outside my comfort zone, finding characters and confidence inside myself that I never knew I had. But in practice, something happened to me, these past few weeks, that was hard to overcome. I couldn’t say what it was? A fear? A pressure? A sense of not belonging or being unworthy? Or having to live up to something? Of being some sort of disappointment.
“It’s like you’re moving in slow-motion.” She told me. “There is a hesitancy. A half-move. And it’s something new.” She said.
“I don’t know, I feel afraid.” I told her.
“Don’t.” She replied, simply.
Christina is an amazing teacher, in that unlike some teachers giving a philosophy, like my other mentor Armando Diaz, she creates an atmosphere in which people can be true and honest, kind of like the way a catalyst works in chemistry: a catalyst doesn’t add some crazy energy to a reaction, it simply lowers the barrier that it would take for a reaction to happen otherwise.
That practice, I broke my boundaries and returned to that place of confidence and did, again, some of the best work of my life.
But I’m a big fan of believing that improv notes are often life notes.
Neil Casey told our class that improv “is not about not doing bad scenes, it’s about recognizing where you are and finding a way to navigate out of it”. That same not could apply for yoga, could apply for life. Noticing where you are, not judging yourself or giving up, finding a way to have fun even in an unexpected or unwelcome situation.
And Christina’s note to me (her notes that often seem like mind-reading) apply to my life as well.
Somehow, from all the confidence I’ve felt through the weight-loss and the way I’ve toned up my body, the way I’ve been continuing to perform well, the improvement I see in myself and the opportunities I get, there’s still that something inside me that isn’t confident, that feels small and unworthy. That thinks this current happiness a sham.
Sebastian (who often complains about not being represented positively enough on this blog) diagnoses it as my 8 years of high school introversion and also it should be noted, my markedly less-positive than remembered college experience, bubbling through, reminding me who it thinks I am.
Or maybe it’s just my singleness, that emptiness in me there.
A chauvinistic joke among my improv friends is that when a female student starts dating a good male improviser, they seem to improve rapidly as if succubus-like absorbing their power (I apologize for the offensiveness of this). But the truth is, just like my old sketch teacher Adam Conover used to say in his stand-up routine, there’s such a thing as “Girlfriend Confidence” or boyfriend confidence for that matter: the sensation of knowing someone loves you, that evolutionarily you are a winner for now, procreating, safe. I think the truth behind the joke for women in the improv community is that it is very, very difficult to be a woman in a small comedy community full of awkward men, especially when you might be interested in some of them, or even just unsure and that in finding a solid significant other, especially one whom you respect, you gain the confidence of not having to deal with being externally sexualized at the same time as being emotionally vulnerable in your practice. And it shows.
For guys though as well, it’s a difficult path, trying to find the right one, trying not to hang your hat on any failure or rejection. Trying to find grace in a small bar full of people after a show.
As I’ve said, dating in the community is kind of like shitting in a kiddy pool: everyone knows you’ve done it and they’ll probably remember even if some different people step into the pool.
So my therapist told me I should go back to online dating, which I’ve considered.
“How long has it been?” She asked.
“July or August. September?” I offered.
“You’re a much different person now then you were then.” She told me.
“It’s a place I went out of desperation and loneliness.” I told her.
“But it betters your odds.” She replied.
Looking back at my profile, at the questions I answered, how I’ve changed is evident, the intense criticism and self-doubt on display there is evident, so willing to beat myself up. I change answers, write new things as I realize the change in myself.
I worry as I look at my “quiver matches” about having to put myself out there again, talking to these people, taking a chance on something that could beat my confidence, that could make me feel terrible again.
But the note is that confidence breeds confidence. Life is unwritten and all we have is an initiation an attempt at connecting with someone.
No one knows where the scene will go.
So act confidently, knowing that no one has any more idea than you.
As Chris Gethard said:
“When you get up there, what you do could be the greatest thing that’s ever been done, or totally terrible. No one knows.”
Or as my sister said:
“You’re the dude. It’s up to you to initiate. So just be confident like the handsome cardigan-ed man you are.”
Life back into improv.
I did some good scenes yesterday.
Let’s see if I can do some good life.
It was a Sunday brunch, I was fighting a two-whiskey hangover (sorry for my pussi-tude) and I was look for something delicious for the day, a treat.
Faicco’s was the obvious choice, that magical oasis where a man can get a three-meal sandwich the size of a long forearm for 10 dollars, somehow located in the yuppified Greenwich Village/West Village boundary.
But Perilla just caught my eye, wandering down Jones St.
It was another morning where I had gotten up early and I had planned to read my backlog of New Yorkers and had yet again failed miserably to do so (I keep one in my mailbox for self-shaming purposes).
I saw the Spicy Duck Burger on the brunch menu, as it was my habit to check out the menus of restaurants I do not know as it is the habit of some people to stare up at blimps in the sky: admiring, with an eye to read their purpose.
As a non-carnivore, I am always interested in burger replacements, especially with alternative meats (most Veg-burgs I’ve had have been mealy or rubber-y) and this one came with fries, a forbidden and sometimes allowed treat for me.
So I waited out that extra time between 11:20 and 12, like I used to in my anti-breakfast days, until I sat at the bar, while a hipster emo-couple in their 30s came in with their hipster-emo baby.
My burger came shortly after the couple and was delicious.
Duck can be a little too fatty for me sometimes, difficult to eat in its dark, veiny-ness. But ground up and liberally spiced, the duck was perfect material for a burger replacement, with thick broadly-cut fries coming out fresh and a generous, sweet-seeded brioche, which I tore off much off, to preserve my weight-sensing sanity.
My only complaint (the price was high but reasonable for the atmosphere/quality) was that all of my burger toppings came on the side. For shame, restaurant. When I enter you I do not want a democracy. I want a tyranny of your choice as chef, deciding my experience.
If necessary, I can say the safe word of “allergies”, but other-wise, give me the stomach-pounding I paid for, no choice, just submission.
Spicy Duck Burger w/Pepper Jack Cheese and Spiced Fries- $16
Cornelia St bet. West 4th and Bleecker Sts.
1 to Christopher St. ACEBDFM to West 4th St.