Is it weird to start to feel like you might be happy?
I smiled in this picture from my friend Ray Munoz’s dramatic/comedic interpretation of the story of the Super Mario Brothers (the Dickersons are welcome to do their own interpretations).
A friend of mine from improv recently talked to me about trying the Landmark Forum, an organization that is derived from the 70s new-age-y program EST, which, sadly, was founded by a lapsed, crazy jew.
He talked to me about being invited by a friend, the idea of trying it and would I do it with him, to have some sort of tether to reality, to have something interesting to write about.
“No fucking way.” I replied. “I mean, I feel better about myself than I don’t know, I have for a while, but I don’t want to take the chance. Why would you if you didn’t have to?”
“To see what it’s about.” He said. “What it is. Why people flock to it. Do you feel happy?”
The question took me aback.
Looking at my life, it’s still not really going anywhere or doing anything of permanence. I feel like I’ve worked harder before in the past, I feel like I’ve felt greater highs, the sort of thing you get from love or achievement. But I also had a job I liked, I had a wide range of people to hang out with, a community again, this time in comedy. I saw movies, I saw friends. I found ways to fill up my time. My parents are supportive and I don’t feel any pressure or sense that there’s something wrong in my life, somewhere I’m supposed to be.
“I guess, I don’t know. Yeah.” I told him. “I feel that way, generally, sometimes.”
And then my friend asked me the same question I asked myself so many times.
“Really? Don’t you ever feel like if you’re happy it would keep you from being interesting? From making things?”
I’ve struggled with this.
There’s a thing in improv called a “solve” which is what you want to stay away from. Basically if one person is asking you to marry them and your character’s want is not to give in, if you suddenly do, the scene is over, one character has won. It’s more interesting to see the series of evasions that a character employs who loves someone but wants to deflect their marriage proposals than it is to see them give in. Such is the nature of drama or narrative, a conflict between people and its resolution.
Back when I had a girlfriend for the first time, I wondered if this would happen to me, the idea that I wouldn’t be funny anymore if I had someone who loved me who I loved back, solving my character that had persisted through film-school and writing, the character of “Nick Feitel: hopelessly un-date-able”. But the truth is more complex.
One time, I did an improv scene in a workshop where I was playing one of two best friends who had just taken a vacation together edging toward boning on the beach. We never in the scene got there even though we kept alluding to it and eventually the scene plateaued. Afterwards, my partner asked the teacher, Curtis Gwinn, who noted us that we should have “gone for it”, whether consummating would have been a “solve”.
“It may seem that way.” Curtis said. “But think about the broader consequences here. Even if these guys do fuck, they still have wives at homes, have lives. Their actions in this one circumstance don’t necessarily change the broader things about them.”
The truth is (and I apologize to Rob-bearded Malone or anyone else who’s sick of hearing me talk about improv) that finding love for a person defined previous by loveless-ness just made me focus on the anxieties of my life, my job-less-ness, my artistic failures, what I should even be doing, existential ennui.
The truth of “Nick Feitel: Hopelessly Un-date-able” was not that he was romantically void, though that was a part of it.
It’s that he’s a neurotic dude who needs to fixate on something to worry or be upset about in order to motivate himself. It’s that an order to achieve balance or order in his life, he needs some looming unhappiness.
It’s a relatable thing and one I smile at, even as I talked to my friend.
“We’re Jews.” I told my friend. “Don’t worry, even if you achieve some level of happiness, there will always be something to complain about.”
Later, my friend did do the Landmark Forum and enjoyed it. I thought about criticizing him, telling him he’d been brainwashed, questioning it more than I even did.
But the guy’s found his happiness, has found something he feels like he can use.
Let’s see what he does with his “solve”, what it causes him to find out about what’s really there to take care of.
My friend Chano Garcia probably thinks he’s pretty cool right now.
After I totally ditched him (by accident!) when we were supposed to take 401 at UCB together and he had a less than fun time dealing with the people there (Yeah, I’m a bag…) he got to have Bob Odenkirk and his wife come and scout him for a show he did at the Magnet.
Another friend Chris Simpson who was also scouted told me:
“Yeah, she saw our team and realized there was some non-white people on it and so decided to come take a look.”
Chano got to meet them and talk and it all sounds super-exciting. All my friend Teddy did, who was interning that night was have the following exchange with Mr. Odenkirk.
INT. MAGNET THEATER LOBBY- EVENING
TEDDY, a 20-something “urban” youth sits behind a counter. BOB and NAOMI, a nice looking couple in their 50s enter.
TEDDY: Oh wow! I know you! Mr. Show right?
BOB: Well, guess you can’t help it. I think you have a reservation under my name.
TEDDY: Oh wait don’t tell me! Its John Odenrick!
A silence in the room.
BOB (p.o.ed): Actually, no. It’s Bob. Bob Odenkirk.
TEDDY: Oh ok, right.
Bob hands money, Teddy hands tickets.
TEDDY: Enjoy the show!
Bob turns around to glare at him as they entire the theater.
Anyway, before Chano got to give his business card to the same person who represents Kristen Wiig while shaking the hand of the father of modern sketch comedy, we ate some pizza.
It was a lazy Sunday. We had just had class together and neither one of us had eaten. Most of the stuff in that midtown area (that someone told me was called The Tenderloin?) was closed like the business that they fed.
We headed to Waldy’s which another improviser, Mishu Hilmy, had shown me to be good, years after Brian-David Marshall and my Magic-playing friends had recommended it back at the old Neutral Ground.
We sat down, we ordered custom personal pizzas, which were huge and less than 9 bucks. The proprietor even decided to give us free sodas, citing some unadvertised lunch special.
For my $8.71, I got some Chicken, Roasted Eggplant and Red Peppers on a Margherita base, fresh off a wood-fired oven, while Chano got pepperoni, broccoli rabe and something else delicious.
We chatted for a while and talked about improv before going to the free practice session/Student-Teacher coaching that the Magnet sometimes offers on Sundays.
He had been my student coach there originally when I first started doing improv at the Magnet and there he was coming back to be a guinea pig, like me.
“Gotta give back, ya know.” He said, as we finished off our pizzas.
I’m happy for him that he had the opportunity, he’s a good guy and the pizza was good as well.
I’m just wondering why didn’t I go that night, jesus Nick, fuck you.
WALDY’S WOOD-FIRED PIZZA AND PENNE
Chicken, Roasted Eggplant and Red Peppers Pizza (w/free soda at lunch)- $8.71
6th Ave bet 27th and 28th Sts
NR to 28th St 1 to 28th St F to 23rd St