How To Make Comedy Collaboration a Little Easier
It was my first time on stage and I was the worst. It was a sketch comedy and improv show, and I was filled with tenacious energy, of course because I liken myself mostly to Leslie Knope when I watch Parks and Recreation, because why wouldn’t I? She’s a passionate, smart and stubborn as a bull. Just like me! And, like me, she needs a Ron Swanson. Someone with an even hand, perhaps more musicality, and a quieter temperament.
My first show was a university production and the one student-run performance that semester. It took probably a year and a half for the dudes I currently get to call my best friends to tell me I was in the University’s “pass” pile. You know, there were other more serious ingénues in the department.
Present day, I’m running Albuquerque’s alt-weekly variety show “Comedy?” and I just won Alibi’s 2015 reader’s poll for best comedian. So take that, old white guys. The hipsters and the lesbians like me a lot, and I like them, too. Obviously. Sorry, if you don’t know who I am or how I look. I’m Sarah Mowrey: cat lover, lesbian-adjacent, hottie.
Dude, your dad will never want you to talk about your pussy on stage.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from collaborating closely with the fine theater artists, kind souls, friends, teammates, occasional guest improvisers in the five years of being on the scene. More importantly, here are some tips on making the collaborative process a little easier. Though, it’ll never be as easy as getting a script that’s already done. Writing a script as a group will always, always be harder, and more rewarding.
These tips and tidbits can be applied to all sorts of groups of creative hive-minds, and of course, you thirsty first-timers. I’m coming to you from the perspective of theatrical facilitator, ingénue-type, hot-piece-of-ass, writer, stand-up comic, improviser and of course, collaborator.
Live that “yes, and…” lifestyle.
Stand-up comics, you’re giving me the side-eye now and I’m going to improvise a scenario where I can’t hear you stretched-out-baby-looking bitches. Also, you have to learn that sometimes stand-up comedians are just going to be mad at you because your space work (referring to miming a door or mug) is better than their joke about how their parents don’t like their jokes.
Sometimes you gotta yell, “Damn, I’m good,” but sometimes you have to say sorry when you tell the new member of your comedy troupe that you will not change the blocking. Just be a performer. Because, it’s not cool to be a dick to someone who is trying.
But also, don’t try to argue with the founder of the group about something as stupid as blocking two minutes to curtain. There are bigger fish to fry: vocal warm-ups, three-line scenes, and whether or not there are people to see the show. Are there? Are there?
I’m talking to you past, present and future Sarah Mowreys (both my actual self, and you reading this). My first love is stand-up comedy, so I’m used to getting my own way. But that doesn’t happen when you collaborate. Ever. Learn to let that go, man. In that last sentence I was talking to my actual present self.
Most recently, I was left alone for one whole show and I couldn’t hold it together without actually yelling at that new troupe member for trying to get me to change blocking two minutes to curtain. Running an improv and sketch show by yourself is really stressful, especially when you notice every single time someone fails to end up on the correct fucking line according to the glow tape. I also have that control freak problem where I will angrily point to the correct line with the lights up. Don’t do that. The audience can see you, dude.
Stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself you’re funny.
It sounds stupid, but it’s a process thing. At least that’s what I’ve been repeatedly told, by hundreds of older, wonderful, theater artists. Sorry for calling you “older.” I know you hate that. How about “regal as fuck?” K, done.
And I have done it, repeatedly. If you don’t think you’re funny. No one else ever will. It’s also okay to accept that comedy isn’t your thing and move on. Which I will never do because I’m a MONSTER who will always be trying to please her father with her pussy jokes.
Don’t expect your father to like your pussy jokes.
I just did a casino gig and my dad came and saw me (for the first time ever.) I woke up the next day to a text that offered all the feedback I already knew, and all the fatherly disapproval I’d ever dreamed of. I made him cry because I referred to myself as a “slut” too much.
Your worth isn’t tied to the things coming out of your mouth moment to moment.
Dude, your dad will never want you to burlesque, have sex with women, or talk about your pussy on stage. He’ll also never, ever correctly say the name of the female comedian he’s likening you to. He’s your dad. He’s an engineer, not a comedian. Call him sometimes and forgive him. He doesn’t really like the idea of you even having a pussy. Because you’re his daughter. Moving on.
Also, it’s okay to not be the pussy comedian. You’re about to turn 25 and have been doing comedy officially for four years, you’ve got time. If you don’t think so, listen to Jen Kirkman’s podcast. Really though. Do yourself a favor.
Say your jokes, lines and truth with confidence.
The secret (I’m told, over and over and over) is knowing that your worth to a group of people isn’t tied to the things coming out of your mouth moment to moment because everyone is riffing just like you. I struggle with it, because I’m a human.
Except the Stage Manager, they’ve got more important shit to do. Listen to them, and never yell at them…unless they’re giving you feedback while you’re eating. Then, you swallow your bite first and then calmly convey that you’d really like to be receptive to their dumb fucking note but you’d like to eat this sandwich first. Thank you.
Everyone just says trash words all the time. I mean, I’m a feminist but if you just saw a clip of me spitballing ideas at a writer’s table or in warm ups, you’d be like: “Deplorable decorum Miss Mowrey, ten points from Gryffindor.” Which would be fair. I accidentally called my server “Mama” once. Like, the Spanish way. I’m a white girl, and an idiot.
Try to forgive yourself.
This one is a mountain by itself.
These are my tips. I’m sure I’ll have thousands more in the next twenty or so years I’ll (hopefully) be doing this. Because it’s what I love. At the end of the day, if you’re not doing what you love, get outta there!
[…] village to support your comedy dreams too. Not just to fill up a crowd, either. The people in your comedy scene are your peer group. They’re gonna be the ones that prop you up or, if need be, tear you down. […]