Follow Your Nose
Today, everything is far too serious. So I decided to take a trip down "comedy lane" and share some lessons about what makes things funny.
The Three Stooges had been my only model of physical comedy and I wasn’t a fan. But after I witnessed a scene from a play that left me in paroxysms of laughter, gasping for air, with tears running down my face, I realized physical comedy could be so much more.
The scene set up: after serving dinner, a maid was sent away and told to stay out of the room while the main characters dined and held a confidential discussion. In response to an emergency they fled, leaving the room empty. Thinking they were finished, the maid entered to clear dishes. Alarmed when she heard them returning, she dove under the table. She had no interest in their secrets; she just wanted to do her job. Then she pondered how to achieve her goal from the floor and began sneaking dirty dishes off the table with scene-stealing gyrations. Her face would furrow with concentration, then glow with satisfaction each time she snagged another item. The audience shrieked with delight because of this woman’s determination to get that table cleared no matter what! When the soup tureen snaked across the tablecloth, she was discovered.
Why this type of single-minded humor works so well was revealed by the wonderful physical comedian and actor, Kenny Raskin. At a New York improv retreat in the Catskills, he led an exercise called “Following Your Nose.” Yep, like a dog, except we used sight. Four people were distributed around the room and directed to find a physical object or specific spot on the wall. Eyes glued to our choice, we were enjoined to make a beeline for it. Once there, we were to examine the thing in great detail until prompted by Kenny to pivot, find something new and travel directly to it. When using great concentration to examine an object, there’s always a surprise to be discovered. And, as it turns out, someone else’s complete focus is hilarious to watch.
When we’re single-minded, self-consciousness falls away and we experience a refreshed awareness of a place, person, or object. Such attention reveals small things hidden in plain sight. If we were always fixated on details we’d lose context and ability to make meaning of the whole, so the sweet spot is being able to toggle at will between forest and trees. This way new thoughts and perspectives can be generated.
Our daily lives has been uprooted for quite a while and there's no definitive end in sight. Because we’re out of sync with previous habits, we’re offered a fresh look at the world by switching our focus, right where we’ve been. Maybe you’re seeing the whole, or you’ve concentrated on a specific. (Has anyone else had their attention drawn to a “new” home maintenance issue that was present all along?) Follow your nose and see where it takes you!
What has been revealed to you that you hadn’t noticed before? Please comment in the box below.
Sending you appropriately physically distanced encouragement—and a reminder that better times are ahead—but go ahead and make the most of what you have right now!