Make 'Em Laugh

Friday, February 8, 2013

I recently started a new hobby that is quickly becoming a passion of mine — improv comedy! I took a couple of classes at Comedy Sportz last year and fell in love (with the art, not my teacher). I love the thrill of being in front of the audience, not knowing what anyone is going to say next. I'm in my zone delivering one-liners or Shakespearean asides. It's exciting to be able to step into any character — one sporting wheels or not.

In improv, the rule isn't "No you can't" but "Yes … and." When I'm up there performing, my disability fades into the background, and I can be a toddler game-show contestant or a fighter pilot, whatever I and the other players decide. I can also be a girl in a wheelchair if I decide (for example, if we're visiting a televangelist). Improv is a place where men can be women and octogenarians can be teens, so it's also a place where I can be a ballroom dancer or a crusty old fisherman if I feel like it.

I've always known who I am and that my disability does not limit or define me, but every time I perform improv it's another opportunity to share that with a new audience. Like music, laughter is a universal language. When you can make people laugh, your differences fade, if only for that moment, and people start to understand each other.

Improv also has been an opportunity for me to learn about talents I never knew I had and sharpen those I'd already been developing. For example, I learned that I have a unique ability to show surprise with a flick of my joystick. I thought I would have to rely on what I say to carry my scenes, but it turns out I have the same ability to use my physicality; it just looks different. Also, even though I was a theater major in college and learned a lot about character development, there's nothing like developing a character in 30 seconds flat. In this too, I learned that my disability needn't be a hindrance. A little voice change, shift of the chair, and raise of the eyebrow, and — bam — instant soap opera heroine.

This is not to say that performing isn't without its bumps. The stage where I performed isn't accessible, so we performed on the floor. But that was no problem for me and my fellow players. After all, we're used to improvising. And my fellow players were amazing, making sure I got written suggestions that had fallen on the floor and taking my crazy ideas like jumping over me in leap frog. Having friends like that onstage smoothed out any bumps I encountered.

Overall, improv has been a marvelous experience. It's freed me from society's views of my disability and allows me to be myself in my favorite spot, in front of an audience. And I hope that everybody finds me "wheelie" entertaining! (Look out for the groaner foul …)

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