Keith Johnstone, who invented the Theatresports format for impro comedy, says that there is one trick to doing the format right.
You need to fail and still be happy, he tells us. It’s that happiness that keeps the audience liking you.
That’s the same advice Ms. Rachelle used to give to transitioning transpeople. As long as the people around you see you being happy, she told me, they won’t question your choices too much. But if they don’t see that happiness, then they will circle like sharks to tell everyone why you have made a horrible mistake.
Tell people why expressing trans makes you happy, I used to tell transpeople who needed to come out to loved ones, not how much transgender torments you and leaves you in pain. After all, if you say it’s about pain and suffering, how can people get behind it?
Don’t worry. Play happy. “You are the fat girl!” a crossdresser yelled at me during a photo shoot at the old Corvette Americana Hall Of Fame. “That means you have to be jolly!” Oy.
On stage you have some obligation to satisfy the audience, especially if you want them to come back again. In marketing, planning your choices around the audiences you need to satisfy and the content that will engage and enervate them is crucial. It is all about the audience.
A life that is built around the audience, though, one where you are only product, well, that just sucks. It’s not really human, is it? It’s all well and good to know that failing and getting back up again with a smile — a big circus bow — works well in an impro show, because all that is scuffed is your pride, but failing in real life often has bigger damage and repercussions.
I do understand the injunction to be happy even in failure so you keep the audience from wincing, from feeling unpleasant emotions like anger, cut-throat competition or real suffering. All in good fun makes for a good fun evening, indeed.
Pasting a veneer of good fun over a life filled with failure, though, isn’t really a reasonable ask. That means losing the ease of the audience, though, means making them feel ill at ease and uncomfortable.
And losing the audience? Well, that has always made me unhappy, but not as unhappy as trying to keep a happy and conventional mask on to make others comfortable. I know they want queers to hide suffering to keep them feeling breezy, but silence == death.
Then again, death == death, too.