If you were watching the Academy Awards on Sunday, you know that Jordan Peele won an Oscar for Best Original Screen Play for his movie, Get Out. I didn’t get to watch the awards live, but as soon as I found out on Facebook I was really happy for him and proud, since Jordan was part of the Chicago improv community.
I had first seen him perform at the Chicago Improv Festival years ago with Becky Drysdale in their two-person sketch show, Two White Guys. I remember thinking as I watching them from the balcony of The Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago, “These guys are really funny.” What impressed me was not only was the writing brilliant, but they also had great chemistry, and more importantly, they had a voice.
And since then, Jordan has proved again and again that he is willing to let his voice shine. In Key & Peele, he has written a lot of satire about what it’s like to live in a “post-racial” society and about the conflict that African Americans have about seeming “too white” or “too black” — much of which was inspired by Jordan’s own life as a bi-racial person.
I think one of hardest things to teach in comedy is finding your voice.
Because it’s too easy second guess yourself. It’s easy to avoid putting your own thoughts and feelings into your comedy because you can tell yourself that what you have to say really isn’t that unique or maybe it’s too unique and no one will get it.
Some of the voices in my head go like this:
“Nobody will relate to me.”
“Nobody listens to me anyway.”
“I don’t want the audience to be bored.”
“I want to be liked.”
“If people don’t agree with me, I must be doing it wrong.”
“I will piss people off.”
Whatever crap you are saying to yourself, remember, you cannot find your voice unless you are willing to share a piece of yourself with us. We want your life experience, and if you are specific enough, it will become universal.
I think sometimes in comedy we forget to personal. We forget to be revealing. We lose some of the honesty for more of the laughs, in the process sometimes we lose ourselves and we definitely lose our voice. And when that happens we don’t evolve.
But if we are willing to take a risk and let our own comedic voice shine, rather than try to say what we think other people want to hear, we will never run out of material ever.
And Jordan’s unique voice was never stronger than in Get Out.
Critics called Get Out a horror film, a social satire — all true. But I think it was also a very personal film, taken from Jordan’s life experience. I am sure as much as some people like myself loved this movie, it pissed other people off, and I’m sure a lot of other people didn’t even get it, but that didn’t stop Jordan from putting his voice out there.
And I, for one, am really glad he did.