I am a comedy snob. And worse, for years I thought that was an asset. God help me!
I have always been a comedy snob since I was a third grader at Joseph Sears School. I couldn’t understand why my friends would watch Three’s Company over comedies like M.A.S.H. or Bob Newhart. I secretly thought “What is wrong with them?”
As I got older and started studying improv, it got worse. When I was in college, I studied with the legendary improv guru Del Close who would preach in his booming voice to “play to the top of your intelligence.” Back then, we at the Improv Olympic had a chip on our shoulder, feeling somewhat over shadowed by Second City. Long form was not really accepted yet, so we thought of ourselves as purists, though that was an exaggeration. We were improv snobs. It was like we were from the Ivy League of improv, and we carried ourselves with a little swagger and a lot of superiority.
Even though I was green and did not have a clue what I was doing, it did not prevent me from standing in the back during improv shows and criticizing the players on stage. I cannot tell you how many hours I wasted in smoky bars or at all-night diners eating stale pie and drinking burnt coffee ripping other people’s improv.
Unfortunately, I’m still a comedy snob. Although I don’t do it as much in my performing or teaching, I have found it showing up in my everyday life.
If you haven’t figured it our already, I am in therapy. I go to group therapy twice a week. My therapist is a brilliant man with one of the corniest senses of humor. He loves a good pun, and when he comes up with a “good one” his face lights up like a Christmas tree. He’s so fucking proud of himself, and it’s so annoying I cannot contain myself. I roll my eyes in the back of my head. I have a running joke with him. Since most of us in the group are addicts in recovery, I say, “Looks likes you’ve had a comedy relapse.”
If that’s not enough, there is this older guy who I am friends with. He is very wise. I have a lot of respect for him, except when he tries to be funny. He’s one of those people who thinks he’s funnier than he actually is. It’s actually a disease. A couple of weeks ago we got together and as we joked around he could not resist and opened his mouth with one of his typically flat jokes that was dead on arrival. But this time, I watched his face. It lit up when he told it. He was filled with joy. And for a of couple seconds, this old, wrinkled, worn face transformed into that of a giddy 14-year-old boy. He was playing. He was having fun. I had never seen this before. I was too busy being a snob. I had missed the best part.
When I realized this, I felt sick. I felt sad. I had this insight that I was criticizing how people play. What an awful thing to do. And in the process, I was squashing their joy, their fun, their passion. Much like my parents did to me growing up. I do not want to be my parents. I don’t know many people who do.
Improv is all about having fun. So if maybe you’re a snob like me and say long form is better than short form, or Johnstone is better than Del Close, or UCB is better than the Annoyance, or musical improv is better than scenic improv, remember that what you’re judging is how people play. The next time you go to the park or playground and see children playing, my guess is you are not going to critique how they are play. You accept them for who they are. Which is something I could learn. Because being a comedy snob has gotten me nowhere in my professional career, or, most importantly, in my everyday life.