National Public Radio interview with Clinical Psychologist ILDIKO TABORI and comedian KEVIN NEALON.
In acknowledging that personal anguish is at the heart of many stand-up routines, Hollywood's legendary comedy club, The Laugh Factory, recently took on Dr. Ildiko Tabori as in-house clinical psychologist to treat the club's comics. Free therapy will be available to performers four nights per week in a soundproof, private office in the upstairs of the club building. NPR's interview with Dr. Tabori and Saturday Night Live alumnus Kevin Nealon explores the need for therapy in the entertainment industry, but especially in stand up comedy.
Nealon describes on stage performance as an "escape" from emotional issues, or in other words, "going to Disneyland". The ability to laugh off and transform neurosis into comedy on stage provides a platform for forgetting the emotional reality of life. The offstage come-down, that Nealon refers to as sometimes hitting him like "a ton of bricks", is what Dr. Tabori will be available to treat.
Dr. Tabori explains the difficulty in recognizing psychological symptoms in comedians because of the variable nature of their work. Aside from this, therapy has been stigmatized as inhibiting to the punch-line humor found through pain. Some comedians don't want help because they fear coming out of the therapy office un-funny. Yet Tabori assures that funny is a personality trait and not necessarily a product of emotional pain. Besides, a comedian's funny can't be sequestered by a psychologist.
I'd like to share a bit of my experience with standup comedy. Having done standup for a dozen years, I've watched a lot of people try to make it work and fail. And I have a secret for you. It's the number one reason why people succeed in standup. In anything. You won't believe it. You're going to say that it's too simple. That there's got to be some other magic ingredient… talent, or charisma… but the truth is that the number one ingredient to success in comedy is PERSISTENCE with the INTENTION TO SUCCEED. If you don't persist with absolute determination, you will have a very difficult time getting past the challenges that come up, and they are numerous.
If you have been mindful of your stress levels this month, well done. April is National Stress Awareness Month and according to the Society for Vascular Surgery, laughter is a key function in reducing stress and hypertension. Fortunately, April is also National Humor Month. You may have never heard of either holiday, but they are easy enough to celebrate. The two go hand in hand and it's as simple as laughing off your stress. Attending my laughter yoga class is a great way to start.
Stress greatly impacts blood pressure, which can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension), and eventually, cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, Dr. Vivienne Halpern from the Society for Vascular Surgery stated that “laughter reduces the level of stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, dopamine, and growth hormone) and increases the level of health-enhancing hormones (endorphins and neurotransmitters)… this can result in a stronger immune system and fewer physical effects of stress.” So heed the advice of April's healthy holidays and get giggling. Maybe it'll help combat these nasty Spring colds that are going around.
Ann Randolph is a briliant and inspiring solo performer, comic actor, writer, and teacher in the theater world. I first saw her show Squeezebox at The Marsh a couple of years ago and last year saw her new show, Loveland this last year. Her work is honest, imaginative, and quirky, with liberal doses of subversiveness and whimsy. I've been working on a new book about solo performance and comedy and Ann was at the top of my list of people to interview.
Just wrote about comic actor and solo performer Ann Randolph for my other blog–check this awesome interview I did with her!
The Yoga Mafia
Eighteen days ago I started taking a yoga course called the "40 Day Yoga Challenge: 40 Days to Personal Revolution." Basically, we're taking a yoga class every day for 40 days and slowly giving up our vices one by one through a series of torturous cranks of an external vice grip called "letting go" and a framework of weekly motivational classes. I took the course because I've been working so much on comedy and coaching… etc., that I've neglected to really give my physical health the attention it needs, and though I teach Laughter Yoga, I have never really taken yoga on, for reals. And it's becoming clearer and clearer that to take things to the next level, my body needs to be in as great shape as the rest of my life.
To tell you the truth, it's a little scary to walk into the yoga studio for the first time. I have an automatic resistance to the place because it's such a western manifestation of this ancient concept–the yoga clothes are expensive, the classes are not cheap either. It's not like India, so it must suck and be fake, right? My resistance rears its head first in me arriving to class six minutes late. The woman at the door smiles at me, but I'm imagining her yoga-cursing me in her head. What is a yoga curse? I dunno. Maybe it's like not saying "namaste" when you meet someone. Wah's melodic music is gently wafting through the otherwise silent studio and everyone has already got their butts in the air for downward dog. People have to get up and move their mats for me to fit in, I'm knocking water bottles over. I'm trying to hold the poses and falling onto my mat in a quivering heap of exhaustion. It's like a scene out of Mr. Bean. I'm "projecting" the yoga mafia in my headall over the place, thinking the teacher thinks I'm an undisciplined fink who doesn't respect the class. I'm thinking the skinny, bendy ladies in the class who all seem to be wearing giant diamond rings are all laughing at how un-bendy I am. And where are all the men in yoga? Not that I'm looking for one in particular, I'm just wondering where are they? Do they have their own yoga classes behind some secret wall? Are they all at the naked male yogaclasses in San Francisco, which actually exist?
Fast-forward 18 days. I'm actually arriving early to class, mat in hand, and something has shifted. I've taken to closing my eyes as much as possible–it's way easier to hold an asana when I'm not worrying about how much betterthe lady to my right is at it. It's actually kind of amazing, too–I'm actually able to DO yoga. The other day I got my ankle over my head. No kidding. I actually could do that before, so it didn't happen in two weeks. Reminds me of the joke: "Doc, my wrist!" "We'll have to operate." "But will I be able to play the piano afterward?" "Yes." "Wow, that's amazing, because I don't know how now!"
Want to watch my progress? I've been putting 30 second updates on Youtube about it every other day. Here's to fit spiritual condition and awesome abs.
You and I both know how good it feels to really let go and laugh.
The science behind that feel-good feeling it isn’t all that complex. The human body releases endorphins in the act of laughter, and those endorphins relieve stress. It is a natural physiological response. Turns out, the body has no way of knowing if your laughter is genuine, or if you’re a big faker.
A study done way back in 2003 documented its participants' emotional state after 60 seconds of "real" laughter and then compared it to 60 seconds of "faked" laughter. Turns out that both kinds of laughter have the same affect on the body. Check it out: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/03/31/1048962698891.html
So… If the human body has no way of knowing if the laughter is genuine you can reap all the same benefits by faking it. Fake laughter turns into real laughter in my Laughter Yoga class all the time. Go ahead, just try it.
Laughter yoga, it's not quite…
So a study of a couple hundred women undergoing IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) near Tel Aviv found that women entertained by professional Israeli clowns right after embryos were transferred to their wombs had more success in giving birth than those with no Israeli clowns.
The study, published in Fertility and Sterility, found that 36 percent of women with Israeli clowns became pregnant, as compared with the 20 percent of clown-free embryo transfer procedure. Not surprisingly, women conceiving the conventional way were found to have a much lower success rate with Israeli clowns in their room at the time of conception. I'm just saying…
Leader of the study, Dr. Friedler said he got the idea for the study because laughter is a "natural anti-stress mechanism."
Friedler, who is based at Assaf Harofeh Medical Centre in Zrifin, Israel, said,"Patients suffering from infertility undergoing IVF are incredibly stressed. So I thought that this intervention could be beneficial for them at the crucial moments after embryo transfer."
Friedler added that if studies at other centres back up his findings, fertility clinics elsewhere might try it too. I'm just hoping I'm fertile enough to keep the clowns out of my own uterine activities. Do you think clowns that speak Hebrew are funnier than French or English ones?
Did you know we've been laughing for 7 million years?
The Quarter Review of Biology recently published a study on laughter. There are two kinds. (Of course, Osho wrote about four kinds, so science is still lagging behind on this front…)
Thee first kind of laughter is a) spontaneous and b) stimulus-driven. The study says that just because someone is laughing with you, doesn’t mean that it is spontaneous or stimulus-driven, which is the natural kind of laugh that mirrors ape play, which arose around seven million years ago.
The second, “dark side of laughter” kind of laugh is strategic and sometimes can be cruel. "One type of laughter arises spontaneously from the perception of a certain class of events, while the other is used strategically in interaction to influence others or modulate one's own physiology," said Gervais, who is a researcher in the Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University in New York. Here's where I read the article.
In laughter yoga, I aim for my laughter to always be the first kind of laughter. But I don't think this study gets at the whole picture. Laughter needs to be practiced to become part of one's life if it's been missing for a long time. That's why in laughter yoga, we encourage one another to laugh, through exercises designed to create that spontaneous first kind of laughter. Don't feel discouraged if it takes time to remember how to laugh spontaneously. It's still a practice for me. I'm even starting to laugh at standup comedy again after years of training myself to slap the table with a straight face and say in a deadpan tone, "That's funny." But it takes practice.
So come practice. Come take a laughter yoga class with me. Or come see a standup comedy show!