What’s in a Birthday? Notes on turning a thirty-something

Guess what? Today, I turn the ripe old age of 34! I was just starting to get the hang of 33. "The Jesus year."  

Now, it might be hard to believe… but I wasn't always the comedy rock goddess you see before you today. It's hard to admit that some things have been tough for me – except when I'm on stage… then I apparently love to admit it. But we all want to look good, myself included, and to be respected and to make a good impression. But by doing so, we essentially lie. And my job as a comedian has always been to tell the truth. So here it is.

Yes, I've spent a over decade performing comedy, but it was largely unpaid and for give minutes at a time. It was easy to sleep in until 10am every day. Working day jobs that I didn't really feel passionate about. Since I was little, I had always felt like there was something different, something wrong with me, some way I didn't fit in.

I struggled for many years with an eating disorder, with a love and relationship addiction. It was easier to fall in love with men who had some quality that I wanted to possess, rather than actually developing my own self. Continually disappointed that true love was not forthcoming, I'd eat myself into a fog. And it's hard to pursue your life's purpose and make a real living when you're suffering from a love hangover and a food coma. The emotional vicissitudes were so intense–nothing felt stable or lasting or fulfilling, and I never really managed to create the kind of sustainability or impact or sheer good quality work I longed for, and was afraid I could never have. 

Seven years ago, I hit bottom. Not human bottoms. Ok, I did hit human bottoms. But I also hit low points. And I went into recovery for these various addictions. I've now done volumes of spiritual and growth work, from learning swing dance to doing a series of shamanic medicine journeys, to 12-step recovery programs.

And the most amazing thing happened four years ago. I became ready to cut the crap, and get serious about my comedy career. But this time, I had to walk my own path. And I had to let go of all my ideas and concepts about what "real comedians" do… real comedians perform at dark and drunken comedy clubs where you can literally smell the bitterness and competition… "real comedians" aren't spiritual. "Real comedians" eat ramen and live with 6 roommates. Well, my path, it turned out, was to take what I had learned through 10 years of standup and years of acting classes, and start telling the stories of my life in my own way, injecting humor into the pain and healing with laughter. And, often, inspiring others to take themselves less seriously. 

Last Wednesday, I put on my show "Eat, Pray, Laugh!" at my friend Jim's house. It was one of the best shows I've ever done… and one of the most fun. At the end, they brought out a cake and sang happy birthday. What a gift. That night, I realized: I have worked my ass off to to find my own comedic voice, one that is truer to my spirit than ever. Wow, it's okay to be funny AND earnest AND vulnerable! And I found my true audience–not in comedy clubs, but in alternative venues, theaters, yoga studios, and the houses of friends. God, it feels good to speak the truth and make people laugh like this. It's taken over 20 years to figure out how to embody this kind of truth and humor on stage, but it was worth working for.

 And it's amazing to have it pay off. This past Saturday, I played my highest paying gig ever at the Iowa City Yoga Festival, plus all those expenses paid (!! – flight, hotel, etc.) and they brought my boyfriend out to teach a workshop as well. That, and winning awards like "Best Local Comedian", "Best of the Fringe" and "Best Storyteller" confirms that I actually have found my path, and I'm walking it. But what's most exciting is that I know that, even with all the years I've spent working at it, it's just the beginning.

I recently met Julia Butterfly Hill, who has a totally amazing life story and a powerful impact on the world, and she confirmed for me something I'd been thinking. That we don't have to stop being who we are. Those of us who are different, who don't fit in, we are gifted. We are can be sensitive, intense, frustrated, angry, sad, and we sometimes overflow with passion and desire. And we don't have to change who we are–we just have to learn how to focus our energy in the right place. 

This has become a passion of mine to now share with others. I've developed a new coaching technique that allows you to accurately tap into your higher self, your soul’s deepest source of wisdom. and show you how to integrate it into your life – powerfully, compassionately, & effortlessly. I'm currently calling it Higher Self Coaching – which is designed for people who are tired of going to others for answers, and who just want to be able to access the real answers they know are locked somewhere deep inside, and move forward with clarity certainty. Some of my specialties include life purpose, relationships, and recovery. 

 If you're interested learning how to focus your energy in the right place, to find your own path, your own voice, your own gifts, let's chat – we'll set up a "Get Your Own Answers! Session." Email me, or you can schedule a time online here

Finally… I have several projects in the works that I'm excited to share with you soon. For now, enjoy a little feel-good music, on the house. This is a song I recorded, and it's dedicated to you. 

No matter how well we do or don't know each other, you've been an important part of my path. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I look forward to walking on the road of life with you. 

Sending blessings for a year filled with laughter and light!

Alicia

Laugh Factory Therapist

Kevin-nealon 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.

Is your laugh genuine or strategic?

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!

-Alicia

Divulging the Material that Will Create Your Solo Show

Writing the story of your life (or any other made up story for that matter), and then performing it for others, can be a difficult task.  A one man show or one woman show however depends on your ability to reveal the nitty gritty of your story in a way that is fascinating and entertaining, as well as perceptive and often humorous as well.

via www.creativeheartcoaching.com

Whether performing standup comedy or making a new painting, your creative process feeds on bits of truth from your subconscious. Here's how to dig inside and get the goods…

Osho Speaks about Laughter (part 6 of 6)

“There is a Cosmic laughter which comes into being when the whole joke of this Cosmos is understood. That is of the highest. And only a Buddha can laugh like that. These three monks must have been three Buddhas. But if you can laugh the second type of laughter, that is also worth trying. Avoid the first. Don’t laugh at anyone’s expense. That is ugly and violent. If you want to laugh, then laugh at yourself.

That’s why Mulla Nasruddin, in all his jokes and stories, always proves himself the stupid one, never anybody else. He always laughs at himself and allows you to laugh at him. He never puts anybody else in the situation of being foolish. Sufis say that Mulla Nasrudin is the wise fool. Learn at least that much – the second laughter.

If you can learn the second, then the third will not be far ahead. Soon you will reach the third. But leave the first type. That laughter is degrading. But almost ninety-nine percent of your laughter is of the first type. Much courage is needed to laugh at oneself. Much confidence is needed to laugh at oneself. 

For the spiritual seeker, even laughter should become a part of Sadhana. Remember to avoid the first type of laughter. Remember to laugh the second. And remember to reach the third.”

Thank you, Osho.  Om.

Osho Speaks about Laughter (part 2)

If you ask the question, "What is the meaning of it?", you will feel meaningless. And when meaninglessness is felt, one will be bored. Animals are not bored. Trees are not bored. Rocks are not bored. They never ask what the meaning and purpose of life is. They never ask; so they never feel it is meaningless. As they are, they accept it. As life is, it is accepted. There is no boredom. Man feels bored. And laughter is the antidote. You cannot live without laughter; because you can negate your boredom only through laughter. 

You cannot find a single joke in primitive societies. They don’t have any jokes. Jews have the largest number of jokes. And they are the most bored people on the earth. They must be bored; because they win more Nobel Prizes than any other community. During the whole of the last century, all the great names are almost all Jews – Freud Einstein, Marx. And look at the list of Nobel Prize winners. Almost half the Nobel Prize winners are Jews. They have the largest number of jokes.

And this may be the reason why all over the world Jews are hated. Everybody feels jealous of them because they win every competition. When you cannot compete with someone, hatred is the result. Jews must be feeling very bored. So they have to create jokes. Jokes are the antidote for boredom.

Laughter is needed for you to exist. Otherwise, you will commit suicide. Now try to understand the mechanism of laughter and how it happens. If I tell a joke, why do you laugh? What makes you laugh. What happens? What is the inner mechanism? If I tell a joke expectation is created. You start expecting. Your mind starts searching for what the end will be. And you cannot conceive the end.

More from Osho coming up…

Just Call Me Mario


3-177
So I wrote this story back in 2005, and recently remembered how much I love it.  Added a few details and re-posted it here.  It's all true.

~

I get a desperate call from my acting teacher in LA about an acting job.  Truth be told, it's my first gig ever.  I don't know what the job is yet–all I know is that I don't have to audition.  So it either has to be an adult gig or a wearing-a-giant-animal-suit-to-sell-something gig.  Fine.  As long as it's not both.

The next day I’m sitting in a secret back room in the Metreon, a giant new mecca of capitalistic bliss, full of movie theaters and food courts and stores where they sell cologne for young men at the beach.  The place smells like popcorn, expensive electronics, and Drakkar Noir.  I've been asked to put on a foam suit with a 65″ waist, strap-on boots five times the size of my feet, giant white gloves I have to hold on to by clenching the inside fabric in my fists, and a very large fiberglass head attached to a football helmet, out of which I have about 10% of my normal vision.  My "handler" tucks in the character's "neck skin" inside my foam suit. 

I am a method actor.  That morning, when I learned my assignment, I’d decided to explore my character.  Just who is video game character Super Mario? (Strange guy with mustache?)  What is he passionate about?  (Killing turtles?)  What motivates him? (Saving the princess?) WHAT MAKE HIM TICK? (Gold coins?) I am getting in touch with my inner brooklyn Italian plumber (except that I’m on the inside and he’s on the outside–maybe it's more like Mario getting in touch with the Inner Alicia…). But so what does a middle-aged video game plumber say and do and think?  On the way in my car I’m trying him out, “I’m a mario! I love-a da princess! Princepessa I’m-a comin! I fix-a you toilet!  Just gotta kick a deese turtles and eat-a some magic mushrooms!" (Maybe we have more in common than I thought?) But I’m not allowed to speak, so I figure I’ll channel this character information directly into my body movement.

The event is a ceremony called the Walk of Game.  Video game inventors and their characters are receiving lifetime achievement awards.  I run into a technology commentator Adam Sessler, who I used to work with at TechTV. Turns out he’s hosting the whole event.  "What do you think I am supposed to do, as Mario?" I ask.  Sessler bounces his head and says, "Bounce, wave, shrug your shoulders."  Ok, that's easy.

Not easy.  Once I zip up the 40 pound suit, I can’t reach my feet to put the shoes on.  My “handler”, a PR guy from Nintendo who is late and dressed in a brown leather jacket, ties my shoes for me.  I am getting paid handsomely for this is a last-minute gig. I have never done anything remotely like this before. Handler dude tells me I need to be very animated and wave a lot. Presumably, because I seem to be quiet and he looks worried. But so we get out in the open and one of the “game girls”, a cute Asian girl in a short, white skirt, is guiding me, holding my “arm”, keeping me from tripping over small children. We line up to receive awards. As we approach the stage, someone shouts, “MARIO’S NOT REAL.” and I throw up my arms in response (I’m contractually obligated not to speak) and get a big pre-show laugh.

A live pianist begins playing the Super Mario theme song. “Dana-nana-nana… dana-nana-nana…” They cue me, and I walk out on stage with my Game Girl.  She makes me feel more like Mario.  I bounce, wave, and shrug to the music, and the crowd loves me hamming it up.  About a hundred cameras (it’s only press people in the audience) are flashing their bulbs. No kidding.  Turns out Mario is one of only five people and/or characters being honored in the First Annual Walk of Game ceremony. Mario gets a star on the Metreon Walk of Game.

This suit is hot and heavy inside (does that make me live “action”? ha ha). We walk over to uncover the stars and take photos. People are jumping in, one after another, next to me to take photos. We pose. I put a foot out for style.  I shake hands.  Just standing in this thing is a chore.  We didn’t use the ice packs they recommend.  It's getting hotter and hotter inside here.  Today we’re serving BAKED ACTOR from the Mario Oven. My sweat.  The sweat of previous Marios.  The heat from the lights. I’m way above my target heart rate. But the worst part, the velcro from the boots (which are constantly slipping off my feet) is rubbing against my shins, grating my skin, and the raw skin is mixing with the sweat to create a pain of moving I can only be thankful for because it’s distracting me from the weight of the costume.

Despite the impediments, I am actually having a blast. I–which is to say, Mario–am famous.  For about an hour. It’s nothing to do with me, but still, I’m making it all happen. I’m dancing, doing all these great moves which I know must be hilarious for people to see Mario do.  Moves from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Eminem videos, my circus show… It’s all fair game. Cameras keep flashing, so I keep posing. I develop a whole repertoire: bounce, disco bounce, hands on head, pat tummy to the beat, raise roof, shake hands, left foot out, arms in circle a la Mr. Sandman backup singers, knee down fist up power chord rock stance, etc… What does Nintendo think of my interpretation of Mario? Will public the conception of disco Mario seep back into the minds of the developers, creating a dialectic whereby the next Mario game has just a little hustle in his bounce?

Sometimes I start giggling to myself about how heavy this costume is and I'm just trying to hold it all together, and I can make out the sea of cameras.  It would be so funny if Mario tripped and fell onto Sessler, or started humping the leg of Sonic the Hedgehog or the inventor of Halo, or touched the tit of a Game Girl, or if he hit on Gavin Newsom (our San Francisco Mayor). So at the party afterward gavin takes a picture with mario, and he whispers to me, “you know you and I have spent a lot of time together… indirectly.”  Whoa, Gavin. What is it about puppets that make people confess things?

My handler dude sees me start to wobble, and realizes I’m about to pass out after three hours in the MO (Mario Oven).  He says I did a great job and he’ll pay me for an extra half hour.  I take off my head.  The heat wafts up from inside the suit.  You could unseal envelopes with the steam floating past my chin. I leave in plain (sweat-soaked) clothes, my face beet-red, walking past the hordes of people who moments before were yelling “my” name. I feel like a superhero after a change in the phone booth. Inside I have this exciting yet totally inconsequential secret, and there's nothing to do with it.  People walk past me like I'm just another human.  I want to yell, “I WAS THAT GUY YOU LOVED! I was Mario!” But instead, I walk peacefully back to my car.  I go home, put some ointment on my shins. And keep my secret (for a little while).

I wonder, once in a while, who else is wandering the street, freshly emancipated from their own Mario.

Solo Performer and Comedian Bill Santiago Interview

image from assets.nydailynews.com Alicia Dattner> I remember you'd been performing for a year when I first started and we met… How did you start doing comedy?

Bill Santiago> I had friends that were interested and got me hooked. But it appealed to me right off. Say what ever you want to say. Use your wits. Get people to see things your way. Laughter. Applause. What's not to like?

AD> What was your motivation to write a show about dancing?

BS>Whenever I'm dancing I have this inner monologue going on, about about how well it's going or not, all the characters out there that you see and meet and dance with, whether I just nailed a move, or someone's foot, the constant frustrations and occasional moments of unparalleled joy, and the simple human interaction of being that close to someone you don't know and trying to synchronize. Plus how obsessive people can get about their dancing, and how far it's come, the Latin dancing, from the way that my parents danced, how people are taking it now to a ridiculously Cirque du Soleil level that is frankly laughable. 

And the way the different people dance the different dances, and how each dance has its own tricks and personalities, salsa, versus tango, versus bachata, versus samba, versus flamenco, versus cumbia, versus merengue, and on and on. And the teachers, my God, they're all such crazy gurus! And the whole process of learning, how you have to train yourself to absorb these movements into your own being, and how thrilling it is to be learning. There's a lot there. 

The quest to become the dancer you'll never be and enjoy yourself as much as possible along the way. It's a comedic gold mine, really. And combining standup so closely with dance is new for me, allows me to be physical on stage, and look for the humor in the physicality as much as in the words. And I get to work with super musicians, and invite people from the audience to come up on stage and dance with me. It's very interactive. It's always a different show, you know.

AD> What's your favorite thing about dancing?

BS>My favorite thing about dancing is the connection that you have with where you come from, this music stirs that in you, and the escape that you have from everything else in your day, in the periphery of the present. I love that when you're dancing nothing else matters, and if you're lucky you can let go, and maybe connect with someone else in a very unique and beautiful way. But it's high stakes because there is a lot of pride on the line, that's the stuff of funny. 

image from www.speakoutnow.org  AD> What's your favorite thing about comedy?

BS>My favorite thing about comedy is whatever latest the line I am working on to perfect, or idea that I am trying to get traction on. When it works, when I finally get it to gel and I hear the laughter, it's very satisfying. I like that bulls-eye feeling. It's also nice when people remind you that you are doing good work, that it has affected them, that it matters, that they want to see more and that you are appreciated. 

AD> How would you classify what you do? Is it standup? Is it solo performance? Is it something else?

BS>It depends on the project that I am working on, the particular show. The "Funny of (Latin) Dance" show is way beyond standup, but standup is the basis of my approach, I apply that skill, those chops to this new topic, and hopefully renders an entirely new kind of show. 

AD> Anything else you'd like to share with us?

BS>I'd love to share some of the spontaneous magic that happens on stage when I invite folks from the crowd to come up on stage and dance with me in this show, but you are just going to have to come out and experience it for yourself.

Bill Santiago performs all over the country.  Go see him. 

-Alicia

Writing a Solo Show, Part 1 of 7

So you want to write a solo show? Not everybody does. It used to
be most people felt they had one good novel in them. One good album.
Five minutes of good standup. Maybe one good screenplay. You take the
particulars of your life and assemble them in a funny or touching or
absurd or poignant way and they become universally understood as human.
And after that, you have to actually get good a the craft and technical
know-how.  There's charisma, and there's skill.  Possessing charisma
might bring you to the stage, but building skill is what can keep you
there.  But let's not worry about the skill part yet.  Plenty of time for that.  What's important right now is that you want to create.

Today, especially in the San Francisco theater and
standup comedy scene, solo shows or monologues are becoming a great
venue to speak your life.  And many people are taking the form to the
level of mastery.  You've heard Eric Bogosian on CD, you've seen
Spading Gray on DVD, maybe you went to the theater and saw your first
solo show in person.  And now you're Inspired.  "This is it!" you realize.  This is how I want to tell my story!  (I'm
chomping at the bit to go see two shows at the Marsh in San Francisco:
Ann Randolph's Loveland, and Dan Hoyle's The Real Americans.  I'm on my
way in the next week to see Dan Hoyle!)

So if this is your first
foray into the world of possibility in creating your first solo show,
where do you start?  Well, you start where only you can.  You already
know in your heart why you're reading this.  Something incredibly
important, intense, and powerful occurred in your life.  It may even be
connected to some issue out in the world that is equally important,
intense, and powerful.  That's where you start. 

Begin by
allowing yourself to speak what that is.  But keep it to yourself for
the moment.  This is a precious moment, when you acknowledge to
yourself what it is you know you have to tell the world.  Take 30
minutes and sit.  Let yourself write the it down.  Write in whatever
form: bullet points, a poem, short pieces of prose…  Write what comes
about the CENTRAL MOMENT of this powerful event or truth in your life. 
During this central moment, where are you?  What time of year is it? 
What are you wearing?  What does the air smell like?  Who is with you? 
What music do you hear?  What did you eat that day?  What are the
sensations in your belly?  Write with a pen and paper if you can… 
let those images and emotions wash over you and spill onto the paper
directly from your heart through your hand to the page, and make
Natalie Goldberg proud.

When you finish, don't yet show it to
anyone.  It's a tender and sweet piece of work you're doing, and you
deserve to have it held with your own utmost compassion before opening
it to others. 

Ready for Part 2 of 7 on "So You Want to Write a One Person Show?"  Stay tuned!  I'll be writing it in the next few days.