Clever Girl

Yes, Jurassic Park fans, you’re right. This title is a reference to the scene where the Australian guy is looking at a raptor, hears rustling in the bushes, says “clever girl” and then gets eaten by two velociraptors that were hiding on either side of him that whole time. And guess what? I’m going to make a metaphor out of it. Stay with me.

Lately, I’ve been interviewing my fellow improvisers for a series of podcasts about Sea Tea Improv. I’m having a great time doing it (largely because the format of the podcast is peppering my friends with questions, which, if you've ever been a friend of mine, you’ll know is my favorite activity), but over and over again I’ve noticed a certain phrase cropping up. It’s also a phrase so cliché among famous funny people that you’d be surprised if they didn’t say it:

“I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh.”

As a professional funny person, this statement is terrifying, becasue for me, it’s just plain not true. No one who knew me in childhood would describe me as funny. Studious, maybe. Cripplingly shy, for certain. As a current extrovert—I spend so much of my time dribbling my thoughts and opinions onto the internet and into other people’s ears—I look back on myself and wonder, how did that person become this person?

I am expected, formally and informally, to be clever for much of my day. I write snappy freelance copy; I am a professional comedic improviser; I engage in witty banter with both my boss and my boyfriend. And yet I am pretty certain I'm not funny, and the thought of being a “funny person” makes me want to hide.

And yet I continue to live a life engaging with wit. How is all this funny time achieved? Mulling it over, I have two conclusions. One: during both the introverted and extroverted periods of my life, I’ve been an observer. I’m watching. I’m thinking. I’m evaluating. For me, curiosity, especially about other people, is a kind of thirst that will absolutely never be satiated. This thirst can be unhealthy, but in comedic situations, it’s a terrific impulse. How much comedy do we laugh at because the observation is simply marvelous, too true? And how many times have I lost control of where I am in an improv scene and made an observation to get back on track? (Hundreds.)

Second is storytelling. In the “Meet Laura” podcast, we discuss how we make sense of many uncomfortable situations by beginning the storytelling process right there in the moment. We look for relevant details; we plan how we’ll describe it later. Seeing individual moments and incidents as stories is my strategy for living—it has gotten me through horrible situations and wonderful ones. I could tell you stories, oh, could I ever tell you stories, of terrible things-- but you would laugh, because I had vowed to make them into funny stories before they were even finished happening.

Back to the dinosaurs: the Austrailan is the audience. There he is, looking at the first raptor, the one right in front of him. That raptor is the funny. “Clever girl,” he says, but the two that really tear him up are observation and narrative, right beside him all along.