Stay with me for a second…
In a recent Q&A, while I was babbling after an Improv field trip show for K12 students, Ivana Mendez jokingly said, “Uh oh, Walter’s having another coming to Jesus moment.”
That side bar has stuck with me since. Ivana was so spot on. In so many ways, I have turned Improv into my religion.. I live, eat and breathe Improvisation on and off stage performing shows, teaching workshops and as producer/booker for the company.
It is the teaching of comedy that brings this out the most. I have seen Improv turn K12 students and corporate team into better people.
I have been lucky to be able to make folks laugh for 16 years. In 1000s of shows and classes/workshops I have been a witness to the transformative power of Laughter.
Years ago I learned – thru research – how studies at John Hopkins, Stanford and others prove that Laughter truly is the best medicine. Laughter decreases stress and blood pressure. Laughing itself is a cardio workout. And for building teams, laughter levels the walls of fear and hate, while building trust. Quite simply, as I say in many workshops, it is impossible to have hate and fear in your heart when engaging in joyous laughter.
Not until I started understanding the concept of Psychological Safety, from the Google Study Project Aristotle (released in 2015), did I realize how important our work really is.
I started watching Billions when I was cast on the show this spring. You can see me on episode 4.19 in May 2019. Laurice and I immediately started binging Seasons one to three. We are now up to date, hooked and live tweeting Sunday nights.
The second Asia Kate Dillon made her appearance, they has (or they have – still educating self) been a profound interest to me – or should I say Taylor’s introduction of self “My pronouns are They, them and their.”
Even as an artist who has known many LGBTQ individuals, I was totally ignorant to this pronoun concept. Now this SHOWTIME 60-minute dramedy has a very prominent character of substantial wealth and power representing non-binary. This blows open the door to all in so many ways. Not only are we accepting the “new normal” the new normal is truly EVERYONE and ANYONE can achieve the dream regardless of who you are, what you look like, where you come from etc etc etc. Taylor is “judged” by side eyes in the office, but their overwhelming genius and ambition over comes all – almost (4th season will determine that, perhaps? Are you #TEAMAXE or #TEAMTAYLOR)
Non-binary was also a term I had never heard before watching Billion. I have since engaged in a few conversations on the subject. I am no expert but I have a better understanding and a deeper curiosity.
I watched a YouTube clip of their appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan. Asia’s discussion of their neck tattoo started me thinking.
I call it Improv Comedy Class but Empathy is what I teach. I discuss psychological safety, listening, focus etc etc etc But what I really teach – or try to teach – is Empathy. And one could break it down to the success stories being the ones I inspired to be more empathic.
In Asia’s interview, they mentioned the history of empathy from the German word, Einfuhlung.
I had no idea EMPATHY was such a young concept in the history of the world. I learned about PATHOS in the 4th grade during a gifted and talent summit of sorts. ETHOS, LOGOS & PATHOS was the workshop. The course was mostly in ration to writing. At the time, being a more math/science guy, I locked onto LOGOS. At times I pondered, was it a guy thing.
****A short history of empathy****
Our current Western idea of empathy arises from two places. In English, the word empathy comes from the Greek root pathos, which means emotion, feeling, suffering, or pity (it also comes from a German word, and we’ll explore that below). The English words empathy and sympathy are used interchangeably to refer to the sharing of (or knowledge of) emotions, while apathy relates to lack of emotions, and antipathy relates to antagonistic emotions.
– I now have a better understanding why I hate APATHY so much –
The German word Einfühlung (pronounced eín-fhoo-loong), which means “in-feeling” or “feeling into” – and first appeared (in print) in German philosopher Robert Vischer’s 1873 Ph.D. dissertation on aesthetics. Vischer used the word to explore the human capacity to enter into a piece of art or literature and feel the emotions that the artist had worked to represent – or to imbue a piece of art (or any object) with relevant emotions.
The last The English word empathy was coined in 1909 as a translation of Einfühlung
THE NEW WORLD
EMPATHY itself is not new. Just word and the study. EMPATHY is what has made great leaders and artists since the dawn of human existence. What is new is teaching EMPATHY.
Concepts like “Emothional IQ” were just getting traction when I was in school (just a few years ago).
There are 1000s of books and lectures out there talking about concepts in team, leadership, government, society, education, child rearing, psychology etc etc etc.
What I love about Improv, at least in the way we teach it, I see the realization of what 1000s of others merely talk about. Simply playing games in a safe space -allowing the walls to crumble and let others in – student discover for them selves what others merely discuss in concept.
Improv teaches empathy. We embody listening and focus into the muscle memory and subconscious mind.
I don’t use that word. I say we are learning YES AND… I say we are learning skills that make us a better team, better leaders, better sales people, better customer service staff…
Break it all down we are learning Empathy.
I was a smart kid. I turned away form academics and to the arts over 25 years ago. I became a working actor shortly after. I formerly started into comedy nearly 17 years ago. Working with so dozens Improv artists, performing in front of 1000s of audiences and teaching 1000s classes/workshops has made me a far better person, actor and teacher.
When I teach I notice a certain thing. There is that moment when student finally lets the walls down. They finally get it. They don’t necessarily feel the difference yet. But I can see the difference in their work. They have let the fear go and started to experience life anew.
In some I see that moment happen in just five minutes. Others it takes longer. In a rare few it saddens me when I do not see it all. Ego and insecurity are running so deep they cannot let go.
When IT happens, that is when I have my “Coming to Jesus moment” as Ivana calls it. I have it again when that student has their first performance and their parents see the difference. I have it every time that student surpasses all expectation, including my own. And I have it when I babble, hoping to inspire IT (not the clown) as I was doing when Ivana called me out.
It is a wonderful thing, because I truly believe it is not something I can necessarily teach. I believe it is something that lives in ALL of us. I believe it is a thing that society – in an effort to find order out of chaos – beats out of us. (many “experts” say society beats creativity our of kids by the 4th grade). And I believe I can only hope to inspire its discovery.
Until now I had not defined what “IT” is, what that moment is.
I think now “IT” is empathy.
It IS a quasi religious experience for me. It is a passion, joy and hope to make the world a better place one IT moment at a time.
Every time I see the walls of hate and fear wash away – replaced by curiosity and creativity – I quite literally have happy tears. I am washed over by emotion of my own.
Lately, thanks to amazing colleagues and students I have been crying almost daily.
Crap, I’m tearing up now…..
HAPPY EASTER, PASSOVER or what ever you celebrate this morning.
PS REMEMBER MY #1 RULE
HAVE FUN but never ant another’s expense!
AND your homework…. Start every day with as smile!
Wait for the world to make you smile and you will be disappointed every time.
Try going into a room with a smile. A real genuine smile. Most will smile back and make you feel GREAT!
Ignore that one person in the dark shadows of the corner that judges you
(READ NEXT LINE In the voice of a vile hag)
WHY ARE THEY SMILING
That person will judge you no matter what you do so focus on those that smile back and feed the best in you!