by Jill Edmondson
For many people, the past 17 months of COVID lockdowns, masking, and isolation have been daunting. Like others, I’ve missed restaurants, concerts and cheap, meaningless hook-ups with total strangers. But for whatever hardships COVID has wrought, for me the ’Rona has yielded some surprising benefits. COVID has legitimized my sluggishness and allowed me to embrace my inherent laziness. But now, gluing my sizable ass to the sofa isn’t sloth – I’m helping to stop the spread. You’re welcome.
Everyone I know took up a new hobby during COVID: baking, macrame, divorce. The activity that has kept me sane during COVID is online comedy classes. The fortuitous combination of lockdowns plus Zoom has opened up a world for me that previously wasn’t readily available. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve taken eleven different courses, sometimes two or three at once, in everything from stand-up to storytelling to sketch comedy – anything but improv, because that sucks.
“Improv comedy is like your mother: Ah, gee honey, that was great! You did your best! While stand-up comedy is your dad, sitting there with folded arms, saying: Go ahead, just try to make me laugh.” –Alan Shane Lewis
Obviously, comedy classes were available in the Before Times, but attending them meant leaving the house. Are you kidding? Do you know what a chore that is for an indolent introvert? That entailed showering, brushing my teeth, slapping on some deodorant, and pouring myself into whatever outfit yielded the greatest comfort, while simultaneously being respectable enough to wear in public. There is an inverse relationship between comfort and respectability. My fashion fave is a full-body UGG onesie, and that always garnered stares on the TTC.
But those are all practical and logistical concerns. The real challenge in face-to-face classes is in opening up to real people, sitting inches from you, and sharing the jokes that seemed funny when you wrote them down at 3:25 am after the dog woke you up for a late-night pee. Trying out your bits, in a 30 square foot room, where there are no distractions, no diversions, and no invisible shield, can be nerve wracking. Bravado and certainty yield to: “No, you go first… No, you can go ahead… No, I’ll go after you…”
There’s a freedom that comes with taking virtual comedy classes. The intangibility of sharing to a group of faces boxed like the opening of The Brady Bunch is liberating. It could well be the same people and the same material as F2F classes, but the cyber-distance makes it feel like you have less at stake. It’s akin to online porn, which gets you where you want to go, but without the risk of STDs. Zoom comedy classes are like a condom for creativity.
There’s a fluidity and deftness within the virtual group. A wrinkle in the space-time continuum keeps things moving. Even when a joke falls flat, things continue apace – there are no lulls or awkward silences. Feedback and ideas seem to flow, but in an unvarnished manner that you just don’t get IRL.
The comfort level no doubt comes from being in our own homes, in our sweatpants, where we can be our feral selves. For instance, at each Zoom class, Randy chugs through a couple Pilsner tall boys, while delivering one-liners with the agility of a Ninja. Or, there’s Suzette The Cat Lady, who strokes her long-haired felines while she slays us all with her Kafkaesque anecdotes. She claims she only has three cats, but judging by the mound of fur on her lap, either the cats weigh 65 lbs each, or she has 19 of them. And then there’s Heinz, who vapes nonstop while he deftly satirizes the latest headlines. He claims the vaping is to help him give up cigarettes, but I’m convinced the gadget is filled with nitrous oxide.
Do beer, cats and vaping make people funnier? Probably not, but the online medium invites the creature comforts that contribute to a casual atmosphere that a bricks and mortar classroom doesn’t have, and lets us “find the funny” from our living rooms. It’s too soon to see what the “post-pandemic” world will look like vis a vis comedy classes. I really hope F2F doesn’t displace virtual because I’m not ready to raw dog it yet. I still need the prophylactic reassurance of cyberland.