Reflections on The Laughter Academy: How Improvised Comedy Improved Me

This is a story about a girl who wouldn’t listen to good advice – and what happened when she finally did.

“Why don’t you see how you feel on the day and decide if you’ll come along then?” asked Anouska.

“I don’t know, I might do, I’ll let you know” was my response.

Anouska and Hollie were trying to convince me to come along to the next set of Laughter Academy improvised comedy classes. Anouska had successfully completed the classes herself, and recently performed in the showcase (which I saw her in, she was excellent). Hollie had also been to the showcase, and decided to take the next course. We all spoke at length about feeling the need to try new things and embrace new opportunities; The Laughter Academy seemed to offer both of these things. I’d been encouraged by others to attend the course before; including the course leader, Lee. I caved, and caught the train down to Southend the following week to start the course.

I wasn’t a complete amateur when I entered the room that evening. I had experience of being on stage and improvising, which I’d learnt mainly from taking GCSE Drama at secondary school.  At the age of 17, I was committed to the idea that I would be an actress when I left school; but this idea was promptly shattered when I was accepted in to The National Youth Theatre in 2007. The NYT course lasted for two weeks. Despite being confident in the spotlight, I was cripplingly shy in real life, so sharing University halls with other extrovert NYT members was extremely difficult for me. The NYT course itself taught me lots about movement, voice and stage skills; but I couldn’t gel with the other members, which led me to resent many aspects of the dramatic arts.

When I look back now, I realise that this was the behaviour of an unhappy 17 year old. There were other underlying reasons why The National Youth Theatre didn’t work for me, but that’s not for this blog post. All I know is trying to constrict your morning cornflakes whilst pretending not to be homesick to a fellow flatmate is a very difficult thing to do. My room-mates were good people, I just wasn’t prepared to let them know who I was. This experience at The National Youth Theatre was my main reason for declining all previous invitations to The Laughter Academy.

ANYWAY! Enough of my traumatic memories, this blog is supposed to be a celebration! I arrived at the class apprehensive and sweaty, but seeing Hollie & Anouska helped calm my nerves. Lee, the leader of the pack, took good care of me; week after week he built my confidence up with games, advice and endless encouragement. I knew most of the people taking the class because I’d seen them in the showcases or been introduced to them via other people. They were all extremely supportive, which made everything a thousand times easier and more fun. Each week there was a particular line or comment from someone that had me in stitches. I’d finally found an environment where it was acceptable to show off my Australian accent (perfected by a lifetimes worth of watching Home & Away) and pull as many stupid faces as I could. I felt the shackles of insecurity loosening.

Amidst all of the fun and games, there were two crucial improvisational philosophies that Lee mentioned. Firstly; it’s okay to fail. Failing is normal and the sooner you accept that, the easier it becomes to deal with. I am terrified of failure in all aspects of life – but I’m slowly accepting that making an arse of yourself or fluffing a line in improvised comedy (or real life) is not the end of the world.

Secondly; accept and build. Listen, take it on board and elaborate. Do not censor yourself. It took an eternity for that to sink in (it’s still sinking) but once I stopped over-analysing and pre-empting everything, improvisation became much easier and ultimately, funnier. The ‘accept and build’ philosophy extended beyond the classroom too; the more I spoke to everyone, the more comfortable I felt around them, to the point where we were making plans to meet outside of class hours.

Once the ten weeks of classes were up, Lee organised four showcases so that each person could perform twice, and with a variety of people. I was surprised to find myself calm and optimistic about my first show on the 6th of June. This quickly turned to fear when I was stood behind the curtain with everyone else waiting to go on. Fortunately, I had Sam to share the fear with; it was her first time performing improv too. We took to the stage and my fear evaporated. In the spotlight it seemed like everything escalated; concentration, adrenaline, laughter; even the time. It was all over and done with in what felt like a heart-beat. I was grateful for the compliments from Paul. L and Debbie after the show, their kind words widened the smile on my face. The following week I performed my second show with fellow newcomer Hollie and veteran Anouska. The night was equally as excellent as the first; I’d found the funny in my bones, and I liked it. I could hear the laughs of my friends and my family and my little walnut heart swelled with pride and happiness. We stayed on in the pub after the show and drank in celebration of our successes.

Ultimately, I never thought that joining The Laughter Academy could enrich my life in so many ways. Even as I type this, I feel unable to express just how useful the classes have been to me. I didn’t take the course to become a comedian or an actress; I took it because I was twenty-four, and under confident and in need of something new. I feel like there are so many people to thank. The people I’ve shared the last 12 weeks with: Sam, Faye, Jamie, Debbie, Paul. L, Luke, Ali, John, Ross, Benjy, Davey, Hannah, Kelly, Matt, Ali. G., Kevin and Hayley; you’ve brightened up my Thursday nights. To Joe, Stacy, Holly, Sarah, Jordan, Rachel, Tom, Paul and my parents for coming to see me perform in the showcases. To Anouska & Hollie for convincing me to sign up to the course in the first place and for all the laughs, encouragement and friendship along the way. Finally, to Lee; thanks for sharing your improv expertise and teaching me that it really is okay to fail.

Enough of this gooey old shh…. show of emotion. Here’s to the next course in September!

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