Saturday, April 01, 2023

Amid the grim, find the funny

| January 15, 2023 12:00 AM

My resolution for 2023: Laugh more. Not just smile — I do that anyway because one, the world and its people often are amusing and two, I can’t afford plastic surgery.

The seed was planted when I went to last month’s performance capping the Comedy Improv II class at Flathead Valley Community College.

The eight performers, clad in black, chatted in clusters at the front of the room as the audience filed in. The staging was spare, just some chairs — no props, no background, nowhere to hide.

“We’re going to put on a show unlike anything you’ve ever seen,” said Roger Fraser, energetic improv instructor and the emcee. Fraser preceded his years in Kalispell doing theater with time in Nashville, where he witnessed a boom in improv.

The improvisation games began. For a warmup, the student troupe took on the “Three Xs” — the old standard joke built on [something] walking into a bar, and the bartender saying, “We don’t serve your kind here.” The bartender’s answer to the resulting protest is the laugh line. The performers posited the bar patrons as ex-wives, Santa hats and barbecued sides of beef.

This type of joke, by the way, supposedly dates back thousands of years to the ancient Sumerians.

The night evolved with “Columns” and “Keywords,” two games in which audience input forces performers to synthesize surprise and creativity.

In the game “Fast Food Stanislavski,” performers are given personality quirks in a certain scenario, such as negotiating a Black Friday sale.

Two performers became a blind person and a jetlagged traveler jostling together at a store entrance. The “blind” one observed, “Every day is black for me, not just this Friday.”

The jetlagged traveler said absently, “We’ve lined up early, and there’s gonna be fights. Is there a White Saturday?”

Embedded in their character-driven interaction and thinking in the moment, the performers showed the power of listening closely and then responding to changing circumstances.

After “Blind Date,” always an exercise in awkward and opportunity for comedy gold, came my fave game: “Panel of Experts.” A country crooner, a granddaughter of Freud and a pair of Siamese doctors answered audience queries ranging from, “What do bees smell like?” to “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

The night wound up with “Story Story Die,” during which an “expert” opined that lobotomies have “proven helpful in helping teens get through their teenage years.”

The wit and creativity crackled.

Our laughter brings proven benefits to health. For example, studies cited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Psychology Today show humor’s ability to decrease the stress hormone cortisol and increase our endorphins — all a boon mentally and physically.

The evening provided a silly and utterly refreshing timeout amid an angsty world.

If you’re curious, ambitious or just want to improve your well-being, check out Fraser’s next improv series starting this month, or the class-closing performances thereafter.

In the meantime, I plan to live a little, by laughing a lot.

Margaret E. Davis, executive director of the Northwest Montana History Museum, can be reached at

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