"Isn't she pretty?"
by Laura Pedersen
As a member of an improv comedy group on campus, I’ve grown more and more convinced that there is psychology experiment lurking in the humorous lines that spill forth from our mouths when we're under pressure.
An experience I had this past Sunday took me one step closer to this experiment.
The group and I had gone to see an improv troupe at a comedy club in New York City. The club had mood lighting, musical interludes, hecklers, hecklers who always made comments about sex and herpes (I’ll save it for another post), shot glasses for sale, and… one terrible MC.
It wasn’t that she was incompetent. It was just that everything spilling forth from her mouth got jumbled on the way out. Her mistakes had started to cause small ripples of appreciative tension in the crowd until (at last!) a savior stepped forward to save face. After her awkward admittance, “Gosh, I can’t talk tonight!” a fellow member of the improv team called out in a loud voice, “Isn’t she pretty?”
Whistles and applause ensued.
A few improv games later, and another verbal stumble produced a second acclamation of her looks. Worse yet, she started to feed into it: “Ok, I’m just going to go home and cut myself.” And later, “Yeah, I’m really going to go home, dye my hair black, listen to Goth music and cut myself.”
I was appalled. I will stumble and grasp for words at some point in my improv career, but I will take responsibility for them as a full person and not be bailed out by a cheap pitch to appearance. And I will certainly not allow myself to turn to self-abasement to smooth over the glitch.
Squeezed under the constraints of extemporaneous speech, these are the remarks that spilled out. So what was really on display at that comedy show: humor, or a pretty woman?