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March 7, 2011

The Jaime Sommers Theory of Bionic Improvisers
by Liz McKeon - 0

By WICF Contributor Pam Victor
(Pam will be performing with The Ha-Ha's this Thursday at WICF in "Shrink: Where Freud Meets Funny!)

“Maybe it's about how moms are naturally good at giving others the spotlight. The tendency to let their little ones shine and be the best they can be translates really well into improv. The mothers that I've improvised with, for the most part, rarely steal a scene in a selfish way, and are more often than not contributing in major ways to another actor's moment.”
– Scott Braidman, Experienced Improviser and Teacher

Scott could be right. Perhaps it is the nourishing, womb-like embraces of all our fellow players. Like a short, big-breasted Jewish bubbe who never sits down to eat the meal she has been up since 3 a.m. to prepare. “No, you eat, bubala. Don’t worry about me. (sigh) I’ll be fine licking up the crumbs you leave behind when you’re done.” But maybe there’s a little more to it than that.

Maybe moms make good improvisers because of special superpowers bestowed upon us. Call it luck. Call it a convergence of biology. Call it karmic reward for dealing with gag-inducing diaper explosions in the middle of a wedding reception that have you eyeing the cleansing rivulets of the champagne fountain with alternative motives. Any way you split the stream, many moms rock the improv stage in a way under-recognized by the dominant class of white boy improvisers (with the noted and appreciated exception of Scott Braidman). Why? May I present to you the Jaime Sommers Theory: Improvising moms are bionic.

First of all, moms bring to the stage their freakish strength. You’ve heard the story of the mom who lifts a bus to get it off her child. Personally, I’ve given up my career to raise my kids. Those twerps are a huge fucking investment, man. Do you seriously think I wouldn’t gladly rip your head from your shoulders like a Fruit Roll-Up from its wrapper if you so much as look sideways at my kid? You better believe moms who improvise bring that same intensity to their scene work. Improvising battling aliens with spaghetti is small potatoes when you possess the superhuman powers to lift an actual 10-ton Mack truck.

In addition, a mom’s senses are refined to a ninja-like sharpness. Once, when I was pregnant, I was driving by a café at 55 mph with all the windows rolled up when I said to my single/no kids friend, “Boy, they are frying up a whole mess of food in that restaurant!”

My friend was like, “What the fuck is wrong with your face? How can you smell that?” I just shrugged. How could she not smell that? Like I said, bionic.

When my son was a baby, I could hear him before he started crying. I could see so well I was friggin’ echo-locating. That’s how finely tuned my senses became. And I still have a superpower ability to send out an Expanding Radar of Potential Dangers within a three-mile radius of my kids. “At 11:47 tomorrow afternoon,” I could tell my kid. “You’ll be walking by a counter that has a very sharp-looking edge. Be careful.”

And everyone knows the strength of a mom’s right arm when the car is coming to a quick stop. That badass human seatbelt swings out to brace the passenger at lightning speed that surely defies the laws of physics. Newton didn’t even attempt to figure that shit out. So it would seem an improvising mom brings to the stage extra-powered senses and strength unbound by natural principles. Surely that skill set adds something distinct to one’s improv tool box, no?

On top of that, most improv comedy moms aren’t exactly shy. When you’ve had three people with pointed instruments staring at your twat, everything seems somehow less risqué. A mom enlivens the stage with that energy: “Bring it on, bitches. There ain’t nothing you can throw at me that is scarier than extruding a human head from my magnolia.”

Finally, as Rachel Klein smartly noted in a previous post on the WICF blog, when a mom comes to improvise, she ain’t there to fool around. At rehearsal and performance, I feel like I’m Tim Robbins bubbling up out of that pipe-full of poop in Shawshank Redemption. I am free! Free, I tell you. So let’s play hard and work harder, ‘cause the warden is hot on my trail.

Badass photo of the bionic Pam Victor,
credit: Megan Brantley.
Sure, moms might be good improvisers because of our selfless care-taking abilities. But maybe it’s also our superpowers too. Fierceness. Strength. Heightened senses. Braveness. Look, little people literally have shit on our party dresses. Everything from there on out is just plain fun.

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s (formerly The Ha-Ha Sisterhood). She produces Happier Valley Comedy Shows. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."

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