I remember, many years ago, a friend of mine fulfilling the requirements of a Master's degree course with a dissertation on the 'Concept of Fun', and thinking at the time that her choice stretched the bounds of credulity. How wrong was I ? The piece was a thoroughly diverting treatise on the psychology and sociology of enjoyment and the immediacy of pleasure, which finally yielded a Distinction for her. And best of all it was an entertaining read encompassing a world of ideas, from the phenomenon of unsolicited funeral laughter, to the spontaneous outburst, to the half terror/half joy hysterias of Blackpool Pleasure Beach. The latter venue became my friend's second home during her 'research'.
The extrusion of comedy through the wringer of preparation and planning may produce something that is sublime for an audience, but the price can be heavy. When the 'Roller Coaster' moment subsides, which it must, the comic may be left with only the echo of laughter, smudged make-up, and an overwhelming tendency to self-criticism. Tony Hancock was the prototype for this kind of comedian, and doubtless there have been many like him.
But laughter for its own sake is therapeutic, as Mel Taylor's forthcoming Comedy Improv. strand of Settle Stories' 'Storyteller's Art' course will demonstrate. And therapeutic for the tutor as much as for the student of fun: laughter is highly contagious and leaves the 'laugher' with a gratifying and self-reflective glow of well-being. Crucially, the warmth it confers also engenders confidence, a fantastic starting point for the business of learning how to locate, and develop, the very best of our abilities.
Mel Taylor, of Playful Being, recently gave us a glimpse into the workings of playfulness and fun on the imagination:
Q. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. The value of play, laughter and fun are too readily overlooked in our bustling world of preoccupations and agendas. Does active encouragement of these 'hotwired' instincts enable the individual to approach his or her own experiences afresh ?
A. I think being playful as an adult can often require practice. A lot of the 'playing' we do, particularly as we get older, is anything but playful. I speak as someone who, given the chance, will turn an innocent game of scrabble into a fight to the death (almost). So I think it's really important to be reminded of what it feels like to 'play for play's sake', and to actively seek opportunities to bring a little bit of playfulness and laughter into everyday life. When we start to do this, we realise it doesn't take much to begin to feel more engaged with our surroundings and to experience familiar things with renewed senses.
Q. You've openly stated that the 'Playful Being' dynamic was borne, at least partly, out of a desire to refresh and reinvigorate your own aspirations. Does helping others to realise hidden potential assist you on your own journey of personal discovery ?
A. Leading improv. and play workshops and seeing people reconnect with their playful, creative selves has a tangible effect on my own playfulness and creativity. So much of improv. is about collaboration and building relationships and that includes my role in the group as the facilitator. Each time I lead a workshop I feel nourished by the connections that are made and reinvigorated by the collective unleashing of all that imagination and creativity.
Q. Since laughter is often described as therapeutic and therefore beneficial to all, is your 'Comedy Improv.' course aimed at people from all walks of life, that is, other than budding comedians ! ?
A. Oh, goodness, yes! Some of the people who have turned out to be the funniest improvisers start off by saying 'I'm not funny' and 'I'm not a performer.' You don't need to be either to do comedy improv., and people new to improv. soon learn that the harder someone tries to be funny, the less likely they are to create comedy. Improv. isn't about 'telling jokes' or coming up with witty one-liners, it's about using what comes up in the scene or story and building on it - saying 'yes, and...' to your scene partner's idea and seeing where that takes you!
Q. And finally, we very much look forward to seeing your work in action at Settle Stories in September. What may participants expect from the day ?
A. A lot of fun, collaborative games; a whole heap of stories made up in the moment; and a serious risk of laughter. I can't wait!
You can join Settle Stories on this workshop with Mel on Sat 2nd September, full info click here