Ofosu and Leah do an improv exercise with performer and therapist Jill Eickmann and discover how to intentionally tap into humor to cope with frustrating situations.
Share your feedback at [email protected]. And check out Jill's work at leela-sf.com
[Effect — Singing bowl]
OFOSU: Hi, I am Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. We’re the meditation coaches on Balance.
OFOSU: So this is our new podcast where we chat with you all outside of meditation. We’re going to start off every week sharing moments from our lives — and we’ll be talking with each other, with experts, and sometimes with you,the listener — about tools we can use to live better. And, you know, maybe we’ll have some fun along the way too.
LEAH: Actually Ofosu, that’s exactly what I wanted to talk about today having fun!
OFOSU: That sounds like fun - so let’s get into it!
LEAH: Well I actually have someone here who’s a professional at having fun. Her name is Jill Eickmann. She’s an improv performer and a therapist. And I brought her on because I wanted to talk about how we can all consciously tap into humor when we need it… because there was a moment recently where I really needed it. So, I’m actually going to play you a clip I recorded on the day that inspired all this.
OFOSU: Awesome, I can’t wait to hear.
[Recording] I was having a bit of a hard day. and so I was bummed out and my dad actually called, and I don't think he realized I was having a bad day, but he was in a good mood and he was cheering me up and making me laugh.And it made me think about the importance of laughter and how lovely it is that we just have that as human beings and have a sense of humor. I don't know if other animals do have a sense of humor necessarily,, but isn't it such a cool thing that it's built in to help us as social creatures.
LEAH: I mean, arguably my dog has a sense of humor because he's certainly a comedian.
OFOSU: You know, I think that laughter and all of that helps us process the mystery of existence in so many different ways.
Because I also think that we're very complex emotionally, so sadness or disappointment to us can,could be pretty devastating and make it not that easy to take the next important step.
So if you have laughter to be able to buffer that space that could be what helps us. Um, get, get past whatever roadblocks are in front of us. And the tenderness in your voice at the beginning of that clip, I was like, I was feeling for you.
And then as you were talking about your dad, you got brighter and your tone of voice changed. So just witnessing your transformation in reflecting on that moment, you know, brought it home. Like how, how, how impactful it was.
LEAH:Yeah I, I can't even begin to describe how good it feels when someone makes you laugh so hard that you cry.Does this happen to you? It happens to me sometimes And afterwards it's such a good release of tension that's been built up. It's like therapy.
OFOSU: I really aspire to be that dad, like your dad, like that's my antidote for any sad time. Like, I will slapstick fall on the floor, whatever it takes to get that one little corner of one of my kids, cheeks to crack and I know I got ‘em.
LEAH: I feel really inspired by my Dad cheering me up to cheer up the people around me and I wanna bring some more humor into my life.But I don’t think it’s always to easy so Im bringing in an expert. This is Jill Eickmann, she's the co-founder and artistic director of Lela improv theater in San Francisco. And she's also a psychotherapist who teaches the therapeutic benefits of improv which is really interesting. Welcome, Jill.
JILL: Hi, thanks for having me.
OFOSU: Hi, Jill!
Leah: Well, I'm excited to have you, because I think the intersection of what you're doing with humor and theater and then the psychology and the therapy aspect is just really fascinating to me. And what's also fascinating is I think that moments of humor that we have in our lives, they can usually feel just so spontaneous and unexpected. So how can we consciously intentionally tap into humor without it feeling so for store and inauthentic, you know, when we're not up for it, how can we tap into it?
JILL: So, big comedy tool is making something ridiculous.I think I'm a big Harry Potter fan. So I think about that moment when they have to practice the spell to like disarm the Dementor, you know, and one of the spells was like, ‘ridiculous’! And you made this like scary spider, like a tap dancing spider. So the truth is the spider is scary. Like you're not saying that this truth doesn't exist, but you're making it ridiculous in some way. So I think that's a real nteresting thing about comedy that we still have this foundation of truth, because otherwise the audience isn't going to connect with it.
OFOSU: It reminds me of a tip when in relating to your mind when you're developing a positive, inner voice, like when you hear your inner critic, you give it a really silly name. Like the name of my inner critic is Magilla McGillicuddy.
JILL AND LEAH: [laughs]
OFOSU: Stuff like that.
JILL: Yeah! If you’re disarming it, you’re taking the power out of it.
OFOSU: Yeah. But you're not denying it. You're not bypassing it.You're putting yourself in the driver's seat. In a silly way.
JILL: Right. And what I love so much about improv, is spontaneity is the path to authenticity. So when you're truly being spontaneous and your little hater is not in there anymore, right? And you're not judging what you're going to say before you say it and you're not pre-planning and think,” Hey, will people like this?” - if I say it right, you're truly being yourself. And when you're truly being yourself, there's that like empathic exchange that happens, right? It's like, oh my God, this person is so vulnerable. They're so real. They're so authentic. They're so relatable. I can't help, but laugh and connect with this person.
OFOSU: That’s dope.
JILL: And what I love about it too, is a lot of in profit is a collaborative thing and what it forces you to do is agree to the realities of others, right? So you have to literally put yourself in the same reality as another person. Ya know? So if Leah says you know, ‘I'm a dog!’ I have to agree to that. I'm like, oh yeah, she's a dog. I'm now talking to a dog.So it really forces you to live in somebody else's creative space.
LEAH: Do you think that's helpful for our own mental wellbeing?
JILL: Oh yeah, I think it, it really helps people like mix things up. Um, when I was studying drama therapy, I believe it was Robert Landy. He's a professor out of the NYU program. He talked about how mental health is defined by role flexibility.
Like the more roles you're able to play in life, the more healthy you are because you can empathize with others and,that's been an actor, like really great actors can literally put themselves into the shoes of another. Right. We're practicing empathy constantly as actors.
LEAH: So now that we've heard a little bit about improv and how it can help us tap into humor. I want to try it out! Yeah, let's do some, I know, I know you brought an exercise for us to do, and Ofosu I also need you to participate in this.
JILL: So this is a comedy technique, but this is also a drama therapy technique where you have that, that foundation of truth, like this pain is real, right? This pain is very real, but you map something ridiculous onto it. So I'm curious with your voice memo idea, like what was the truth? That was really, if you're willing to share that was painful for ya?
LEAH: Well, so I've been traveling a lot there was just this day where everything went wrong. I left my phone in a taxi and had trouble locating it with the find my iPhone thing. Then we couldn't get to the car rental place on time. And so the car rental plays rented out our car to somebody else and they only had luxury vehicles left. So we had to pay an extra 400 euros. And in the midst of this whole process, my husband accidentally left the wallet with all of our passports in it.
And a lot of information that shouldn't have been altogether.
And we just haven't been able to find it since. So it's one of those, like. Domino effect, like one thing goes wrong and it just kind of keeps going that has been the bad day.
JILL: Yeah. So like that domino effect, what if we map something like ridiculous on to that?
Like, what's something really now that would make you upset. Like I forgot the foam in your coffee or something, you know what I mean? What's something, but now
LEAH: maybe like instead of instead of losing the passports, it's like, how could you possibly lose my chewing gum?!
JILL: Right. Right. Exactly. Yeah. So Ofosu if you could be at belay as Leah's husband, right. [Ofosu agrees] And, um, we'll start with like chewing gum and, uh, she notices that it's gone and she's upset and you're consoling her, but be in that anxious, worried place with her, like the two of you. And then we'll just heighten, like, oh, he lost the chewing gum and then you guys can improvise.
LEAH: Should I start?
JILL: Yeah, so you're in the taxi cab together. You're both in there. You notice the chewing gum has gone whenever you’re ready.
LEAH: Oh. My. God! I lost that chewing gum. How am I ever going to travel without this chewing gum?
OFOSU: I'm so sorry. I know you've told me a thousand times how much your chewing gum means to you, how you, you grew up with your sleeping next to your chewing gum as a child. I know how deep it is for you.
JILL: I keep that chewing gum in a safe because it is the most important chewing gum I've ever come across.
OFOSU: Oh, that's why we were traveling with it and I would never have lost it on purpose. I know
LEAH: Every time I go to a country, I stamp that chewing gum.
OFOSU: Um, okay, you don't want to hear this? I have another confession - I also, um, left your box of paperclips behind as well
OFOSU: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
LEAH: You have got to be kidding me. Oh my gosh. We need to call the authorities right now.
OFOSU: No, no, no, no, no, no!
LEAH: Someone stole my paper clips! This could haunt me for years!
OFOSU: They’re, they’re probably [intermittent laughing], they’re probably together!
OFOSU: We'll go to the embassy. Let's just take the taxi to the embassy right now. And somebody, and we will report the paperclips and the chewing gum stolen.
LEAH: This is going to take weeks to replace.
OFOSU: I’m so sorry!
JILL: Scene! Yay! [clapping]
LEAH: We just, I just need some space to think right now.
LEAH: I mean it’s kind of nice to pair the real truth story with something that is ridiculous because it's like you're infusing humor into a scenario that is heightened with adrenaline or whatever it is.
And it almost acts to kind of softens the real experience. Now it's hard to think of the passports and phone without thinking of the chewing gum,
JILL: And therapeutically you're able to experience and express the real emotions, you know, like that's important.
OFOSU: That was fun!
LEAH: Yeah. I really liked this exercise.Thank you for being my pretend husband, Ofosu.
OFOSU: No worries! I'm so sorry about the chewing gum.
LEAH: It just took an unexpected turn, ya know?
OFOSU: And I know how much those paperclips mean to you. My bad.
OFOSU: It will never happen again.
LEAH: We almost pulled an office space moment with a stapler. Thank you for all your wonderful exercises and advice, Jill. Thank you for your time.
JILL: Thank you.
OFOSU: Uh that was really, really fun. And it makes me think of, you know, I tend to kind of get anxious about the future and if I can frame what I'm feeling anxious about in a more humorous and light-hearted way, and infused that humor into my thought process,I bet it would make life a bit easier. So this something, to think about and to try to test out.
LEAH: Yeah and I think the real challenge will be trying to do it without laughing. The whole point is like you said, infusing humor into it and, it could be about the future. It could be things that you're thinking about the past.
It could be, you know, a current situation and just kind of thinking back to my dad naturally knew how to do that with me, even though, you know, he's not a therapist per se, but, um, he's a funny person. And, and I think he's probably, uh, learned throughout his life that when he makes people laugh, that it has a way of diffusing a crisis situation into something more manageable. So, I'm really excited to take this information back to him and tell him that he's, uh, right on track.
OFOSU: Aw, that's awesome. So, let's like set up a challenge for people. If you heard what we did, just taking a situation and making it outrageous and stuff like that - if you have a friend or a partner you can try this with, try that with them. Maybe set up a scenario and escalate it but just make it about the most ridiculous things. And uh send us an email and let us know how it went for you.
LEAH: Yeah and I loved the ability to play it out with another person and then really continuing to hone in on it. Like it wasn't just one thing that I lost. The repetition, like you could really just start to build on the emotions and, and sort of get it out. So have fun getting it out.
[Effect — Singing bowl]
LEAH: Hey, thanks for listening to our improv performance, but, uh, seriously, I hope maybe you lacked a bit and I definitely feel inspired to bring more humor into my life.
LEAH: And I wanted to say a big thanks to Jill Eichmann for joining us. You could learn more about her work at leela-sf.com. That's L E E L A dash S f.com.
OFOSU: And we’ll be back next week to dive into whatever life brings up in the next week.There’s always going to be something to learn from. So we’ll see y’all soon. Thanks so much for hanging with us. Please remember to be kind to yourself and to others.
LEAH: And enjoy this day, laugh at anything you can.