Scary Stuff

Here’s Ellen:


Here’s one of my favorite bits of hers:

Isn’t it great? It’s one of my favorites. I think it’s super funny and kind of masterful.  I love Ellen’s comedy, because well, I love her. (Who doesn’t? I mean, honestly, it’s crazy how well-beloved this woman is.) I don’t really feel like analyzing the bit, because things just get way less funny when you lay out exactly why they’re funny, right? Yes, you say. In this case, I think the bit’s power is in some crazy, wonderful combination of subversion and absurdity and character. I thought you weren’t gonna analyze it, you say. I also think—okay, I am analyzing, I can’t help myself, Really? Can you really not just stop—that the absurdity of all those scary thing (a bat biting her ear, a rack of lamb, a legless leopard) is the lesser absurdity. Oh my God. Isn’t the joke that they’re all sitting in that room being forced to listen to this winding, ridiculous string of thoughts? She’s holding them captive, guys!

Your italicized voice has no words.

(Brief parenthetical: I’ve been told that my prose is too self-effacing—saying “kind of masterful” instead of “masterful”, for example, or using a lot of “I think”s, instead of just making statements. I qualify things, unnecessarily, say people in positions of authority. I don’t know why I thought giving myself a snarky, italicized, Reader alter-ego was a step in the right direction.)

Ellen holding her audience captive is actually one of things I’m most excited about and scared of in my play. I’m excited because I can chuckle at this bit when I’m listening to it alone, but I’m sure if I was in the room when she performed it, I’d be having trouble breathing. Stand-up and theatre have that in common. It’s really all about the shared experience, the inability to walk out. You are a part of the work, because the artist can see you, because it’s all happening in real time and space, and you’re real, too, and in that time and space, affecting things. I think this makes theatre and stand-up either truly transporting, or unbearable. (I have rarely been so completely uncomfortable and miserable as I was last week with Madhuri at a show of new stand-ups.

Me, looking scared.

Me, looking scared.

The MC was antagonistic (and all over the place). Comic after comic tanked, and blamed us. I want to laugh, I kept thinking. I paid to laugh. You give me something… You poor, poor person for whom I now have sympathy hives. I have a pretty low tolerance for social awkwardness, let me just say, even less tolerance for other people’s pain, and the very least for any kind of lack of control on my part (Do better, I also kept thinking, concentrated, like a Jedi). So when the room was dead and nervous and small, I wanted to throw up, in between my fake laughs, which couldn’t be too soft or the comic might not be properly encouraged or the scary MC might call me out, or too loud, in which case, he might also, call me out. It was a nightmare, and I don’t think I’ll ever recover…. And if Madhuri had a fine time, if it was just another interesting, enjoyable, healthy evening for her, that is because she is an unfeeling person.)

I’m scared of this whole captive thing in my play because there will be stand-up interludes in it, and they will be written, and in some cases, have already been written, by me… as is only natural since they’re in the play and I’m writing the play and I’m a writer. I’m not scared at all. And if I was scared, it would only be a sign that this is a good thing artistically, right? Right.

I actually don’t think that is always true. Scary things are not automatically “good things artistically.” But sometimes, maybe, everything else considered.

I do qualify things. That is the truth.

“You know what would have been even scarier?…”





*Megan Kelly & me (Zury M. Ruiz) in San Francisco during Thanksgiving break a year ago. This would make an awesome engagement photo. Just saying.[Picture taken by Madhuri Shekar]

It’s really fun for me to be able to write about my friend and fellow writer, Megan Kelly because I get to make up a lot of stuff. Stuff like– Megan was engaged to a hunky Russian astronaut but left him for somebody better. Better than a Russian astronaut?! Oh, yeah, Megan did that. True story… Okay, no, but I predict it.

But seriously, the reason I feel I have to invent is because Megan is an enigma to me. Just when I think I’ve got her pinned down she goes “Nah-ah, trick!” and kicks her way out. You see, I had already written Megan off as dainty, and in a lot of ways she is (hardly—if ever—curses, is first to volunteer, and she baked a cake for me on my birthday—Aww, shit!) but in a lot of ways she isn’t. Case in point: Her writing. As part of our program’s New Works Festival, Megan wrote and developed her play: “The Solace of St. Marks” (pretty striking title, right?), a play about a congregation trying to keep their church, and faith, alive during a time of financial struggle. Walking into the black box theatre, made to look like a church, one felt that they had to be respectful, quiet, serious, even, that is, until we open into the first scene. In a pre-Lent celebration, the congregation dresses up as religious figures, though they’re far from the part as their own awkward, messy personas seep through. The result: hilarity. It was so unexpected of a play dealing with this sad but relevant topic. An unexpectedness only Megan could bring to life.

For this, her final New Works Festival, Megan is developing her play “And All the Trees Shall Clap their Hands” (yet another striking title!) a piece about an up and coming comedian, Sarah, who must negotiate between her two fulfilling but seemingly distinct worlds of comedy and Christianity. From our previous post, Madhuri so clearly stated that while she and Megan work closely together I am mostly out of the loop, so my introduction to this play was two weeks ago during an in-class reading with our professors. Once again, Megan managed to blow my mind. I am most amazed by the comedians that have influenced the lead character, Sarah, and in turn Megan herself. YOU like that kind of comedy?” I found myself thinking of Megan, but of course a secret freak would, and in this play she doesn’t make it her freaky secret. It’s all out there. The language, tone and characters of this play are written honestly and open. It’s personal for Megan, like it’s personal for Sarah—there is much more to them than the worlds they are trying to marry (or at least make cordial acquaintances).

I am excited to see the development of her third year play. I am excited to see whom she leaves the hunky Russian astronaut for. Both will be wonderful, I know it.