bow to your sensei :: a letter to my comedy mentor, chris lane.

To a friend and colleague, mentor and teacher, and the funniest person I have had the opportunity to get to know, Chris Lane:

Chris taught me so many things when I moved to this city. I remember signing up for an improv group in Columbus because I missed doing stand up comedy. I WAS SO BAD AT IMPROV. I mean… awful. I lied to get into the improv group and told them I had experience, but they knew I was totally green. And Chris was our improv coach. Every week or so, Chris would come into our two and a half hour rehearsal and whip us into comedic shape. He was the king of the nerds… the kind of guy you knew used his humor to get out of a junior high beat down when all the other dorks (like me) hid in the janitorial closet.  So fucking cool.

In the last few days, I have taken some time to reflect on all the lessons Chris taught me, and I’ve tried to narrow them down to just a few…

1. Don’t go for the easy laugh.

When I started doing improv, I was a triple threat of awful. In the closet so far I could barely see the light, and in a troupe full of guys, my instinct was to go quick to dick jokes.  Any dick joke any time- whether we were pretending to be on a spaceship or getting ready for prom night. I WAS THE WORST.  It was my go-to as a comedian, and Chris knew that it was not only inorganic, but also not funny. He pulled me aside after a cigarette break and told me, “Hey, I get it. BJ jokes are your go-to joke, mine is falling on my ass. And sometimes it works great, but try something new and take a risk and see what happens.”  I cut the hand job jokes and actually worked on honing my craft. Something in me clicked and I realized three things:  Chris was right, I hated dick jokes, and I sucked at improv.

2. If you’re bombing, go for the easy laugh.

Chris was a physical comedy master of Farley proportion. He could literally drop on his ass in a matter of seconds, and would, even if his knee was killin’ him and he had a massive headache. NOTHING stopped him from getting a laugh, and how could it? He knew the audience so well, he knew what they wanted, and he literally made them work for it. And if they didn’t dig it? He was always ready to fall on his ass for the cause. For a man who touched so many actors, directors, and writers, at the Madlab community and beyond, its easy to see why he was so adored not just by the audience, but by the artists who had the privilege to work with him.

3. If you are trying to be sexy, you are probably doing it wrong.

In working with Chris during a one-act play festival, I was cast in a role that literally scared me. My title? “Old lady.” The only written descriptor of my character: dumpy.  Literally… dumpy.  By this point in my comedy career, I had finally quit improv (trust me it needed to happen) and was focusing on my stand up more and more.  One day during rehearsal, I made a comment about how much it sucks being the dumpy lady. And he just looked at me and said, “Why? It’s funny.” He told me I was beautiful and that my looks had nothing to do with how hilarious I could make the role of Dumpy Lady #1. I had spent my whole life, as a classical singer and an actor, so fixated on my physical appearance on stage. When I finally learned to let go of that focus, I learned that making fun of myself in giant sweatpants is way more fun. And honestly, you are a hell of a lot more sexy when you can let go of everything.

 

I don’t think this community was ready for such an incredible loss, but if anyone can get through it, it’s the Madlab community.  We are artists. And as we remember Chris, all the incredible lessons he taught us and all the wonderfully silly times we’ve had, the sadness will be almost unbearable. But we will get through it.

Chris, I can promise you a few things in my life that have been changed forever that I will do for you. I promise I will never do improv again, I promise to never let my insecurities rule me on stage, and I promise to wear oversized sweatpants all the time and look damn good in them. I will miss you so much. Godspeed, my friend.

 

2 thoughts on “bow to your sensei :: a letter to my comedy mentor, chris lane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *