Laughing at Halloween Is A Treat

We all face stress every day of our lives. Much of that stress is caused by sources beyond our control so it doesn’t help to stress over that stress.

During this scary fun time of year, we can disguise ourselves for just a bit. Step out of our usual roles to become someone or something else, like a witch or a superhero or a princess or a pirate.  Halloween gives us an excuse to leave our everyday selves behind and explore new personalities and possibilities.

I encourage you to be creative; use your imagination; have fun and LAUGH!   Everything is made better with the treat of laughter.

Watch this short video message from me and learn how you can put more ha ha ha into your Ha-ppy Halloween!

Laughter Lifts Us When We ‘Fall’

The vibrancy of autumn in northeast PA can be done no justice by words. It must be seen. The color of fall leaves on a warm, sunny afternoon make a box of Crayola’s seem pale.  Add to that picture pumpkins, gourds, mums and every spice of the seasonal palate, and you suddenly feel warmth.  But fall also brings change. The lazy days of summer are soon forgotten while the often snowy and frigid days of winter loom on the horizon.  For some of us, that means a change in mood.  With less daylight, some folks start to feel a type of seasonal depression. With less daylight it’s important to keep your life lighter with more laughter.  Let me help with this video reminder from Laugh to Live!

All Aboard the Trainwreck

 Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the laughs.

I did my first open mic while visiting a friend in Houston about 11 years ago. I had been writing jokes and ideas for jokes on anything that I had in front of me at the time: napkins, tissues, business cards, toilet paper – a practice I still follow today- but I had never had the guts to get up in front of people and say some of these jokes aloud. On my first visit to Houston I chickened out, even though my friend, Sahn, was very encouraging. It was on my second visit that she more or less threatened if I didn’t do the open mic at Laff Stop this time, I couldn’t board the plane to return to PA. I remember being so nervous back then that when I practiced in the dining area of Sahn’s townhouse, I made her sit in the living room facing the TV. Fast forward to that evening and my pregnant friend and her husband, Dave, were there to support me. My jokes – one about the baggage claim area of an airport being viewed like a ‘carousel’ and another about grown-up Happy Meals for depressed folks, – landed pretty well but listen for yourself. (Hang in there. It’s a bit rough being my first. Give it until minute 2:00.) I felt relieved. I felt proud. I felt beyond happy – no meal needed.

Taking the Stage

Fast forward a few weeks and I am driving about two hours from my job in Wilkes-Barre, PA to Northeast Philadelphia’s Comedy Cabaret to do open mic. I had some off nights and some really on nights. I got laughs that made me feel exhilarated.

Excuse me, can I have your autograph Ms. Schumer?

Fast forward about a year or two (I admit to not keeping a diary so the dates are not iron clad; don’t quote me on them) and I’m doing a seven to 10-minute comedy set at a club called the River Street Jazz Cafe in Wilkes-Barre on a Sunday night. It was this new weekly thing that my comedian friend Tony LaJeune organized. I performed with fellow comedians Brad Todd, CJ Hood and a few others. The crowds were sometimes light but I was getting stage time. I was learning. One night Tony brought in Jessica Kirson to headline the show. She had come to Wilkes-barre before. She’s got a real presence on stage. She’s funny! Well…she brought along a friend from New York City to open up for her. And that friend’s name was Amy Schumer. If I only knew then what I know now …

Courtesy of Citizens Voice

Courtesy of Citizens Voice

Amy was funny but a little too edgy for me. Let’s face it, I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic School from kindergarten to 12th grade. Oh, and I was a good little Stepford student. I listened to the nuns, had plenty of guilt, fear and remained a virgin until my senior year in college. So her abortion joke gave me pause. Even though I was not quite ready to appreciate her humor then, I knew that she was a professional and seemed very confident on stage.  But I am shy and this was long before everyone took selfies of everything with everyone, everywhere they go. So I have no proof that evening performing on the same stage as Amy Schumer existed. Technically I could put on my resume that I opened up for Amy Schumer but that’s not completely accurate and the nuns’ voices still haunt my mind like insomniacs roaming the hallway of an asylum.

Militia of Sisters

I’ll hop aboard that train for laughs.

Fast forward another eight years or so and Amy Schumer is comedy’s ‘it’ girl. And while I have to say that I haven’t watched her comedy show and never thought too much about whether she was funny or not, I now have an opinion. She IS funny. She IS smart funny. And it IS a big deal that the movie SHE wrote, Trainwreck, is hilarious and being very well received at the box office. I went to see the movie Saturday night with my boyfriend and we – and the entire audience – laughed out loud, a lot! The jokes were funny to both genders because they were real. Yes, some of the subject matter is risque or crude, but it happens. It is honest. And parts of the movie, particularly about her relationship with her father, were very touching.

Real Trainwreck

Spoiler alert. Don’t read if you haven’t seen Trainwreck yet.

So here it comes. My but. I enjoyed the movie. I laughed a lot. I am thrilled that a female comedian (I hate adding this description, but this is the reality. There is still a lot of “Women aren’t funny,” B.S. out there.) wrote a funny, smart movie that is receiving financial and popular success.  But … I was slightly disappointed that the movie had what I’ll call a Hollywood, formulaic ending. Amy’s character could be viewed as a hot mess who sleeps around and then ‘gets her life together’ when she meets the right man. Or, she could be viewed as a woman who just wants to date and not get serious. I think the bigger point is that regardless of the man situation, she IS a talented writer and a good, caring daughter and sister who is funny and perhaps just afraid to get hurt so she hides behind a sarcastic, ‘whatever’ attitude. I applauded when she yells while watching gyrating basketball cheerleaders, “You’re gonna lose us the right to vote.” Then by the end of the movie, she dons the same cheerleader costume, learns a choreographed dance and gyrates to music to prove her love to her man.  Don’t get me wrong. I think it would be fun to do a group dance and I get why she wanted to do something nice to patch things up with her boyfriend. But it’s okay to get annoyed or miffed at the sight of half naked models, dancers and actors, etc. and believe that they are not helping women’s rights. And, it’s okay to express a thought or opinion about that to someone you are close with, like your boyfriend or best friend. If we have to stifle gut reactions and feelings in our bones, that’s not very healthy. With that said, I do believe that as a true ‘feminist’ (whatever that word really means), we must support choices made by every woman, no matter what they are. As long as they are not hurting themselves or anyone else, it’s all good.  I know this.

How Pat Roberts defines feminism

The other disappointing scene in the movie came when Amy spoke to her sister, apologizing for things she said to her and explaining that she does want what her sister has – a husband and kids – but is defensive about it because she doesn’t know if she deserves that kind of happiness.  (I am paraphrasing but that’s the idea.) This scene in the movie is harder for me to accept because it’s a cliche, like every other RomCom out there. In the end, all Amy wants is to be loved by a man.  I wish she relished the fact that her career was bright – her article was published in Vanity Fair – with as much earnest.  All in all, I still give this movie an enthusiastic two thumbs up because it was fun and it made me laugh.  I guess after reading the hoopla about Amy Schumer being the feminist comedian, I was expecting a different ending. In all fairness, no one, neither Ms. Schumer, nor anyone else, should have the burden and responsibility of representing or speaking for our gender. And… if Ms. Schumer’s happy ending in real life is to marry and have children some day, that’s great.  And… if Ms. Schumer is smart enough to know that happy RomCom endings are what will put money in her bank account, even better!

 

Wo Money

 

 

Glad They Didn’t Serve Tomatoes

A Missed Call I Wanted to Return

Last week I received a phone call out of the blue. I saw this person’s name pop up on my phone after coming out of the shower. I knew him for years but not very well and I couldn’t imagine why I was getting a call at 8AM. After listening to his message I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he wanted to hire me to perform/speak to a group of seniors who were ending a week-long scholar program at a local university. The even better part was I had already presented programs at this university on about eight other occasions so I knew the concept of paying speakers for their time and talents was familiar to them. I also always enjoyed their vivacious audiences that had included hundreds of nuns, students, alumni and seniors. But for some reason, I was extra nervous on Friday. I will chalk that up to all of the anxiety that I am feeling lately in my personal and professional life for various reasons – all things that I am working to better manage.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

When I arrived Friday night the campus looked beautiful in the bright sun of late afternoon and smelled of freshly cut grass. I walked into the building where the dinner was being held and I saw just a few servers for the evening’s event, a few students and one or two seniors milling around. I did not see my contact so I sat down and wrote some notes about what jokes I would do and what laughter yoga exercises would follow. I am always a bit more cautious and concerned about jokes for seniors but I probably shouldn’t be because I tend to do very well with mature audiences who always give me smiles and rave reviews. When my contact did not appear and no other representative from the college approached me, I chose a table where I would sit for the dinner being served before my presentation. I introduced myself to the couple seated there as being the presenter for the evening. In a loud voice, the woman who we will call ‘Sue’ to protect her identity, asked “Oh, are you the comedian?” At that question my shoulders dropped a little as well as my head. I don’t do straight up comedy performances much anymore and I prefer not to be billed as a comedian. I do tell jokes or humorous stories, as I prefer to call them, before I talk about the value that humor and laughter add to our lives and before asking the audience to stand for interactive laughter yoga exercises but I’m not doing a full stand-up act.  I am a writer and an observant person who pays attention to details. I love words and I think they need to be used and interpreted correctly (keep in mind that I say correctly through the eyes of Jeannine, as in: correct grammar, accurate facts, descriptions and information being shared, proper details, etc). I am in the minority perhaps. While it is true that people will interpret as they want to and they will latch on to what they want to, it does make a difference how a message is communicated to determine how it is understood. When people hear that there is going to be a “comedian” after dinner, they prepare mentally to sit back, relax and be entertained. Because I want to engage them intellectually with information about research and anecdotes and I want them to participate physically, it is important to prepare them for what is expected. So I worried that they may not be into my program.

It’s Not the Piano That’s Out of Tune

As more seniors arrived and sat near me, I began to feel comfortable…that was until they ganged up on the poor piano man.  Sue had already commented once to her husband that the piano sounded like it needed to be tuned and they both shared their bad reviews of his playing with one another. Then as dinner went on, another woman, let’s call her Candi, responded to her friend’s question of “What song is he playing?” with “I don’t know but whatever it is, he stinks.” This was the confirmation that Sue needed. She now had her  ammunition to go ask another woman who had been helping with details of the conference all week to make the piano player stop playing. This other woman explained that it would be offensive to ask the piano man to stop playing but she would ask him to play softer to make Sue happy.  All the while an older woman seated to my right, had been commenting about how lovely the songs sounded, but she had a much more subtle presence at the dinner than Sue. As I sat there listening to them trash the piano player who was fine for my layman’s ears, fear rose up from my toes. I thought to myself “I’m glad there are no tomatoes around or they just might throw them.” I worried that they might look for a hook or get up and leave if they didn’t think I was funny.  I was roused from my daydream in which Sue was literally tossing me to the curb by Sue’s soothing statement of “I hope the others don’t mind that you’re not doing all comedy.”  I had thought the same thing but didn’t need Sue commenting on it as well. I told her that hopefully they would use humor to manage their disappointment since that was the point of my program.  Then, more reassurance came from Candi, “YOU are the comedian?” asked with such a degree of surprise that I wondered if I should be the one taking the microphone or if perhaps, Sue might be better suited for the gig. I foolishly began to explain that while I was going to tell some humorous stories, there was more to the program that would require audience participation. Then Candi persisted with “You mean we’re not gonna laugh?”  To that I wanted to answer, “Dear God, I hope you do,” but instead I said, “Yes, you will laugh, not to worry.”

And Now for Something Completely Different

A young, meek college student who had just explained the details of the survey that had been passed out and that the movie being shown after my program was going to be “Wild,” – a movie that Sue told us at dinner she had no interest in seeing – gave me an introduction like none I’ve received before. In her defense, she is inexperienced and was not given proper information or notice. She basically said, “You’re going to have a comedy and laughter program by Jeannine and she’s here with us tonight.” Then she walked away from the mic and all eyes – and bright cafeteria lights – were on me. I started off a little slowly and felt particularly nervous wondering what my table mates from dinner were going to think of me but then I kicked it into high gear and started getting laughs. I even saw Sue and her husband smile and laugh (controlled laughs) a few times. Candi looked like she might have preferred the piano player but that was okay with me because her friend to her right was beaming. Her eyes were laughing.

When it came time to do laughter yoga exercises, all but about four people stood to join me. And among those participating, all but a handful looked like they were into the practice and really enjoying it.  After my program I felt relieved, happy and less stressed. There is something to that feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you succeeded with an audience but there is also the fact that laughter really does work. It makes us feel good. That’s my message. And I am proof that I feel better after laughing and helping others to laugh.

I felt elated to hear comments like “That was just amazing how you got all those people up on their feet laughing because they… well some of them… are kind of glum.” And another woman added that she could not believe I got her husband to participate. More positive comments followed that made me feel very proud and pleased with my ability to be a conduit for laughter and a positive message. I didn’t see Candi after my presentation and Sue and her husband talked to one another while I gathered my belongings, but I know the truth. I saw them smiling. I saw them participating. And I saw them having such a good time that I don’t think they would have thrown tomatoes even if they had them. I’m not so sure about the poor piano man but he’ll have other gigs to play again. Friday night I was happy they were letting me sing my tune and happily singing along with me: Ho ho ho. Ha ha ha. Hee hee hee.

Laughter Yoga: No Mat Required

When people hear the word ‘yoga,’ they typically think of poses that require flexibility that are performed on a mat.  Of course there is the spiritual side of the practice as well as the physical fitness side that people understand. But when I tell people that I lead ‘laughter yoga,’ there is a misunderstanding. I can’t imagine trying to laugh while in the downward dog position, yet people think that laughter yoga is a combination of yoga poses and laughing. That is simply not the case.  Let me show you in this short video what laughter yoga really is.

Life has its challenges. Even with the best attitude, we sometimes feel overwhelmed and need to laugh more. Rather than waiting to hear a joke or watching a funny video online, we can also choose to laugh, just like we choose to go for a walk when we want fresh air and exercise. So give laughter yoga a try. Invite friends, family and co-workers and let the contagious laughter erupt!

With Humor Fueling Our Steps, Let’s Trail Together

Trails are simple in nature but can lead to a robust lifetime of benefits for the community in the form of healthier residents, booming businesses and renewed pride. Here in northeastern Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have The Lackawanna River Heritage Trail (LRHT), which is part of a 70-mile multi-purpose trail system that follows the Lackawanna River. The trails have grown in popularity with residents and that’s great! We have a place to exercise, enjoy nature and come together. As with any passageway that gets congested, we all need to follow some rules for safety and a good experience.  Consider these tips to get the most from your trail experience while letting others do the same.

 

• Group Think – Everybody’s Doing It: Having friends to walk with is helpful. They can keep you accountable. Just knowing that you’re supposed to meet for a walk helps to motivate you. And…it’s fun. You chit chat while you walk and time passes quickly. You don’t even realize you’re exercising. But, even if you feel like you’re joined at the hip with your friends, there are times when you need to separate … like walking on a trail. There’s simply not enough space for people to walk four or five-across when someone is running, walking or biking toward you. Be polite and tighten up to let the oncoming exerciser pass without having to run through foliage.

•Not A Place for Free-range Dogs or Kids: I do not currently have a pet and I am not a parent, but I am affected by the way pet owners and parents manage their charges. Please take no offense. I am not putting children in the same category as Chihuahuas. Those yappy dogs are much more obnoxious than children and much fussier about the sweaters they’ll wear. I’m kidding. Dogs will wear whatever sweater you put over their little heads. Seriously, children and dogs are equally delightful but in obviously different ways. And both can get in the way if they are not being supervised. Even if your child is the most well-behaved on the planet, and even if your dog is the calmest, most obedient pet on Earth, you are the adult humans in charge of both. Children are carefree, as they should be. That means they tend to run, bike and play as kids do – all over the place. When I’m out for a run or bike ride, I am prepared to stop as needed, but… my planned exercise is better when I don’t have to zigzag, stop short or brake so hard that I fly over my handlebars. Please exercise control over your children and your pets, which need to be on a leash – the pets that is.  Your cooperation and courtesy is appreciated.

•When Poop Happens, Clean it Up: It seems ridiculous that this would have to be said and yet my Berber carpet knows all too well that some people ignored the first memo about what to do when poop happens. These are folks like my careless, inconsiderate neighbor who lets her dog roam and conduct business on my property and other free-range pet owners who leave organic “gifts” along our trails. I don’t care if your dog is small enough to fit inside your Coach purse. If it poops, you clean it up. Unless you were nabbed and forced to take your dog for a walk by some odd healthy lifestyle kidnapper, you know when you are taking your dog for a walk, so plan accordingly. Carry a plastic bag with you. Remember that you are not the only one using the trail. My Berber carpet expects to be walked all over, but doesn’t like $hitty days any more than you do.

•Do Your Creepin At Home: The word leer is only appealing if it’s spelled lear and has jet after it. No woman feels comfortable with a man standing  along a trail oggling at her in her shorts and sports bra. I can tell you that I don’t take it as a compliment to see your tongue wagging while I’m trying to catch my breath on a run. And I don’t believe you are at the trail for a workout in your jeans, brown socks and polyester shirt. If it’s lap jollies you’re after, watch porn on your laptop like most other red-blooded American men.

•That’s Not An Angel Getting Its Wings – I have a bell on my bike. I like it because of its nostalgic feel and I get to save my voice for my business presentations. But when I use that bell, it’s not to communicate that an angel has gotten its wings as said in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it’s my way of indicating that I’m behind you so stay alert. I usually add something like “on your left,” but I find that can add a new level of confusion for people who forget which is their left and their right. Those folks tend to scurry in all directions like cockroaches when the light’s turned on. Just keep in mind that you’re not alone on the trails so stay aware of your surroundings.

•The Eyes on the Back of My Head – I am not a grade-school teacher or a mom so eyes have not grown on the back of my head. That means that I cannot see behind me. Please be courteous and let me and other runners know when you are approaching. Say something like “excuse me,” “coming your way,” or how about something flattering like “looking good.” If you are a person of few words, simply cough or clear your throat loudly. Last week a man in his 50s whizzed by my left shoulder and had me spinning like a top.

Forgive me if I seem to be lecturing. I do have that “Bad dog…” tone when I write and talk some times. In my defense,  I studied under some of the best lecturers around – the Sisters of the IHM – as a grade school and high school student in Catholic schools.  Now, please follow these rules on the trail or you just might see me out there running with a ruler in my hand.

The Weekend of Saying, “Yes”

Most of us get up and go about our day without planning how much we will accept others’ ideas or determine how many times we will say, “yes.” It would probably feel odd to sit at the kitchen table early in the morning and write out how often you will agree with someone or support their ideas. Yet, we either do that throughout the course of a day or we don’t. And many times it’s human nature to: not even hear what someone has said because we’re tuning in to our own thoughts and concerns; hear what someone says but instantly say “no,” or “yes, but….” wasting no time to critique their idea and offer what we would do or say. That’s habit for many of us. This past weekend was all about saying “yes,” for me and the nearly 300 people I shared my message with.

Through my business, Laugh to Live!, I have the self-appointed pleasure of standing in front of people, sharing some humorous material about my life – like how I live next door to my parents who love me but don’t quite appreciate the disorganized state in which I keep my home, a method I like to call the poor woman’s security system because if someone breaks in they’re sure to think the place has already been ransacked and go right out the door – talking about the research that states how valuable laughter is for our well-being, and then leading the group in some laughter yoga exercises or some improvisation activities, depending upon the group and what I was hired to do.

Ladies Love to Laugh

This past weekend I was able to share laughs with nearly 300 people – 98% of which were women – in a 26-hour span of time. And once again, I can say to you, “Yes” laughter works and I can’t wait to share more with the next group –  a small club of retired women who gather monthly for lunch in a resort community – this Thursday.

Fear, anxiety, nervousness, doubt and self-scrutiny are the emotions I feel before I interact with a crowd and 9 out of 10 times, it’s satisfaction, pride, relief, affirmation, and joy that I feel after my encounters with participants.  Friday morning I had the pleasure of sharing some humorous stories and interactive laughter yoga with a group of nearly 200 child care workers at an end-of-year celebration. This group of mostly women came from four different counties to share in festivities at the Lackawanna County baseball stadium. Yes, we had a glorious view of the baseball field while sharing some “ho ho ho’s” and “ha ha ha’s.” While it took a little while to get everyone warmed up, by the end, I felt that the majority of participants were bound to feel better than before they started laughing – even if they did think these laughter exercises seemed a bit odd.  One woman made a point to tell me after the presentation that she really enjoyed it and even though she liked to talk a lot, she didn’t think she could get up and do what I do and seem so comfortable. She thanked me and gave me credit for what I do. That meant a lot to me and I told myself, “Yes” you do have skills and talent to share to help enrich people’s lives and it’s time that you truly believed that.

What Better Place to Laugh than Happy Valley?

Then I was on the road to State College to present at an IAAP Conference, which was a gathering of administrative professionals from across Pennsylvania. I presented to one chapter of IAAP last year and those women enjoyed it so much that I was asked to present something a bit different for the larger group. I was very excited to present my relatively new program: “Using Improvisation to Address the Three Cs: Communication, Conflict Resolution and Collaboration.” I was eager to share the golden rule of improv, “Yes, and…” with these women and to see what we could create together. I was equally excited to be back in Happy Valley. I am a 1993 graduate of Penn State University and have been back to visit about a dozen times but I never seem to have enough time to get fully reacquainted. What I do notice, is how much the campus continues to grow and change. I found myself feeling a bit like a stranger among modern, glass buildings for chemistry and science that clearly replaced something that I was familiar with back in the early 90s.

After settling in to our room at Tofftrees Resort where I would be presenting on Saturday, my boyfriend and I walked around the grounds, which had very green, finely manicured grass for the golfers and hosted an assortment of creatures from ducks to chipmunks and squirrels to a number of gophers. Yes, we talked about “Caddyshack” and Bill Murray. How could you walk on a golf course, see not one, but four go-pher go-phers running across the grass and not reference that classic movie? On our way back to our room we spotted an archway and rows of white chairs set up for a wedding the next day. Within minutes I had posted the picture to Facebook asking “Should I say, ‘I do’ in 15 hours, or run in 15 minutes?” I couldn’t resist putting that out there as a social experiment of sorts and fun. By Saturday there were mostly positive affirmations of congratulations and best wishes with a few women and men encouraging me to run. Even though my event Saturday was not to say “Yes” to getting married, I did say “Yes” to sharing the concept of improvisation with about 70 women who all experienced similar barriers or conflicts in their workplaces.

When We Say Yes, The Possibilities Are Endless

It’s interesting how we encourage children to try  different things that require bravery but adults tend to be quite scared to venture outside of our comfort zones. While everyone in the group did participate in the exercises I shared Saturday, very few volunteered later when I wanted to conduct an activity at the front of the room to further illustrate the value of listening, supporting and contributing. I eventually employed the teacher in me and “called on” a table of people who seemed to be good sports and were the closest to the front of the room. The women who volunteered on their own to play some “Yes, and…” games with me seemed to really come alive when they were forced outside of their comfort zones. And the group I volunteered to play something called the “Ad Game” with me, seemed to have a ball, especially when the audience showed their support of their work through laughs, applause and squeals of delight. Our group task was to reinvent adult diapers so we created Dignity Diapers that were purple and changed colors when wet. With Arnold Schwarzenegger and Caitlin Jenner as our designated celebrity spokes people, we were set to launch the product in Philadelphia to Elton John’s  “Philadelphia Freedom.” Yes, we were free. Free to share any idea no matter how silly or unrealistic it seemed. It was our job to brainstorm and to fully support one another.

Sure this was just an exercise, but it was a lesson to show the workshop participants how important and influential our individual roles can be in group dynamics. The quieter contributors were not always heard while the louder, more confident ones were. And some people talked over others. The game showed the value of listening, accepting and really supporting one another with an enthusiastic cheer of “yay, great idea” every time anyone said anything, the value of giving and taking and of all being on the same page. It was a great way to practice being in the moment, focusing on one shared goal rather than being distracted by the ticker that runs across our minds almost constantly each day, reminding us of both personal and professional “to-do lists.”

Be Not Afraid, Say Yes

As I told the group a few times throughout the afternoon, doing these exercises may not change anything substantial but if it gets you thinking a little differently – even for a little bit – especially about how we support one another in groups and relationships, then we’ve achieved success. I felt rewarded and validated when two women came to me after the workshop to ask about using “Yes, and…” in two completely different, yet equally valuable ways. One wanted to learn how to say “Yes, and…” to her kids because she was always telling them, “No,” while the other wanted to help the gentlemen she worked with learn to work better together using improv but she said it would require each of them tying up their alpha dog traits for a bit.

Do I believe that the rules of improvisation can teach everyone a thing or two about themselves and about working with others? Yes, and… I hope that people continue to be open to accepting it and sharing it with people in their offices and homes to make life more fun and productive!

Yes, and… Five Rules of Improv Help in Work and Play

I used to get a knot in my stomach on Monday afternoons as I anticipated that evening’s comedy improv class about nine years ago. I wanted to be in the class and loved performing in the shows at the Comedy Dojo in Scranton (when people laughed at what I did on stage) but I was still a ball or nerves before class. I was doing the exact opposite of what improv represents. I was not being in the moment. I was worrying ahead of time about what I would say and do, what interesting choices I would make that night in class. But to quote my instructor at the time, Chris Barnes, (and I believe he was quoting someone else when he said this) “You have to walk through the fire to get to the cooling water.”

No matter if it’s an improv class or some other activity or event that takes us outside of our comfort zones, we need to get through the pain, discomfort, difficult stuff to get to the other side where we get to feel cool, calm, relaxed, even proud and let out an “ahhhhhh.”

As I prepare to present a workshop at a conference for administrative professionals using improvisation to address communication, conflict resolution and collaboration, I’m reminded of the valuable lessons the rules of improv can teach all of us… for life.

  • Yes, and… is the one unbreakable rule in improvisation. It means that we say “yes” to what our fellow actor has given us. We accept their words as a gift or treasure and we add “and,” which shows our commitment to contribute something just as valuable that will help us move forward.  Consider saying “Yes” in life more often. Imagine the possibilities. Too many times we disagree with ideas and just say “No.” Or, we want to appear agreeable so we say “Yes, but…” which is basically saying, “I hear what you’re saying but my way is better.”  So the next time your coworker asks “Are you looking forward to that meeting?” Instead of rolling your eyes and saying “No,” try smiling instead and say, “Yes, and I think I’ll suggest we start the meeting by each sharing something fun we did this weekend so we can start on a happy note.”
  • Make unusual or unexpected choices. This improv guideline isn’t something you can apply to every part of life. Attempting to pay your bills with magic beans is not likely to work but there are many instances in which you – and people around you – can benefit from a choice that is different from the status quo. Instead of complaining that it’s Monday and you’d rather be in your garden or on the golf course, CHOOSE to be happy that you are working and doing something that not only affects people’s lives but also allows you to buy that new driver you’ve been scoping out online.  Or, instead of putting in your headphones at your desk so you can tune out your loud, gossiping coworker in the cubicle next to you, listen! Maybe you can learn something that will help you improve your relationship. Take an opportunity to engage her in conversation about a movie, new local restaurant or any topic other than the number of different cars she sees in her neighbor’s driveway on the weekend.
  • Be in the moment. This popular advice is key to the success of improv performers on stage because the scene they create for their audience is so much more interesting when it happens right there and doesn’t reference a past that the audience cannot see or a future that has yet to unfold. Search through any list of self-help books and this theme appears. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” effectively addresses the value and absolute necessity of living our lives in the present. It boggles my mind how simple an idea this is but one that eludes so many of us. It just makes sense that we can only live in the present moment but I can’t tell you how often I live in the past as thoughts in my head (usually negative) race around as if on a track like horses trying to win the Triple Crown. All those hooves galloping kick up quite a bit of mud. I am far, far away from mastering the concept of being in the moment. It takes effort to make sure you are in the moment. Practice it. If you’re like me, you can read a magazine article and not know the full meaning because your mind went somewhere else by the second paragraph. “I have to call to reschedule that doctor’s appointment. I wonder if the new “Orphan Black” is On Demand yet; I want to watch that tonight. Oh crap, I forgot to get gas last night, that means I have to leave the house early today so I’m not late for my meeting.” Practice being in the moment!
  • Show. Don’t Tell. When improv actors create a scene on stage, this is key to believability and much more interesting to the audience if they show activity rather than talk about. For example: Actor A says, “I am not going to walk toward you, place my hands around your neck and pretend to choke you.” Actor B responds, “I’ll stand here and wait for you to do that and as you approach I will bug my eyes out as if I have a look of fear on my face.”  The scene should just happen. If you see it, you will have a much better experience than if you hear about it.  In life this comes in handy when we communicate. Many of us have different communication styles and we may not get someone’s wordy explanation but if they show us how to do something we might have a better time understanding.  And at a higher, loftier, Ghandi-esque level, it’s a good idea to SHOW, not TELL in the manner in which we live our lives. It’s great to teach your children to be honest. It’s good to tell your employees to be productive and do their jobs with integrity but SHOW-ing your children what honesty looks like and SHOW-ing your coworkers what integrity looks like, are much more effective. Ghandi said it simply, “Be the change that y0u wish to see in the world.”
  • Bring something to the party. This is something that improv instructor Barnes used to say to us as we were about to enter a scene. He would remind us that we should bring something to the scene. Yes, it slightly contradicts the idea of not planning what you will do or say in an improv scene but it worked and made sense. He wanted us to think about what we were seeing on stage. What did our fellow actors create already in this scene and what could we bring to it to help it move forward?  When you are hosting a party and everyone brings chips and dip, your menu is going to need help. The next time you enter a room, whether at work or at a social gathering, see what you can add.  Is someone upset, recounting a story about her husband leaving her? Is someone consoling another person who just received bad news from his doctor about cancer? Is someone raising his voice at another person who just offended him?  Your attitude and words can help or hurt the people you are about to engage with. Be aware of other people’s feelings and the situation in front of you and bring something to this party that will help, not hurt or destroy it.

Am I happy that it’s Monday and it’s gray and rain is predicted for tonight when I run a 5K?  Yes, and… I won’t need to wear my sunglasses or worry about getting too hot while I run. The rain will feel refreshing.

When the Tank Seems Empty

People talk about following their dreams, living out their calling, saying that if you do what makes you happy then you’ll never work a day in your life. That all sounds nice but I’m not sure I believe it – at least not fully. It’s been five years this month since I left a full-time job in corporate marketing and communications to go full time with my business, Laugh to Live! Whenever I see people I know out and about, they will say, “That’s so great that you’re doing what you love.” or “That’s wonderful that you’re following your dreams.”  I smile and nod while my inner voice says “Love is a really strong word.  I mean, I don’t know if there’s nothing else in the world I would rather do.”  But my outside voice doesn’t communicate this.  I guess what I’m saying is that I feel like my tank is on empty many days and I’m not sure if I need more fuel or a completely different vehicle to travel in.

Do you ever feel that way? That what you enjoy, what you’ve publicly declared to be your calling, your “thing,” may or may not be all that and a bag of gluten free chips after all? Or, maybe the stress surrounding your “calling” has poked holes in your enthusiasm?  I know that I am passionate about writing and communicating with people. I do believe in the power of laughter and humor for the body, mind and soul with all of my heart. And I know how uplifted and rewarded I have felt after sharing laughter with an audience and hearing testimonials from people who simply needed those laughs because they were dealing with depression or caring for a sick relative and just about depleted of any positive emotions.  I just feel like my heart may not be in it 100 percent lately and I need to recalculate to back on course or blaze yet another new trail for myself to feel fulfilled and to fulfill my purpose in life.

This is less of a “Rah Rah, go have a laugh today” kind of blog and more of a confessional I suppose. If my life was the topic of a reality show, this would be the part of the show where I would be seated in front of a plain colored background talking directly into the camera. I have moments when I get on a roll where I am so full of ideas on ways to spread laughter and creativity that I feel euphoric and then I have days where the couch and TV remote are my best friends and we’re going to spend hours of quality time together binge watching “Criminal Minds” (that’s a good show but it’s the opposite of funny – rape, murder and the other violent crimes the team investigate are far from laughter-inducing).

On this sunny Monday in Northeast PA, I guess I just want to communicate that even people, like me, who promote laughter, need help staying positive so that we can impact the audiences we encounter in our business of being funny. If your tank is empty, know that you are not the only one.  And if your tank is full, use it to accomplish amazing things and influence people who are looking for role models, mentors, signs of hope and inspiration!

10 Reasons Why the World Needs A Day to Laugh

If I haven’t gotten around to mentioning it (but I believe I have), I am a procrastinator.  This blog should have been written before May 3 but alas, it wasn’t. The annual celebration of World Laughter Day was held this year on May 3. As I do each year, my business, Laugh to Live! sponsors a free community event in Scranton where people in the area come out to sample laughter yoga, kids tell jokes and get prizes for their bravery and promotion of healthy laughter and we raise money for the nonprofit Humor Therapy Fund of the Scranton Area Foundation. I do this to promote therapeutic laughter and humor in Northeastern Pennsylvania to enrich the community where I live because I want to see people lead healthier and happier lives. Laughter can help people achieve that.

Here are 10 reasons I’ve come up with, why the world needs at least one designated day to laugh.

10. ISIS. When I attempted to write this blog last week I had trouble with WordPress. My web guy told me that there were major WordPress and Woocommerce security updates last month that were made to all sites because of ISIS hacking many U.S. websites. These updates caused a little conflict that prevented my blog platform from working. Who would have imagined such a day? I know that the word ISIS is not usually followed by laughter but this group is dedicated to hate and terror. What breaks down hate and comforts people in times of fear or uncertainty more than love and laughter?

9. Potholes. I’m sure that every state across this great nation has potholes but I can only speak to the ones I see and drive on every day in Scranton, PA. Let me tell you. We have some real doozies. On my third trip to the dentist last month, another one of my fillings was knocked loose. I love what this group is doing to help us use a positive attitude, humor and laughter to deal with these bumps in the road. Check back to see my submission. It’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had with potholes.

8. Litter. I admit. I DO NOT laugh when I see litter everywhere in my community. And I’m definitely not laughing as I drive by a street that my boyfriend and I cleaned up only two weeks ago to see it now littered yet again. But it’s the ugly parts of people and the Earth that need more beauty. Laughter can help us bring that out. Get a group of friends, coffee, gloves and garbage bags and head out one weekend morning to clean up a messy lot or street where you live. Share a few but-gusting stories while you pick up someone else’s butts. Smile and be an example of the world you want to live in.

7. Dating and Relationships. When I was playing the field I met some really nice men and I met some men who were just, well, misguided? clueless? What woman really wants to be picked up for a date by some guy’s mom because he lost his license to a second DUI? Women appreciate a man who knows the value of a dollar but I don’t think they love it when he offers up his coupon to them to pay their half of the bill. Let’s say I had enough material like this to write a book called “He’s Not Prince Charming When…” Now that I’m in a serious relationship I need the follow-up book. The problem isn’t that I don’t have enough material, it’s finding the time to sort through it all.

6. Health Care. Not to get political or anything, but there’s a lot of red tape, waste and frustration in the health care industry. Just a few recent examples in my own life include:  having to call a dental insurance company five times about bills for a plan I was no longer enrolled in; having to call my doctor’s office at least three or four times and visit in person when no one answered or returned my calls about a bill that was to be paid through my auto insurance after I was hit by another vehicle seven months ago because the doctor’s office never submitted it to my auto insurance company and .. well, I could go on but we all have our examples of bills, phone calls, automated systems where you need to press 10 different buttons before you get the pleasure of speaking with a human.  I attempt a laugh after using every curse word I know and inventing several new ones. I guess that I should skip straight to the laughter and forget the cuss’n.

5. Summertime Noises. Some people don’t appreciate nature’s alarm clock – by which I mean the chirping sounds of birds. I love bird noises because it IS life to me and it means better weather. The summertime noises I need laughter to help me cope with include: the sound of dirt bikes that ride a 150-foot long dirt path back and forth and forth and back only 40 feet from my window and the chimey/crib mobile sound of the ice cream truck. I know. I know. I probably seem like Cruella Deville for not liking the sound of the ice cream truck (if it’s any consolation, I don’t wear fur) but it’s so repetitious that I just can’t take it after 15 minutes. I’d like to buy each child in the neighborhood a cone or frozen ice before I go all nutty buddy.

4. Rainy days. It’s a nice idea to advise people to not let things we cannot control – like the weather – affect our mood but it’s not realistic advice. For some people, weather has actual, physical affects on them. Let’s face it, thunderstorms can be fun to listen to and watch but most of us would much rather a sunny day than a rainy one. So the next time it rains, smell the wet concrete, remember that the grass and trees need to drink and then pop in a comedy with the lights off. Let laughter brighten up your room.

3. Facebook. You don’t need me to tell you why this provides many opportunities for laughter, right? Don’t get me wrong. I use it. I am addicted to it too. But it really is pretty amusing. People say some of the meanest things to other people that they would never have one ounce of courage to ever say to anyone’s face. It can be every coward’s best friend. And then there are those people who show you their cyber life, which tends to look nothing like their real life. Telling your husband how much you love and appreciate him in a post when he’s probably in the arm chair in the next room? Um, okay. I’m surprised you have time to type that…what with all of the love and fabulous stuff you have going on.

2. Politicians. Again, as with social media, I don’t need to point out why politics and laughter are such good friends. In fact, as we get further into the campaigning for the 2016 presidential election, number 3 and number 2 will form one giant powerhouse of a reason to laugh. Let the name-calling and unsolicited opinion sharing begin.  You like Hillary? What are you some tree-hugging, Communist, femi-Nazi? You vote Republican? You must drive a pick-up with a gun rack to church services and to your anti-Gay rallies.  You jerk.  Btw, see you at soccer practice. I’ll bring the flyers for the pasta dinner fundraiser for new uniforms.

1. YOU – you should be the number one reason to laugh.  Research by actual doctors – not just people congregating on street corners – shows that laughter is good for the mind, body and spirit. It helps with heart health, the immune system, cancer, diabetes, burning calories, an improved mood and more.  (Don’t you love the “and more”? No, I’m not throwing in an extra Ginsu knife if you laugh really hard but you should laugh really hard anyway).

Give Humor A Job in Your Office: Five Roles Humor Can Fill

When most people think work, they don’t think fun. That’s why terms like rat race and daily grind are commonly used to refer to the office. Of course, I have also heard people use terms like circus and zoo to occasionally describe where they work and those are fun places to visit, but usually when someone says it was a real zoo or circus at the office, it refers to some kind of chaos that is not enjoyable. What I’m using probably too many words to say is that when we think of work, we don’t think of fun when perhaps we should. And I can’t think of a better time for this topic to be considered than April, which is National Humor Month.

I can tell you someone who didn’t have enough laughs at work. Jack Torrance. He moved his wife and son to the Overlook Hotel in the remote mountains of Colorado to be a caretaker for the desolate winter season in the movie “The Shining.” If you aren’t familiar with his film, the bottom line is Jack typed “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” and by “dull” he meant violent, angry and nearly insane. I’m not saying that if you don’t laugh enough that you’ll become anything like Jack Nicholson’s character in this movie but I do agree that all work and no play tends to make us not only dull, but stressed out and less than what we can be.  Play, laughter and humor are great resources to help adults recharge, to awaken their creativity and work through stress toward healthier living.

Let Humor be the “new guy” in your office. Here are five roles that humor can fill at the workplace.

#1 The Mediator –  When there’s tension, discord, or personality clashes, a little dose of humor can work as mediator to get people talking. A good laugh can cut the tension and help people feel better physically and mentally.

#2 The Entertainer – There’s no law – at least none of which I am aware – that says it’s illegal to have fun for fun’s sake at the workplace. Employees who work hard deserve to be rewarded with a little entertainment. While it’s true that humor can be risky because some jokes are considered offensive and everyone has a different sense of humor, laughter and fun do have a place at the office. There’s no harm in telling a clean joke, reading the comics or watching a funny youtube clip. It makes for a healthier break to clear your head than having a cigarette or drinking your fifth cup of coffee.

#3 The “Empower”er – Humor isn’t just the class clown. Humor is a warrior of sorts, a survivor. When traffic is stopped, when the computer shuts down and you haven’t hit save in a hour, when the lid on your large coffee isn’t tight and it spills on your new pants …when all of these things happen, you might scream or curse. But then what happens? Do you stay in a bad mood? Do you pass that negative energy on to the next person you see? Humor doesn’t change what just happened but it does give you strength to deal with it and change your perspective. You don’t have to be a victim. You can be in charge. Feel empowered. Make a joke about your misfortune, clumsiness, life happening that happens to everyone and acknowledge that you are safe and will survive this small hiccup. People have used humor to survive much bigger challenges. People like author and psychologist Viktor Frankl tapped into the power of humor during his time in a Concentration Camp. He wrote, “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

 #4 The Connector – Humor bonds people. When we laugh at a joke with someone, we share an experience that brings us closer together. Camaraderie at work can help to boost morale, strengthen team work and ultimately help a company’s bottom line.  Experts say that humor can help couples in a relationship work through their issues and some of the same principles apply to other relationships like the ones in a workplace. Let’s face it, you spend a lot of time at work.

#5 The Communicator – Humor can be used to open the door to delivering difficult news but it must be done carefully. I’m not suggesting that you break really bad news through humor but humor can help ease tensions and get people talking. Humor puts people on the same playing ground or level.

Wherever you gather at your business, whether it’s near the water cooler or Keurig coffee maker, or in the board room, be sure to give the new guy, Humor, a chance. Don’t dismiss Humor until you’ve given him a fair shot around the office. Humor has great value. Put Humor on the job!

Painting Nails, Pillow Fights? No, but We Laugh!

Last weekend I hosted a “big girls” sleepover. And by that I mean an overnight gathering of grown women. That is not a reference to body shape in any weigh, I mean way. Not that size has anything to do with my blog today. It’s about connecting with people who matter to us.

The children of one of my friends teased her that she was going on a “sleep over” at her age. I believe her son even ribbed, “How old are you?” We are women in our 40s who still make time to spend with one another to reminisce about the 26 years we’ve known one another, to talk about our lives today – or at least as much as each of us can get out before the topic swings in another direction- and we laugh!

We didn’t tell secrets, braid each other’s hair or engage in pillow fights (sorry to break the perpetuated stereotype that some guys like to imagine of feathers flying and tickle fights as Jerry Seinfeld indicated in “The Pool Guy” episode of “Seinfeld” in response to Elaine’s comment about doing “girlie stuff”) but we did do some of the same things that young girls do. We shared stories about the “boys” in our lives. We ate junk food. We watched a movie. We stayed up past our bed time (which is probably earlier than many kids these days – kids lead pretty mature lives with all of their extracurricular activities and texting to all hours of the morning). We shared more serious stories about personal health concerns, financial issues and relationship struggles. We connected. That’s what people do. At least that’s what people used to do…more often than we do these days.

I don’t want to sound like the stereotypical crotchety grandpa sitting in a rocking chair telling his grandchildren how in “his” day he walked to school uphill both ways in thread-bare shoes in the snow, but I am developing that “things aren’t how they used to be” mindset. When I went back to school to take my first graduate class at Marywood University in 2000, while working full time, I was required to read “The Naked Sun” by Isaac Asimov. It’s not the type of book I would have selected for myself but I enjoyed it and found it to be relatively easy to read. Although this book was published in 1956, the author had a pretty good vision for what the future would become with technology.  More emotionally disconnected for one.

There’s no doubt that we are now more connected with people around the world but have we lost the deepest connections in our lives? Do we value intimacy with close friends and lovers as much as we did in the past? Or… has that always been an illusion? A fairytale for leather-bound books and movies? I don’t have the answer. But I do know that we need to continue to work hard to stay connected with people who matter to us. A little handheld computer may be able to show you the temperature, time, texts from friends, sports scores and pictures of what your co-worker ate for lunch all on one screen at the same time, but can it do for your heart and soul? Will it ever make you feel alive the way that a hug or kiss can?  The way that holding hands or having your arm caressed can? Can it physically lift your mood the way a booming laugh that fills your stomach and lungs and then bursts out into the air can? I’m sorry but I don’t believe that any app can ever do that!

Let’s stay connected. Let’s laugh today and every day, no matter how many versions we have iEverything!

An apple a day is healthy but laughter throughout your day can be transformational.

An apple a day is healthy but laughter throughout your day can be transformational.