We have all heard or even experienced in some way or the other that comedy can be cathartic. The idea that entertainment has the ability to whisk us away from our troubles, and make us forget about the real world for awhile. This is one reason why there are so many cheesy sitcoms with great ratings, because sometimes, after a long hard day of work all we want to do is mindlessly be entertained and laugh.
However, I want to come at this from a different angle. From the angle of the artist, the one creating the comedy. I recently have had a firsthand unique experience watching an actor heal and connect, and essentially self-medicate his sorrow through performing. I don’t believe this was a conscious act on his part either. What resulted was not a resolution, or something even close to complete healing. Rather, the result was an emotional release, an expelling of hurt, and connection between this actor and me that can’t even really be articulated, in particular between each other. And to be honest, I don’t think it ever needs to be.
In the midst of reopening a spectacle of a family oriented, fun-filled, comedic production, my co-star, (really the star to which I support and play the straight man to) abruptly received the news of the imminent decline of his father’s health. There was no warning, and no time to prepare. Here he was opening a musical, whith his father struggling to survive through the last days of his life halfway across another continent. It didn’t feel right, and in fact, as the writing on the wall became more clear, a trip home was planned for the next few days and an understudy was being prepped to fill in during the interim.
Yet, for those two days, which I am sure felt like an eternity for my friend, we had no choice but to live by the old adage: “The show must go on”. In the midst of the hussle and bussle of our 1st preview, my friend sat in his makeup chair skyping with his father one last time before hitting the stage. Each skype session was difficult, not only because his dad was losing the ability to use his voice, but because we all knew it was always a possibility that this may be the last time he would talk to his dad.
Places had been called, but the phone call was not over. I waited patiently outside his door through their teary goodbye, and walked with my friend down to the stage. There was nothing to say, or if there was, I sure didn’t have the wisdom to know what it should be. So I just walked with him, I stayed by his side. It just felt right, we did our stretches next to each other, his hand occasionally resting on my shoulder. We set-up for the show and prepared to go on. In hindsight, I am not sure who was deciding to stay next to who, there was just an unspoken feeling that we were gonna stay together, we were going to get through this production side by side, no matter what.
I had no idea what to expect as we stepped toward our entrance to begin this over-the-top comedy, we certainly weren’t feeling funny, that was for sure. Moments before I bounded on to the stage, a moment he and I had done well over 100 times, a moment where we traditionally gave each other a fist-bump and then started the show, he grabbed me and hugged me. He hugged me for a long time, a long time for two bros to hug anyway. Then, just as my cue music was being played we locked eyes and nodded our heads…he was hurting, I was hurting for him, but the show must go on…
Then it happened, the completely unexpected happened. A show that I thought was going to be torture to get through, turned out to be the most physical emotional giggle fest I have been apart of on stage. The Lord blessed us that night with what must have been hundreds of young laughing children in the audience. With each line and gag the giggles turned to belly laughter which seemed to literally serve as the fuel driving my hurting friend. The pain was still there, right on the surface behind his eyes. In fact we made more eye contact and actor to actor conenction in that show than we ever had. The pain was there, but we were performing comedy. We took moments and jokes farther than we ever had, the audience was in the palm of our hands. The entire 3,000 seat sold out house was with us. It was one of those shows where it felt like you as the actor could do no wrong.
My friend and I never spoke a word to each other during the entire show, except when we were on deck speaking our lines. Yet we never left each others side. We would literally walk off stage, grab a sip of water and walk silently to our next entrance and wait to enter. He must have hugged me five times that night, often right before an entrance. It was a powerful night. But nothing was more powerful than being on stage together, looking into each others eyes knowing what emotional turmoil was lying underneath and delivering joyous slapstick comedy over the top. With each moment there was a palpable emotional and even physical release that took place. It was amazing, and cathartic in a way that I have never seen before.
The show was richer for it, and our hearts were too. It was the healing of laughter. But not because there were thousands of laughing people in the building that night, though that is a beautiful thing. It was the healing of making people laugh. It was the release of being silly in a time when traditional society tells us to be stoic. It was…….well, I’m just gonna stop now. It doesn’t really need to be defined and overly articulated. It was the catharsis of comedy, it was a connection between actors and friends, it was a gift. As I said, my friend and I never even spoke about what happened that show, we just both knew, and sometimes that is all that matters.