Addressing -ism

I must have started this post 5 times trying to figure out how I can talk about racism without saying racism. But that’s what this post is about. Having said that here I can actually write about what happened and not try and be delicate about it.

The other week in practice my scene partner and I were playing two older characters at a bar. They were playing a regular, and I was a new patron. The scene flopped, notably because I made things way more combative than it needed to be. I was asked why I couldn’t find a common ground. My answer?

When I think of older people I think of my grandparents. And while I love them dearly, they are of an older generation and hold some perspectives that are dated at best and possibly racist. I don’t want to play a version of my grandparents in poor light. I also know people come to see improv to escape the real world and I don’t want to remind people of the problems outside the theater’s walls. So instead I chose to avoid those topics.

My coach understood my perspective and supported my intentions. They suggested that instead of avoiding the topics, I lean into it and play the racism, the bigotry, and the assumptions in a non-direct manner.

Instead of discussing race or gender identity, how might we call attention to something else? How, by calling attention to something seemingly harmless, can we provide some social commentary? Gentrification is an important topic to discuss. But it is a hot topic and could cause discomfort in a show. But what if we talked about “all the dogs crapping on the sidewalk” or “the problem with bay windows“? By calling attention to real problems in indirect ways, we can have serious conversations, honor our characters, and respect ourselves and our audience.

This was an interesting perspective, and one I will try to honor in improv and in life. We should never avoid sensitive or important topics. And while we want to be sensitive to our audience we shouldn’t coddle anyone.

In today’s world filled with fear and very polarizing opinions, how might comedy help us have serious conversations in direct and indirect ways?

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