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The Best Medicine is ...Laughter

Funny locals share tips on lightening up

There’s no question that laughter is good for our health — but how often do we laugh these days? Plagued by everything from current events to 60-hour work weeks, we may find it’s hard sometimes to even crack a smile, much less enjoy those belly laughs we know are restorative for our bodies and minds. According to Mayo Clinic, the short term benefits of a good laugh include relieving the body’s stress response, stimulating the heart and lungs and improving muscle relaxation, while long term benefits include an improved immune system, less physical pain and a better outlook on existence! 

But how do we get there? Sure, there are the tired ways of turning on a funny-but-probably-dumb comedy movie – but what if we could make our real lives funnier? Good news; local humor experts say we can. We just have to be willing to leave our comfort zones, let go of perfection and savor the unexpected. 

For Scott Pierce, humor is best shared with others, which is one reason he helped launch the Chaotic Good Improv troupe during the pandemic. An IT consultant by day and funny guy by night, Pierce was attending a tech conference about a decade ago when a conference guest who performed improv inspired him to consider the art form. “I was doing presentations and pitches, getting in front of people a lot, and I thought, if I take an improv class, maybe I’ll be funny,” he says. 

Pierce describes himself as a naturally witty person who enjoys “puns and observational stuff” but says improv is less about being a one-liner and more about getting out of your comfort zone with others.  “When it comes down to it, improv is about building a relationship with your team partners,” he says. “Once you figure out the relationship, that’s where the comedy comes in. Getting to that level of funny requires us being open and listening to what the person is saying and responding in a truthful manner.”

Gladys Improv, made up of three friends who studied improv in major U.S. cities and have “similar comedic sensibilities,” started out performing in Birmingham’s troupe “Ugly Baby,” then, in addition, formed Gladys Improv. “It just seemed like the obvious choice for us to perform as a trio,” says Michael Greene, speaking of himself, Jacob Simmons and Tim Casper. 

“In improv, you have to care about whatever is happening in the scene, and, more often than not, whatever is happening in the scene is extremely silly,” he adds. “So watching someone care very deeply about something very silly can be like holding up a mirror to times in our own lives, when maybe we’ve taken something a little too seriously.”

Joy King, founder of Eat Drink Ride with Comedienne Joy, concurs that interacting with others can be truly hilarious if both parties are open to it. A former stand-up who forayed into a variety of lively bus tours navigating the Magic City, King has had a challenging crowd member or two, but she does her best to get her tour members to lighten up. “If you don’t think about your problems for 30 minutes, I’ve done my job,” she says with a chuckle. 

King started performing comedy in 2004 after her church pastor claimed every member of his congregation had entrepreneurial spirit. King embraced the challenge and became a “clean” comedienne, often performing for church groups. “It came naturally to me to be clean; there’s more to life than sex,” she insists. “I talked about current events, parenthood, relationships, everyday life, church…”

While she no longer performs stand-up — the bus tours keep her busy — King still believes in not taking things so seriously. “We live in a tense society,” she notes. “We have to take a step back and find the humor in stuff. We can’t take things so seriously.”

Pierce agrees and says attending improv shows — or, better yet, taking an improv class — can help us see the humor in our everyday existence and let go of perfection and preconceived ideas. 

“I think comedy always comes down to the subversion of expectation,” he muses. “I teach sometimes, but our artistic director, Kris Genschmer, is the primary teacher. And he is great at making sure you’re comfortable with getting uncomfortable. That’s important. It’s like a playground in there  — you can be goofy, make mistakes. We applaud mistakes!” 

“Knowing that there are actual tools to help you be comfortable being uncomfortable gives you a certain level of confidence when approaching potentially stressful situations,” Greene notes. “Studying and performing improv helps you develop those tools.”

For readers who are inspired to lighten up, these funny locals have some advice on getting started. Start seeing yourself as funny — even if you never have before. 

“Look in the mirror, and laugh at yourself,” King advises. “So you haven’t lost those 20 pounds? So what! As people, we all have more things in common than not in common, and we all have something funny, so laugh at that. We all have a little bit of insanity on the inside of ourselves, and if we laugh more, it’ll keep the insanity at bay. Plus, a good laugh will change your whole day.”

“Developing your own sense of humor hinges on having and understanding your own comedic point of view,” Greene agrees. “Let your own sense of humor be shaped by things that meaningfully bring you joy.” 

“Watching someone care very deeply about something very silly can be like holding up a mirror to times in our own lives when maybe we’ve taken something a little too seriously.”

Michael Greene, Gladys Improv

  • Joy King
  • Left to right, Greene, Casper and Simmons