Think you’re not funny? Neither was I, until this show helped me wrangle my inner comedienne.
Spoiler: You might have to wear ridiculous pants.
Hi, my name is Emilie, and I’m not a funny person.
See, there are funny people and there are those of us who are surrounded BY funny people.
We, the unfunny, we have other qualities. Smart, maybe. Amusing and good conversationalists, check and check. Most of us learn very early to be connoisseurs of punchlines, and we are excellent straight-men. But somehow, we are still the ones whose jokes at the party are much funnier when someone else delivers them… 30 seconds later and more loudly. And most of the time, we don’t mind our perpetual unfunniness. Because we like funny, and we seek out the funny people, and frankly — like everyone else, funny or un — we also just love to laugh.
BUT WHAT IF…
What if we, the comedically stunted, DISCOVERED our funny? Think about it. What if you got the chance to test drive funny like a shiny new Camaro, for a day, a week? Could you uncover something uniquely you, deep in your unfunny being you had forgotten or discounted or just flat-out ignored? Could you mine some unknown internal wealth of funny for actual… LAUGHS?
I say you can, unfunny friends. I say we all can.
Because, me, I still don’t consider myself a funny person. But I play one on TV. Well, a web-series. But still… it’s a big deal to me, because it felt like a reeeeeeally long time coming.
For years — decades — I KNEW that I was NOT FUNNY. My dad is funny (in that dad way). My friends have always been funny (in assorted caustic, clowny, satirical, dirty, witty, silly ways). My husband is hilarious (can still make me laugh in 2 seconds flat after 10 years). Even my kids are funny (at 1 and 5 years, their comic timing is preternatural, I tell you). My whole life, I’ve been surrounded by funny… there was no escape.
Then, in late 2009, some friends from college at Dead Gentlemen Productions and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment posted audition notices for their new fantasy-comedy web-series: JourneyQuest. I had seen all their films and skits, and my funny husband had been in many, like the original The Gamers movie, but I had only had a little extras role in one so far. After all, I wasn’t funny. But then there was this role: Wren, a student bard trying to chronicle her first epic adventure.
I just now dug up my original submission email, and it says:
“Hey guys! I’d love to audition for this project. Having sat on the metaphorical sidelines so long, I’d love to be involved! Please consider me for Wren… outgoing, impulsive, congenial singer? I can do that!”
See how I say nothing about “that funny role”? That’s because it wasn’t really indicated in the description, so none of my usual “NOT FOR ME” alarm bells went off.
There are two things you need to know about me here, to understand why auditioning and ultimately getting cast in a funny role became a personal discovery and a relatively Big Deal.
#1: I Was a Teenage Ingénue.
Most actors have a type. And my type for my teens and early twenties was “ingénue.” If you’re unfamiliar, that’s generally the term for the “young, starry-eyed love interest.” It’s also generally code for “the least interesting part.” Your job is to fall in love, then there’s a problem, lots of much more interesting people come in to the story to worsen/fix the problem, and at the end you kiss the girl/boy, hooray!
#2: I Cannot Control My Face.
At my corporate dayjob, in intimate conversations, reading books, whatever. I have a big mouth and big eyes, and they just… move of their own volition, sticking my thoughts out there like a blinking billboard. To the point where a co-worker once said to me after a big client presentation: “Wow, Emilie. You really cannot control your face, can you?” Nope. Oops. But nope.
And this second thing is why my favorite comediennes are of the Lucille Ball, Bette Midler, and Debra Messing variety. Very Expressive Women who can totally glam it up, but who also have big personalities, highly communicative faces, and a willingness to look silly.
I find them smart, super confident, and Super Funny. And, like a dyed-in-the-wool unfunny person, I admire them… from a distance.
Because even though I identify with these ladies’ big, wildly mobile faces, and even though I actually CAN control mine, BTW, or I’d never be cast in anything (it’s just not second nature)… I was an ingénue. I never thought I was cut out for that kind of part, that kind of funny.
OK, BACK TO JOURNEYQUEST AUDITIONS.
So, I sent my email with my headshot and resumes and I was invited to audition for Wren. And the audition scenes were funny… Not only did the character feel like me (congenial, impulsive, etc.), BUT THEY LAUGHED. Some of my Very Funniest Friends and a whole bunch of People I Did Not Know laughed out loud. (!!!)
And I got the part, and I saw the script, and I got fitted for a decidedly unglamorous but very vibrant, very silly costume that let me flounce and stomp and scurry along through the woods, and… Oh! Wren was really funny! She was comic relief! She was all hilariously bad choices and awkward consequences and a colorfully vulgar vocabulary.
Can you imagine? To me, an unfunny person surrounded by funny people, a great sideline admirer of funny people? To earn a funny part, to have a dozen opportunities in one shooting day to Be Very Funny?
It was a Very Big Deal.
Take a look for yourself (I’ll wait!), and then scroll down to see my very reliable numbered list for How to Be Funny.
Season 1, Episode 1: Meet Wren and some orcs.
Season 2, Episode 8: See Wren be very indignant with Fran Kranz and make googly eyes. (start at 2:10)
If I Can Do It, We All Can
Unfunny friends, we don’t have to let the funny people have all the fun(ny). Let’s break it down:
- Pay attention and hunt down the right situation, then wave our hands and make our best active grab for it! I found the audition through searching public casting sites and I worked my a$$ off to be prepared for it.
- Have the courage to accept and work with the things we may have counted as shortcomings — previous designation as a less interesting type, or perhaps an uncontrollable face, for example. These things can actually help us BE FUNNY.
- Find a way to be comfortable and be inspired by our role models, rather than just admiring something we don’t think we can be. Maybe you spend a hot minute allowing yourself to make some silly faces in the mirror…
- This is the big one: See ourselves in the funny pants, whether they’re metaphorical or, as in my case, actual ridiculous rainbow-colored puffy pants and jester tights.
Now, here’s the best part of my story: The show was a hit!
7 years after I read that first script, we’re now gearing up for our 3rd completely fan-funded season of JourneyQuest. Wren continues to be the best character I’ve ever played. Yes, she swears like a drunken sailor and dresses like a drunken pixie, and she Will Not Take That Sh!t, and I love that about her.
But she’s also compassionate, ambitious, creative, and thoughtful, if rash. The fantastic comedic writing by a Very Funny Person sets it up, but she is also made of my choices — my big-eyed, big-mouthed, stumbling timing, the willingness I’ve always had to be silly, and the former professional ingénue’s urging to fall madly, completely, starry-eyed in love. You can see it all in her face. My face.
If I can do it, we all can.
But maybe we wait 30 seconds and say it louder.
Emilie Rommel Shimkus is an actor, writer, and singer in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more about Emilie at www.emilierommelshimkus.com or find her on twitter @onefootonshore. Watch the first two seasons of JourneyQuest on YouTube or Hulu, then check out the Season 3 kickstarter campaign and help Wren keep learning to be funny!