Sophia Peerzada, top left, performing in a Level 1 improv showcase at The Box Theatre in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Sophia Peerzada.
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The comedy cure: how performing comedy can improve your life

Sophia Peerzada, top right, performing in a Level 1 improv showcase at The Box Theatre in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Sophia Peerzada.

Sophia Peerzada, top right, performing in a Level 1 improv showcase at The Box Theatre in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Sophia Peerzada.

Imagine a day when everything goes wrong. You total your car, you spill coffee on your favorite outfit, you trip and sprain your ankle. Then you go home, and you think about how terrible everything is. Now imagine a day when all of those things go wrong, but you’re trained to find the humor in it. This is what happens when you start performing comedy.

Performing comedy teaches you to look for the humor in life’s everyday drudgery. Some of the best comedy comes from terrible situations and bad days. When you know how to look for the funny in daily mishaps, you start to take life less seriously. You become able to spin unfortunate events into comedic gold. Performing comedy, whether it’s standup or improv, enhances your life by easing your anxieties, giving you a sense of community, and teaching you to find the funny in everyday things.

Sophia Peerzada, an improviser in Tampa, Florida says performing improv has reduced her anxiety. “Improv has helped me with anxiety, for sure,” said Peerzada. “I feel so much less apprehension in situations that would typically cause me to feel a lot of anxiety. My day job is that of a corporate trainer, which basically means I make a living by presenting information to crowds of other adults who depend on me to not be boring or terrible. Before any presentation I’d give, I would always feel nauseous and stressed. After many months of improv, I can honestly say that those feelings have subsided immensely.”

Improvisational comedy is comedy that you perform with a group and no script. Everything is made up on the spot. Because of this, it’s crucial you trust your other group members to save you if you start to falter on stage. This reliance forms a sense of community that exists both on and off stage.

“Improv has introduced me to so many amazing and hilarious individuals from all walks of life,” Peerzada said. “We have a shared passion, and everyone is so kind to one another. It’s a really special bond that I wouldn’t have had I never started improv.”

Sophia Peerzada, center, performing improv at The Box theatre in Tampa, Florida. Photo courtesy of Sophia Peerzada.

Sophia Peerzada, center, performing improv at The Box theatre in Tampa, Florida. Photo courtesy of Sophia Peerzada.

In contrast to improv, standup comedy is solo work. It’s just you on the stage, projecting your voice to make people laugh. Standup is empowering because it teaches you that your flaws and imperfections make great humor.

“What’s ‘weird’ about you, or even what you don’t like about yourself, is what makes you funny,” Lynn Harris said.  “You don’t have to “fix” anything in order to be funny or do comedy, on the contrary! You get to double down on who you already are.”

Harris is the founder of Gold Comedy, a social impact startup that aims to introduce young women and girls to stand up comedy. Comedy makes you realize that the quirks you have aren’t disadvantages, but rather, they’re what make you funny. When you stand up on a stage and loudly declare what’s weird about you, people no longer find you weird, they find you relatable.

Everyone has something about them that makes them unique. That unique element can become your best ally on stage. When performing standup, there’s no need to become a different person.

Lynn Harris teaches in person standup comedy workshops for girls and women. She regularly watches them discover that what makes them funny is not a contrived character, but exactly who they are.

“What makes you different is what makes you funny, and what makes you funny is what makes you strong,” said Harris. “The best thing is that they don’t change who they are in order to be on stage and tell jokes. If they came in geeky, that’s their stage persona. If they came in shy, that’s their stage persona. If they came in loud, that’s their stage persona. Probably the best thing you can tell a girl (of any age) is that you don’t have to change for people to like you. Or listen to you, or applaud you.”

In order to generate standup material, you have to be willing to mine it from experiences in your own life. Anything that happens in your life that you deem unfortunate can be turned into comedy. When you’re doing standup, it’s like you’re shining a light on the human experience. You get to tap into dark times and make light of them.

People love to hear jokes about breakups, being fired, and being rejected because they themselves have been through all of those things. It reminds people they aren’t alone. When you’re on stage and you tell a story about being rejected and the whole room laughs, it floods you with satisfaction because you realize your story is relatable. It’s not as tragic as it seems.  

Performing comedy can be a way to confront your mental health issues and even include them in your material. You would think no one would find depression funny, but popular standup comedian Aparna Nancherla regularly discusses her depression in her sets.

“I started talking about mental health in my stand-up by virtue of the fact that I was struggling particularly with depression at the time and was having trouble writing about anything else. I tried the material onstage and was surprised how it resonated with the audience. This encouraged me to explore the topic further, as it has been an ongoing issue in my life, both directly and with people I am close to,” Nancherla said in an interview with Huffington post in July.

Mental health issues are becoming increasingly easier to talk about in public. However, there is still a stigma surrounding them. Performing comedy can be a great way to bring some of those issues to the table, or the mic, and talk about them with the audience.  

“I will say that improv does provide me with an avenue to talk/joke about my depression in a way that feels safe. I think maybe my depression is what makes me good at improvising. I just feel like it provides me with a lot of dark material that catches people off guard,” Sophia Peerzada said.

Laughter is restorative. In the case of Norman Cousins, it seemed to heal his disease. In 1964, when Cousins was diagnosed with an incurable disease, Ankylosins Spondylitis, he turned to comedy to help him. He spent the months after diagnosis in his room writing jokes, watching funny movies, and reading comic books. He committed to laughing as much as possible, and he claimed this laughter is what ultimately healed him.  

“I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” Cousins said.

Whether or not the laughter was enough to heal Cousins is up for debate. What’s not up for debate, however, is that the laughter significantly brightened and improved his mood. The comedy he watched was able to get him to focus on something other than the pain he was in from his illness. If simply watching comedy was enough to heal Cousins, imagine the effect of performing comedy on a regular basis.

When you start performing comedy, you start to laugh more. You stop to smell the roses, if only to make a joke about flowers. You meet other funny people who enrich your life and become your best friends. When you start performing comedy, you feel the power of pointing out your flaws to a room full of people who would never be as brave as you are. You realize there is more light in the world than you ever imagined. When you start performing comedy, you start to discover yourself.

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