50 thoughts on turning 50: #24 Follow The Improv Brick Road

Carol Burnett Wikipedia
When I was a young girl, I wanted to grow up to be Carol Burnett.

(June 6, 2020: Don’t miss the brief update at the end of this post.)

For my 50th birthday, I wanted to do something really fun but different than the standard night out with girlfriends or surprise party. So I invited all of my friends to join me at a free improv workshop. I’ve never done improv, but it sounded like a fun way to celebrate turning half a century.

If you don’t know what improv is, think “Whose Line Is It Anyway”, seemingly spontaneous silliness and frivolity, with lots of laughter. When I threw out the idea, several people said they’d like to join me. But when the time came to actually sign up for the free workshop, everyone bailed.

The general excuse was “I’m too afraid to …” Get on stage. Speak in front of people. Look stupid. Act stupid. Say something stupid. Be judged for being stupid.

Pick a fear, or borrow one of mine. I have a long list from which to choose.

When I was younger, I loved female comedians and actresses like Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, and of course, Carol Burnett. In fact, when I was younger, I wanted to grow up to be Carol Burnett.

Not be like her. Be her. She was skinny (like me) and had a short haircut (like me, although I doubt her mother forced the hairdresser to give her that super short pixie so she could “get her money’s worth” at the salon).

But more importantly, Carol Burnett had something I desperately wanted: beauty. To me, she was beautiful not only because she had a pretty face but because she was funny. And that beauty made her fearless. Which made her more beautiful.

Maybe it was her ability to step into any character role and make people laugh, whether she was Eunice arguing with Mama or Scarlett O’Hara making a ball gown from velvet curtains. Whatever it is, I wanted it. One year, for Halloween, I even dressed up like the washer woman character that opened her show, complete with my dad’s giant work boots and a bucket full of “suds” my mom made by cutting up sponges.

joanne Oct 1974 as Carol Burnett washer woman (1)
Me, dressed at Carol Burnett’s washer woman. Wearing my dad’s work boots; my mom made me a bucket of “suds” with old sponges.

As we all know, who we want to be and who we are frequently are at odds, and as I grew up my fears generally dictated my life. Fear of being judged, fear of being alone, fear of looking stupid. Where once the seeds of laughter and humor had been sown in my soul, soon the weeds of fear, judgment, and bitterness choked everything positive before it had an opportunity to sprout.

It’s not that I never had fun; I just never let the fun dominate my life. Fear ruled with an iron fist.

So when everyone backed out of the free improv workshop, I went alone. I had no idea what to expect, who would be there, or what I’d be doing with these total strangers. Just going to the class was, at least for me, an adventure far outside my comfort zone.

What came next was a journey I had not planned to take. Continue reading “50 thoughts on turning 50: #24 Follow The Improv Brick Road”