Sacred Arts: Session Twelve – Stand Up Comedy and the Art of Telling Our Stories

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date]. On his website, the author of The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gotschall states that:

“Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why?”

Every joke is actually a short story. As you watch the videos and explore stand-up comedy on your own, watch for the story lines and your reactions to them. As you converse in the coming weeks, you might pause to think about the underlying themes coming across in your stories and if you are a joke teller, in your jokes.

Readings and Videos

Exercises

  • Find a joke to tell. It can be long or short, familiar or new – but it must be suitable for your UU Wellspring audience. Practice telling it and be prepared to tell it in our next session. In your journal, reflect on why you chose the joke you did, and what the experience of preparation is like.
  • Watch some stand-up comedy from those who specialize in storytelling. Find clips online or specials on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon, etc. Some recommendations: Hannah Gadsby, Maria Bamford, Ellen DeGeneres, Aisling Bea, Greg Davies, John Mulaney, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Mike Birbiglia, Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan.
    • After you watch, journal about the things you connected with or especially made you laugh.
    • Think about one of the stories or bits that particularly worked for you, and try to outline the plot points, the particular words or phrases that seem to stick out, etc.
    • Reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with the comedian, the comedy, and your own stories.
    • Look for ways you felt empathy towards a character in a joke or a story. How might that affect your real life relationships and viewpoints?

Questions for Reflection

  • In “Comedy Makes Us Better People,” Stephen Amos states: “When it comes to issues like social justice, ‘humour can be a social corrective,’ he says. ‘We see this in African American comedy, LGBT comedy, Latino comedy, religious humour, feminist humour. It validates shared experiences, gets us to think more flexibly and reframe situations in this shared experience we call life.’” How do you respond to humor that pokes fun of your own culture? What is your reaction to jokes about a culture or ethnicity different from your own? How does a specific focus in humor connect us? Distance us?
  • Jonathan Gotschall helps us see that stories allow us to see different perspectives. In “What kind of Asian are you?” visual storyteller Ken Tanaka takes an awkward conversation and flips it to make us chortle, perhaps at ourselves or at seeing a new perspective. Which character did you associate with? How did the clip empower or develop empathy in you?
  • In his TEDx presentation, Gotschall talks about the Will and Grace effect: that it is important to be consistently exposed to ideas in order to lean into them. His example of several TV shows portraying no judgment about gay people affected our collective communal leaning in that moves communities or culture in a particular direction. If you are a storyteller, is there a current social issue you might tell stories about to move people to action or to a particular perspective? Have stories or jokes moved you to have more empathy for a subject?

As a Reminder

Our shared observation during our last session was the poem “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou. Here are some links for more information: 

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness; be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “Come Sit by Our Fire” by Jennifer Kitchen (https://www.uua.org/worship/words/opening/come-sit-our-fire):

Come sit by our fire and let us share stories.

Let me hear your tales of far off lands, wanderer, and I will tell you of my travels.

Share your experience of the holy with me, worshipper, and I will tell you of that which I find divine.

Come and stay, lover of leaving, for ours is no caravan of despair, but of hope.

We would hear your stories of grief and sorrow as readily as those of joy and laughter, for there is a time and a place and a hearing for all the stories of this world.

Stories are the breath and word of the spirit of life, that power that we name love.

Come, for our fire is warm and we have seats for all.

Come, again and yet again, come speak to me of what fills your heart, what engages your mind, what resides in your soul.

Come, let us be together.

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Exercises (20 minutes)

Six-Word Story

According to urban legend, sometime in the 1920s (perhaps at the Algonquin in New York City) someone made a ten-dollar bet with Ernest Hemingway that he could write a novel in six words. He wrote, simply, ”
For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn. ” After penning the famous line on a napkin, he passed it around the table, and collected his winnings. 

While the origins of the story are unknown, the power of the six word story continues, and today, we will write some of our own.

How do you write a six-word story? Consider the CAR: conflict, action, and resolution. Your story should progress; in Hemingway’s example, it takes us from someone putting the shoes up for sale, and a flashback to why, and the recognition of empathy in the reader of the advertisement – and the story.

Here’s another example, from UU Wellspring participant Lois Porter: “Small child near pool; disaster averted.” Here we have a whole scene many of us have seen ourselves, from the innocent place to the action that causes the crisis, and the relief of the outcome.

I invite you to take the next 10 minutes to write five to ten six-word stories.

(Provide quiet time to write – participants may move to another room but should come back on your signal.)

As we return, let’s share one or two of our favorites. After each one, we will take just a moment to reflect on the story – what we saw, what we felt, how we connected.

Shared Observation (10 minutes):

Note to Facilitators:

Our observation today is each other’s jokes.

Today, instead of observing an unnamed example of comedy, we will observe each other’s jokes. And instead of the regular observation techniques, I invite you to observe differently:

  • One at a time, tell your joke to the rest of the group, who is a willing and supportive audience.
  • After the joke lands and the laughs dissipate, the joke teller should share a bit about where the joke came from, why it was selected, and anything it brings up for them.
  • The rest of the group may also offer affirmative observations, but no criticism, as it’s hard to tell jokes, even for people who are willing to be supportive.

Reflections (45 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to observe some comedy. Who caught your attention? What bits in particular did you choose to engage? What did you observe? How do you connect with the comedian and/or the bit?
  • How do you connect with stand up comedy? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • What lessons might this form teach you?
  • Turning to the reading, what moved you or piqued your interest?
  • Can you name a movie that developed empathy in you (similar to the horror clips in the Gottschall video)? Share how it engaged you in creating a deeper understanding of the emotions of others.
  • In “Comedy Makes Us Better People,” Stephen Amos states: “When it comes to issues like social justice, ‘humour can be a social corrective,’ he says. ‘We see this in African American comedy, LGBT comedy, Latino comedy, religious humour, feminist humour. It validates shared experiences, gets us to think more flexibly and reframe situations in this shared experience we call life.’” How do you respond to humor that pokes fun of your own culture? What is your reaction to jokes about a culture or ethnicity different from your own? How does a specific focus in humor connect us? Distance us?
  • Jonathan Gotschall helps us see that stories allow us to see different perspectives. In “What kind of Asian are you?” visual storyteller Ken Tanaka takes an awkward conversation and flips it to make us chortle, perhaps at ourselves or at seeing a new perspective. Which character did you associate with? How did the clip empower or develop empathy in you?
  • In his TEDx presentation, Gotschall talks about the Will and Grace effect: that it is important to be consistently exposed to ideas in order to lean into them. His example of several TV shows portraying no judgment about gay people affected our collective communal leaning in that moves communities or culture in a particular direction. If you are a storyteller, is there a current social issue you might tell stories about to move people to action or to a particular perspective? Have stories or jokes moved you to have more empathy for a subject?

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.

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