I was funny on Saturday night.
I don’t mean the show. Actually, I *was* funny in the show. It’s a funny show after all. But that’s sort of a given. I meant afterwards. At the restaurant. I was funny then. Kicking back, beer in hand, amazingly relaxed in a situation where I’m usually anything but. I should explain.
Generally, I don’t like going to parties where I don’t know more than at least half the crowd (give or take, depending on size). I’m awful at making small talk with strangers in large part because I don’t like talking about myself in a general sense. Where I’m from, what I do for a living, that sort of thing. I’m also not much into politics or the weather or any other humdrum subject that usually comes up when people of different backgrounds congregate for lightweight conversation. I went to an X-Mas party a year ago where I ended up knowing three people, two of which were hosting and had no time to spend occupying my attention, and a third who had attached herself at the hip to one of the first two. I gutted it out for about two hours, almost all of which was spent sitting in a chair in the corner, people watching. Thankfully as an actor I can do a prolonged amount of people watching and find the time not completely wasted, as it’s the best form of character research you can ever do, even when you don’t have a character to research at the time. But after a while and a few aborted conversations to nowhere, it gets to be tiring. So I try to avoid placing myself in those situations.
The same basic principal applies to small groups of people within larger groups of people where I *do* know a bunch of them. I’m usually not the kind of guy who can “work the room” unless I know everybody in it. Over the last few years I’ve forced myself to give it a try during some of the large theater festivals I’ve attended. The banquet at Nationals a few years back was one such time. The results were mixed. I was slightly more at ease because I had the theater stuff to fall back on. It was a good conversation starter and it allowed for some interesting dialogue to take place. Never 100% comfortable, I was at least willing to give it a try.
But back to Saturday.
We of course had a large contingent of people who headed out for dinner after the show had finished, winding up at TGI Friday’s for the second night in a row. I guess they remembered us from the night before because not only were they ready for us (admittedly, we called ahead), but they said, “the back room’s all yours so do what you want with it”. We did. Now those of you know me well are probably thinking to yourself, “ummm… dumbass, you’re ALWAYS relaxed (and usually funny) when we’re a large group taking over a restaurant”, and you’d be right. Well, not the dumbass part. I’m more of a smartass, as I’m sure you’ll agree. But that’s not what I’m really referring to. What I’m referring to is the small group of friends of one of my castmates who had joined us in the big room and set up shot at a group of tables of their own. Now normally I would have stayed in my seat, commiserated with cast and crewmates, and not given this small subgroup a second thought. They’re not MY friends, so what do I care. But I happened to notice one of my other castmates as he wondered over to say hello to this other party and I was struck by the thought, “you know, they *were* kind enough to come see the show… I should probably at least say ‘thanks'”. So I got up, strolled over, and plopped myself down at the head of their table.
I thanked them for coming, and they responded by telling me how much they liked the show. Again I thanked them, but insisted I hadn’t come over just to have my ass kissed, at which point one guy piped up with, “oh good, because I thought you stunk”. And just like that… I was in.
With the sarcasm card now on the table, the floodgates opened and I spent the better part of the next fifteen minutes exchanging barbs and stories with six complete strangers. Names became a popular subject (I was challenged to remember all of theirs). I learned that it’s “LEE-ah” and not “LAY-ah”, although Ugly Sweater Andy and I agreed that they look more like cinnamon rolls than hamburger buns and really, bringing up the Princess when you introduced yourself only muddied the issue when you pronounced it different anyway. Everyone agreed that the name Gordon Clapp was just all-around unfortunate, even if we couldn’t remember where it came from (Law & Order, as it turns out – thank you, Colleen). The food eventually arrived and I moved back to my own table, vowing to return later and get all their names right (which I did).
Sliding back into my seat I was greeted with the comment, “I feel like I should give you a standing ovation after that performance”. “Indeed”, I told my compatriot, “I feel like I just did a fifteen minute stand-up routine”. It immediately reminded me of my friend Topher’s (second) wedding from a number of years ago where, having apparently grown tired of rehashing the same tired stories with friends from the high school days, I turned my attention to my friend’s boss and his wife. After an hour-and-a-half of me just riffing on anything and everything I could think of, and getting laughs at every turn, the guy turned to his wife and said, “we should invite this guy to parties… he’d kill”. Ahh, if only it was that simple.
I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand why I am the way I am. Why I can radiate confidence in certain situations and why I damn near swallow my own tongue in others. I’m also not sure it particularly matters. I tend to think that all my neurotic tendencies (or more importantly, my awareness of them) have made me a more effective actor over the years, so they’re good to have, even if they don’t always pop up at the most opportune times.
In the meantime it felt good to be funny on Saturday night.