Comedy is no laughing matter.
It takes a unique individual to stand on a darkened stage, trying to make complete strangers laugh. It's the ultimate high wire act performed without the benefit of a net. You must be equal part creative, vulnerable, fearless and intuitive.
Which is why I reached out to stand-up comedian Liz Russo, an Easton native who regularly headlines comedy clubs across the country to learn more about the serious side of comedy. Liz believes that perseverance, intuition, and fearlessness are the essential traits required for comedians. "Doing comedy as a full-time profession means sacrificing normality and stability. Friends and family won't understand your lifestyle. You won't be able to explain the industry or the process, and it can feel like a struggle every day." Russo added.
Good comedians excel at turning rejection into opportunity. "The first time I ever did stand-up comedy was a response to a heckler. During a college improv show, an audience member yelled out that I was "the fat girl from Wilson Phillips." I felt humiliated. When I recovered from my self-pity, I wanted to use that feeling for something good. I wrote my first standup material and the performance earned respect from the heckler as well as my peers. I found I could use humor to challenge stereotypes and social viewpoints. That is the moment where my passion met my purpose." Russo said.
Comedians play a far greater role in the psychological health of society than most people realize. They are experts at restructuring and reframing sad or tragic situations into humorous observations and stories. Comedians often accomplish on stage what can often require years of therapy. Russo agrees. "Humor is the most powerful tool in communication because it breaks down social barriers and stigma."
Comedians possess an innate ability to take simple, everyday situations and turn them into cathartic experiences that have the power to change perceptions and alter stereotypes. Laughter’s medicinal benefits are significant and very real as well. More than just a temporary break from sadness and pain, laughter provides you with the courage and strength that can go a long way to help you find new meaning and hope in your life.
While every comedian's goal is to entertain you with laughter, there can be a dark side. "It's tough when a room full of people turn against you. As a professional, if you’re paid for a contractual 45 minutes of stage time, you must find a way through it. The worst shows earned me experience you can't get in a classroom or learn in a book. Most importantly, as hard as it was, I kept going. I never thought of quitting." Russo said.
In comedy, there's always going to be a certain amount of risk-taking required and a significant amount of vulnerability coupled with a healthy dose of self-depreciation. Liz is acutely aware of what's required of her every time she steps on to a stage. "I love making people laugh; I love that what I say can influence an audience to think differently and bring people together. However, if the expectation is for me to be funny and entertaining off-stage when I’m socializing, many would be disappointed that I prefer to be in my jammies watching a documentary with my cats." Russo exclaimed.
When it comes to laughs, the Valley certainly has its share of great comedy venues to check out. Seek out those opportunities, and you’ll quickly discover that comedy is no laughing matter.