I was talking to a workshop participant who was debating whether she should take a teaching-comedy-course offered by a clown teacher, we'll call him Dr. X.
She said: Dr. X was trying to convince me to take this class of his, and I told him, "I haven't had a show of my own hit it big yet." And Dr. X said that that didn't matter, that teaching and performing are two totally different things.
Then she asked me, What do you think?
So I thought.
I think I have two different answers.
First of all, I must mention that two of THE MOST IMPORTANT theater/comedy teachers IN MY LIFE, the ones who really taught me about using my instrument and freeing myself— brilliant teachers! life-changing forces for good!—I saw them both perform and neither one made me laugh. AT ALL. Those were surprising, horrifying moments: seeing these idols of mine, these mentors, totally eat shit. I realized then that they were great teachers and not-great performers, and I made a weird kind of peace with that, like when two people break up but keep living together because of the kids or the rent or whatever. They just moved into separate bedrooms in my heart.
So, I believe you can totally be a great teacher and not-as-successful a performer. Yes.
And we probably all know great performers who are pretty lousy teachers, too. Real smart people who have thought a bit about how they achieved their own comedic heights, but maybe they haven't figured out how to translate it to the masses, or they don't care enough, or they're just not meant to teach.
They ARE two completely different art forms, teaching and performing. Yes.
Good teaching involves curriculum planning, lesson designing, trial and error, energetic generosity, generous curiosity, humility, learning environment cultivation, organized practice rituals, egolessness (or sincere attempts at such), and a firm grasp of classroom management skills.
Good performing involves mental illness and whiskey.
I'm sure we all recognize that less-awesome performers can of course be amazing teachers, and verse vice-a.
Here's a question then, why do we instinctively assume that teaching and performing go together?
Famous, super talented people could fill any workshop anywhere always, why is that? And when you see a show that blows your mind, and you hear that company is teaching a workshop, why are you like I GOTTA GET ON THAT?
Clearly, there is something deep inside us that suspects—if we really love the way someone performs,
if we fall in love with them a little bit—and feel instinctively that they would understand us—and we them—on the most HUMAN of frequencies—then we believe they have something to teach us.
And it defies logic. I can prove to you with many complicated logic proofs that Great teaching and great performance are totally separate! No connection! Still, everyone feels in their hearts like you Christians feel about your Santa. There's no factual basis, but we believe.
And I do think there is something to that, too. We have to love and respect our teachers in order for them to teach us something. If we admire what they do, if we enjoy watching them perform, that is another way to learn from them. Great comedy is magic. And learning a magic trick is really only half of learning magic, right? You have to learn the trick, sure, but you also need to experience the rockets in your own eyes that shoot out when you love a trick from the audience-side. The love of the trick is the fuel for making that trick sing. It's nice when your teacher can give you that too.
Maybe it doesn't matter at all.
But it might matter a little bit.
Ultimately, I respect that workshop participant of mine who feels like maybe it's a little too soon to teach comedy, before she really feels like she's nailed it for herself, and given it fully to the world.
Teaching and performing are not inextricably linked, but they're next to each other, right? Like the way I wanna put silver and gold bangles next to each other. I wanna wear ALL the bling, ALL the time... except sometimes I can't pull it off.
Sometimes it's better to just wear one, keep it simple.
We can dream of both. We can pull off both some times.
Other days, recognize silver for silver and gold for gold.
They're both precious, bitch, after all.