“Comedy Is About Observation with Felonious Munk, Calvin Evans and Odinaka Ezeokoli” was much too long to fit within the spacial constraints of this site’s title template — which seems apt given that the interview itself didn’t fit within the temporal constraints of the show’s 26 minutes either. You can listen to the full, unedited conversation (including a raucous few minutes improvising WERA station promos) here.
“Comedy,” said Calvin Evans, “is about observation.”
Twenty feet away, three rows back in the darkened rehearsal hall at Woolly Mammoth Theater, little bells went off in my head. Curiosity is about observation, too!
Wasn’t there a conversation to be had? Could I land an interview with three stand-up comedians from The Second City who were in the midst of a major DC theater run? Would they talk to me about curiosity, and comedy, and what comes of careful observation?
Yes. Yes, I could.
And: yes. Yes, they would.
At some level, I knew the conversation would take a provocative turn — this is Felonious Munk, after all — but the discussion was both funnier and more profound than I had anticipated. We went from belly laughs to gut punches in a single breath. We touched on what’s funny, what’s not, how we use humor to deflect what hurts, how much we can learn by watching and deconstructing what’s going on around us, how experience is in the eye of the beholder.
I went home in search of a quote I couldn’t muster as we talked.
“A ‘white’ kid that asks too many questions is called curious. A ‘black’ kid that asks too many questions is called forward.” ―Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Not all curiosity is construed as equal.
That quote had come up in my research for the conversation with Elizabeth Jones when we talked about her work at OAR (Offender Aid and Restoration.) Turns out, when you pay attention, questions of race and racism and systems that may or may not serve everyone so well just keep coming up. Pairing comedy and incarceration — comedy and trauma — wasn’t my first idea, but it seemed like the obvious one for today’s Curiosity to Go segment…
This is Choose to be Curious. I try to make the argument that, like eating well or exercising, curiosity is a choice we can and should make about how we want to show up in life. In my very first show, I said:
Something happens and we’re angry or confused or uncertain – and we can get mad or defensive or act like we already know the answer, faking it ’til we make it …or we can choose to be curious and just try to understand better.
We’re in a new place, or the same old place – and we can be on auto-pilot….or we can slow down, pay attention, and be curious about what’s going on around us.
We’re with new people, or with people we’ve known for years – and we can assume we already know what they’re thinking or how they’ll react….or we can choose to be curious and ask.
But I confess that the conversation with Odinaka, Calvin and Munk has deepened my thinking about the “choice” part of this. I am reminded of the power and privilege of choice. I recognize that sometimes this stuff is hard – and that the playing field isn’t anywhere near even.
We sat down for this interview on December 12 as voters in Alabama were going to the polls for the special election between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore. The weight of that vote hung in the air around us. How could it not? I thought about choice and curiosity a good deal that day. I thought about the very different choices people were making. I had trouble mustering even a modicum of curiosity about how anyone could vote for a segregationist pedophile, although I tried. A little.
In his play Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains), Munk retraces his life trajectory and imagines what might have been had it gone in other directions. He takes a hard look at the choices he and others made along the way. He gives them air, he lets them breathe. And then he lets them go.
They were what they were.
They aren’t what they were.
We aren’t what we were.
Munk steps out of the action and offers a simple declarative: “Every choice matters.”
We are what we choose.
Choose to be curious. And help others do the same.
Special thanks to Mikala Stubley for helping to arrange this interview and to Antonio Villaronga for encouraging me to seek it – and then serving as sound engineer.
Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) ran at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in December 2017.
~ ~ ~
Truth / Ode to Odinaka
Odinaka walked beside me down the corridor. “The word I would use is truth,” he said.
Odinaka, whose name replays with unexpected musicality like a staccato mantra in my head.
Odinaka, of the sinewy, elastic frame, equal parts expressive and exuberant.
Odinaka had hit upon something.
I had asked if he saw the observations that are central to comedy as an expression of curiosity. “That’s not the word I would have used,” he replied, “But I think it works.” The conversation moved on. But he held onto the question and I’m glad he did.
It’s not the word I would have used, but I think truth works.
So: curiosity is the search for truth.
Patricia Hunt hopes to teach her students to find it among the stories masquerading as news. Writers Laura McBride and Tom King strive for some version of it in their own stories. So does Detective Sara Bertollini.
Which begs the question: if curiosity is truth seeking, what’s its future in a world that is less and less so inclined?
No wonder I’m out there making the case. Choose to seek truth.
Odinaka, self-described loving conscience and comedic sculptor.
Odinaka, younger, perhaps a little more deferential, a little less outspoken, proved to be the poet among them. Too much of him ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. You’ll have to listen to the uncut version to appreciate what others will have missed.
Odinaka may get less air time in the conversation on curiosity, comedy and observation, but he’s the one who lives on in my imagination.
Odinaka, literally “in the hands of God,” for me, now synonymous with truth.
Check out the Choose to be Curious shop!