March 2019 Newsletter: Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? Comedy and Intimacy

It was one of the best feelings in early parenthood. I don’t remember if the cat had done something silly or I had done some accidental slapstick comedy with a onesie, but something funny happened. I thought it was funny. And my under-two-year-old-at-the-time, Sebastian, thought it was funny too. I remember catching his eye, smiling and us both tumbling in to the giggles. We both laughed–at the same thing! And I felt an intense sense of connection and recognition. Even though Sebastian couldn’t speak in sentences yet, I knew what he was thinking and he knew what I was thinking. And it was hilarious.

I’d made Sebastian laugh many times before. Like most kids, he’d been laughing since he was around three months old. He’d chuckle from a silly sound, a gentle tickle, a wacky face, or one of his favorite games–Suddenly Close!–where you just zoom your face in to his face and exclaim, “Suddenly close!” (Try it out on the under two set– it kills!)

But there’s a difference between making someone laugh and sharing a laugh. Sharing a laugh creates a level of intimacy and connection that is powerful.

I was listening to a podcast recently about how humor works. A lot of people know about the set up and the punchline. Basically creating expectations with the set up and then thwarting them to comedic effect in the punchline. But what this speaker highlighted was how the comedian creates a thought inside the audience member’s head. And playing on that thought is what creates the comedy. The actual thing that’s funny cannot be spoken. In fact, explaining a joke is a sure way to kill what’s funny about it. So when you are sharing a laugh, you usually both have the same, unspoken idea in your head that is tickling you from the inside. This can be a very intimate experience whether you are watching a comedy show in a live audience, talking on the phone with a friend across the country or watching a classic movie who’s creators are long gone from this world. Humor creates an instant intimacy between parties.

This makes me think of Theory of Mind, the understanding that the thoughts in other people’s heads are different from your own. And as Alan Alda talks about in his book, improv training can help you build empathy and get in-sync with other people more quickly. With practice, you are thinking more of the same thoughts more of the time.

And it’s why a Sense of Humor (not the same as being funny) is among the top traits people look for in a partner. It’s that dream of the laughter bubbling up between two people without anyone saying a word–since you are both thinking the same thing. It’s a way to share joy and excitement. It’s the “Are you thinking what I’m thinking” moment.”

Not coincidentally, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking” has become one of my younger son Maxwell’s favorite phrases lately. It means he has an idea of something fun to do and is hoping you have the same thing in mind. He just got a locked journal and pens with invisible ink for his birthday from his Aunt Hilary. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asks to his brother with a smile. “Let’s write down our plan to sneak video games!”

It’s also why rehearsing and performing an improv show can be such an intimate bonding experience with Girls Girls Girls Improvised Musicals. When we are creating the funny together, it can feel like we are sharing one giant brain. And that kind of feels like you are genius. And we’re taking it the physical and emotional work to the next level with our show GGGLOW, opening April 6th at The Hideout. We are learning how to wrestle together, getting our minds and bodies in synch.

It’s also why improv works for Team Building. Laughing together helps bridge all kinds of gaps. It’s not that we’re on the same page because I am telling you what page to be on. We are just seeing the same thing the same way at the same time. I’m getting out of my head and in to yours. So when you have your company’s next retreat, off site, or conference… Are you thinking what I’m thinking??”

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.
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