The Comedian’s Way at Kripalu.
I had been hearing about the Kripalu yoga place for years. The first time, a friend made fun of its name: “It’s called Kripalu, but I call it ‘cripple you‘, because that’s what that place does. Nobody can actually bend like that!” I ended up ordering the catalog, which decorated various pieces of household furniture: the kitchen table, the dining room table, the space in between couch cushions. I never had time, I said, even though the workshops looked intriguing: reach my soul’s potential, create unshakeable peace, connect with my lady mojo…wait —what was that last one?
Then I came across a Kripalu comedy-themed yoga workshop. I do comedy. I do yoga. So I emailed the instructors, offering my services as, eh, a faculty assistant. And they took me up on my offer. I was going!
And really, all of this happened just in time. The year so far had been absolute shit and crippling. My husband had surgery and my father died suddenly. As a comedian, I tried to see the comedy in these tragedies; after all, there is such a fine line, right? And see it I did. My husband, a tall, thin, handsome (I don’t mean to brag, but he’s a hottie) 35 year old man, had dealt with the severe symptoms of celiac disease for years. When people ask what surgery he was recovering from, I quickly reply, “Butthole surgery.” They don’t ask any questions after that. To me, the whole situation and resulting interactions are hilarious and painfully miserable in just about equal amounts.
And my father’s sudden and awful death was almost like he was handing me dark comedy on a platter. Before he left this world he had lost the full use of his hands, resulting in an inability to deal with zippers and buttons. Ever the innovator, he solved this new issue by wearing kilts that velcroed at the waist. That way, he could dress himself, go to the powder room alone…bask in the fresh air. I once asked him why he started wearing kilts, and he answered, “My dear girl, you should know! This fashionable garb not only allows for a modicum of independence; it also shows off my legs.” Not bad for a gentleman advanced in his years, eh?
The headlines in the paper read: Burn victim said his kilt caught on fire. How awful and hilarious is that? A quote from the article reads: “According to a police report, Arthur Ciampa told a firefighter on the way to the hospital that his kilt caught on fire while he was “playing” with the fire.” And you thought it couldn’t get any more hilariously awful, did you?! Although I did have beef with how this article portrays my father as a demented old fool, the truth is that this joke was among my father’s last words. Anytime I asked him what he was doing, he always answered like that. “Playing” at the office (he was a dentist for over 50 years), “futzing around” under the sink (he did all the plumbing fixes in our ancient victorian home), “amusing himself” in the yard (he mixed his own cement to match the color in the old cracked driveway). That day, he was doing yard-work, using an outdoor chimenea to burn some leaves. The chimenea broke and the fire spread to his kilt. So, he wasn’t actually ‘playing with fire’, although he would swear it – or rather, he did swear it, on his deathbed.
In the months leading up to my weekend at Kripalu, I zombied my way through the days, fantasizing about the sweet moment when I would once again be able to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. I would tell everyone I had plans, then change into my extra large flannel cupcake-themed pajamas, scavenge the kitchen for whatever was edible (a bag of chocolate chips was just as preferable as a bag of chocolate chip cookies), and take to my bed to detach from reality in five hour Netflix spree —increments, watching whole seasons of mediocre to downright bad TV series.
And then I got to go to Kripalu. At first, honestly, it was weird – a total change in schedule. The most jarring part of being at Kripalu was not being able to do my nightly routine of retreating from the world. I shared a dorm room, equipped with four sets of bunk beds with seven other women, at least two of whom mentioned horribly missing their cat. I couldn’t stay in bed for hours on end. I had to follow the yoga center’s schedule, which meant eating only at certain times, sleeping only at certain times, being part of the workshop group at certain times. It was like a really relaxing, fancy, wonderful jail.
My roommates were up at 7 a.m. every day. By 8 a.m., they started in with their stage whispers: “Wow, it’s getting late—can you believe it’s 8 a.m.?” I would reluctantly open one eye to see I was the only one still in bed. The rest of them were awake, dressed, breakfast—eaten, solving the world’s problems. They regarded my lazy ass with polite disgust, wondering aloud at how anyone could skip 6:30 a.m. yoga on such a gorgeous morning. I was the outcast at fancy jail.
I got used to the schedule fast, though, for a few reasons. First, each meal was a gourmet tour of delicious health. At one lunch, I literally ate two whole salads. Annoying to read that, right? But the salads were so good, a person who prefers chocolate chip cookies in bed could eat two of them.
Second, it was the yoga. I had to squeeze it in at certain times. The first day, it was before dinner. The second day it was before lunch and as for the third day? I am proud to announce it was before breakfast. Each day I became a better yogini. And by better I mean one that salutes the sun when it’s still up.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, I got used to the new schedule because of the workshop itself: “The Comedian’s Way: A Creative Path for Writers, Performers, and Other Humans.” I had to be in that room at certain times, and I looked forward to each time. The people in the workshop were hilarious, real and open. They weren’t all of those things right away. Some were shy at first, some very serious. But as the weekend progressed, the instructors gave each person feedback so specific to their voice that they couldn’t help but transform into hilariously insightful people.
One woman’s mother had passed just days before this workshop. As the weekend progressed, she talked about their unique, and not always perfect relationship more candidly, and this caused me to think about my relationship with my father, also far from perfect. (Although we did have an excellent sense of humor, and great hair, in common.)
One young man, when asked to explain himself in a few words, was at a loss for specifics. “I’m a lot of things. I’m a multi–faceted man,” he said with total confidence. We all laughed because it couldn’t be truer. We’re all many things. How can we define ourselves in one or two words? We’re always changing; always something new and different from last week, yesterday, a minute ago. Recognizing this was liberating. Yesterday I was onstage slinging jokes, today I’m sad about things and don’t want to do anything, tomorrow–who knows? Maybe I’ll take up origami.
Anything is possible; the sky’s the limit.
Another man, a reporter in a third world country, sought advice on how to use comedy to write more truth about what was happening in the country. “If I can say what’s really going on as this country tries to rebuild itself, but do it in a comedic way–well, I think that’s one way to get the truth out there.” His immediate goal was a beautiful reminder of why I love comedy, and how I seek to use it: to think about the tough stuff; the real stuff, talk about it, and hopefully, in that way, to deal with it.
I watched these people apply basic principles of comedy to their various goals, and I tried to do the same. Sure, what I was facing was awful. But guess what? So was what they were facing. And if they could laugh a little at it, see it from a slightly tweaked angle, so could I.
When I got home from Kripalu, I didn’t watch any Netflix for 2 weeks. Eventually my intense love for TV made me give in, but only in two-hour increments instead of five. And my outlook is different. The people in that workshop opened up about what was going on in their lives, and over the course of only a few days, made that stuff funny. I had stuff too. It didn’t seem funny to me for months. But those people, responding in a more light way to life’s difficult relationships, tragedies, illnesses, unexpected turns—they all inspired me to do the same. And little by little, I felt a little less crippled. So my buddy who came up with its nickname had it backward. If anything it should be called “un—cripple you”.
But I’ll still never get up for 6:30 a.m. yoga.
July 10 – 15, 2011 Beth Lapides and Greg Miller of Un-Cabaret return to Kripalu for a week-long workshop, professional entertainers, entertaining professionals, speakers, seekers and I-never-thought-I’d-have-the-guts-to-get-onstagers. More info here.
Maria Ciampa is a yoga teacher who also does stand up comedy, mainly for the confused look people get on their faces when they read that. A yogini for 10 years, yoga helps Maria hold her ground while telling jokes to 3 drunks at midnight in nightclubs. A former competitive runner, Maria is happy that yoga is slowly helping her to be able to sit comfortably cross legged like a normal human. Maria’s classes offer smart sequencing to keep all levels injury-free, breath cues, and sometimes, jokes. In her life as a stand up comedian, Maria is a co-founder of the Women in Comedy Festival, performs at comedy festivals and colleges all over the U.S., and can be seen in TV commercials like Bertucci’s, and TV shows like Chronicle, which affirms her love for TV. Visit Maria at her weekly show, Stand up Sundays, at ImprovBoston in Cambridge, MA, and at www.mariaciampa.com.