Why t.c.?

September 25, 2007

After all, nobody knows me as T.C. Well, almost.

Back in a former life I decided to try improv. Comedy improv.

I’ll pause for a moment to give those who’ve know me in the corporate world as a pretty quiet, distinctly logical and level-headed, absolutely untheatrical Editorial/Creative Director time to get back into their chairs. Yes, I really did do improv. At the Groundlings.

Even back then it was, shall we say, a departure.

Sure, I was taking acting classes and had even been in a few plays (including performing the lead in Macbeth in front of 2 people, more on that sometime).

But I was always a sports guy, not an acting guy. A thinker, not a ham. I had only started acting to conquer my lifelong fear of being in front of people (which I never really did).

But in acting I always knew that my fear was manageable as long as I was 100% solid on my lines. Not knowing my lines would be like walking into the board room naked. Not knowing my lines would be like…IMPROV.

So I had to sign up for an improv class.

And as long as I was torturing myself I might as well violate my own personal Geneva Convention and make sure it was a comedy class. None of my acting classes had touched comedy. At least intentionally.

I began eying the Groundlings. Even back then in the 90s it was a pretty famous place, kind of like Second City West, having produced SNL’s Laraine Newman, Jon Lovitz, Julia Sweeney, Phil Hartman, and Paul Rubens, whose Pee Wee Herman character was created at the Groundlings. (The SNL pipeline continued with Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan, and many more.)

I imagine it was a bit like shopping around for a cemetery. You want to pick the right place, but you don’t really want to imagine yourself there.

It was so hard to get my head around doing this – performing without lines AND trying to be funny at the same time. I felt I needed something.

Like a new name.

Or if not exactly a new name (too theatrical), I could at least start using my initials. That would feel different enough. And the author of World’s End, one of my favorite recent novels at the time, was T.C. Boyle. Who was, and is, quite a character.

So, as I filled out the Groundlings application, I smiled at my own little inside joke as I wrote…

Name: T.C. Sullivan.

And when they asked me in the first class if that’s what I wanted to be called, I hesitated only briefly and said yes.

TC it was.

The Groundlings had 4 levels and you had to qualify to move from level to level. My recollection is that a fairly small percentage moves on, perhaps 15-20% from each class, so I didn’t expect to be T.C. too long.

But I made it out of level 1 (thanks Patrick) and then out of level 2 (thanks Mike). On to Level 3.

This was a new level of terror, something I hadn’t contemplated when I signed up. Level 3 was a Writing Lab.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like writing. Rather, that I did. I loved it. I admired writers more than anything. Which is why I always had so much trouble doing it. I had given myself the perfectionist’s, the romantic’s luxury of writer’s block. That would end in a hurry.

Teacher: OK guys, you’ve got 10 minutes to write a monologue and perform it. No exceptions. No excuses. Go.

Me: HO-LY SHIT!

But I did it. Again and again.

Some of it was pretty funny, but all of it was miraculous. Miraculous that it happened at all. Happened like that: on demand.

The end of excuses. The end of writer’s block. And the beginning of my career as a writer.

I was finally forced to get it: To write…you just wrote. Terrifyingly simple. But simple nevertheless.

At the end of the year we put on a show (part written, part improv) that was open to the public. Someone in the audience was there to see another performer, but she knew my brother from New York City. She called him after the show and said she thought she saw me.

My brother: My brother? Tom? In an improv show. Comedy?

His friend: Yeah, looked just like you. He was good.

My brother: You sure it was Tom?

His friend: Pretty sure. The program said T.C. Sullivan. Why didn’t you tell me your brother was funny?

That’s why I resurrected T.C. for this blog.

Not to be funny. But because I’ve been sitting on the blogging sidelines too long, thinking that it wasn’t for me. Thinking it wasn’t me. So maybe it’s T.C?

I’m hoping to reclaim that improv spirit. Not too much planning. Not too much stressing. Not too much editing (of topic ideas or words).

I don’t have the time to do it any other way (3 little kids, job commute, blah blah blah). But I also think one of reasons that many of the best blogs are popular is the improv spirit behind them.

Good bloggers put themselves out there on a regular basis. Observations. Opinions. Passions. They say stuff without getting all levels of their inner bureaucracy to edit and approve. They say YES (that’s a Groundlings technique I hope to focus on soon) to topics and GO. The resulting authenticity of expression is something increasingly in demand in this Post-Media age.

At least that’s what I’m thinking right now. More to come.

Thanks for sticking with me while I make this up.

 

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