Anne Libera: Empower Through Comedy
Anne Libera is an author, writer, comedy professor and researcher. She created the Comedy Studies program at Columbia College Chicago.
Ms. Libera worked for over 32 years at The Second City, the legendary improv theater where Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Key and Peele, and Stephen Colbert first cut their teeth. Public speaker for Recode, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, as a Director, writer, and professor, Anne is also one of the creators of the Second Science Project, a partnership between the Second City and the Chicago Booth Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago, studying through improvisation how individuals can improve their behavior by learning how to risk, how to fail, how to listen, and how to take a chance—at being human.
"Thinking about 'how to be funny' is about empowering other people, my students, my children, to go forth and do better work, to do it in the right, healthy way for themselves."
— Anne Libera
Photo: Phil Dembinski
Anne Libera (guest): The work that I do, thinking about how to be funny, thinking about how to improvise. Is about empowering other people, empowering my students, empowering my children to go forth and do better work. And to do it in the right way and in the healthy way, that's what's important, if I look back at my life and continue to look back my life I'm thinking about the skills I empowered other people to take forward with them. I love to see the success of my students as human beings and as Artists and, that's hugely what is more important to me.
Simone Salis (host): I am Simone Salis and this The Hoomanist with today's guest Anne Libera. Anne Libera is the creator of the First College Degree in Comedy and Director of the Comedy Studies Program at Columbia College, Chicago. Overseeing the BA in Comedy Writing and Performance, she has worked for over 32 years at The Second City, the Legendary Improv Theater where Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Key & Peele, and Stephen Colbert first cut their teeth. Public speaker for Recode the Aspen ideas festival and the Stanford Graduate School of Business as a Director, Writer, and Professor, Miss Libera is also one of the creators of the second science project, a partnership between The Second City and the Chicago Booth Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago. Studying through improvisation how individuals can improve their behavior by learning how to risk, how to fail, how to listen and how to take a chance at being human, and 32 years at The Second City, how was your first day there?
A. Libera: So, my very first day at Second City I was… we're doing surveys they were doing cold calling of people in the Northwest Suburbs to see if we should open a theater in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago which by the way the answer that was no. But we did it anyway.
S. Salis: The Second City of Schaumburg?
A. Libera: It was. It was Second City of Rolling Meadows.
S. Salis: There you go.
A. Libera: There you go and, ironically, I directed the show that closed in The Second City, so my very first-day calling people in the Northwest Suburb zip codes to find out whether they were interested in coming to Second City, and I had not seen a show at Second City yet.
S. Salis: Did you know what Improv was?
A. Libera: Yeah, I saw I knew about improvisation.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Libera: I had done improvisation at Northwestern.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Libera: And in fact had worked with, I was part of a you know one of those classic you're right out of college theater companies where you start thinking you're going to become the next Steppenwolf.
S. Salis: Of course.
A. Libera: Called the Journeyman Theater Ensemble, and we developed a terrible show through improvisation that got just unbelievably bad notices all the Stephen Colbert was in it…
S. Salis: Okay, so…
A. Libera: It was a really good company Kelly Overbee who is an Actress who is actually just here in Chicago Shakes playing Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stewart and she's going to be on Broadway in Mary Paige Marlow. Was also in that company I mean there's some really very; very talented people doing terrible work.
S. Salis: Just the wrong configuration of elements?
A. Libera: Yes, and also being you know one and one…
S. Salis: A student, sure…
A. Libera: And doing all the things that not playing to your strengths and all those things.
S. Salis: What did you want back then?
A. Libera: I thought I was going to be a very serious Theater Director.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Libera: I was a performer, and I grew up as a performer. I was a child actor I did a musical theater, and I was in the Sound of Music as Brigitta, and I did all these sorts of classic things. Kind of thinking that I was an Actor and that you know there's a thing that you do sometimes in retrospect, I think I did really want to be an Actor. I thought that if I did something that was a little bit harder for me then if I failed at it …
S. Salis: Was that comedy?
A. Libera: Yeah, well I don't think anybody ever thought that I was going to be a comedian, in fact, if you talked to anyone I grew up with I'm the last person that you would say, “ oh she's going to be the one who works in comedy”. But it is a little bit of like I think that I was afraid to take those risks, and rather than that, I sort of fell into this world where people didn't necessarily have the same skills that I did in terms of being analytical. I think I really am a Director truthfully, and at my very base in terms of my artistic functioning, and it is what I've done at The Second City. But there had been very little analysis of process, people sort of kept their processes very tightly closed and didn't think about it, and I was interested in doing that. And that sort of led me through a lot of my work of being someone who was just sort of able to talk about the work in a way that hadn't been talked about there before.
S. Salis: Oh, you grew up in Minnesota, and you were a child Actor. Was your mom a child actors' mom?
A. Libera: Not at all, oh no. My Father was an Economics and Statistics Professor.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Libera: Possibly one of the most awkward humans everyone…
S. Salis: Why?
A. Libera: He just was very introverted, he was very self-conscious, and was working really hard not to be. But he was also, you know he's interestingly a really early feminist, a very early social justice person my parents met at a Dorothy Day society event, my mother was a Nurse, neither of my parents are funny at all.
S. Salis: You had to compensate.
A. Libera: And my sister is also married to a Second City comedian, and she's also very funny, and their moans were like, how did this happen?
S. Salis: Yeah, I see a pattern there.
A. Libera: So, interesting my parents were not, I had like my younger brother and sister are twins, my brother was born afterward it did not breathe right away. He had cerebral palsy, that really became the focus for my mother, and both of my parents though very much sort of let me let us do what we wanted to do, so neither were they stage parents at all and in fact that's probably in many ways why I had as much success as a child actor as I did was that my parents were cool. I don't know that I thought of myself as an actor I think I'm more enjoyed the sort okay backstage…
S. Salis: Okay, was fascinated to you?
A. Libera: Yeah.
S. Salis: Okay, well you're also a Writer and a Director.
A. Libera: Yeah.
S. Salis: Did you have any interest in storytelling or writing when you were a child?
A. Libera: Oh, yeah oh no that's exactly what I mean I was an actor but what I was really interested in is storytelling I have boxes and boxes of journals from when I was 10, and lots and lots of stories that are basically copies of the stories that I read. I was a huge reader I was one of those kids who walked to school with a book in front of you while you're walking…
S. Salis: Yeah, and then you walk on a pole?
A. Libera: Yes exactly.
S. Salis: That kind of crazy stuff.
A. Libera: Yeah.
S. Salis: And when did you start to acknowledge this analytical interest for the first time in dissecting? You talked a little bit about College and realizing that you wanted to analyze and share the process, and that and eventually this what you're doing now as an adult too, yeah to an incredible extent but did you acknowledge that consciously at some point? Like you were like, this is what my brain finds interesting.
A. Libera: As I went through College I certainly knew that the places where I had success were the analytical places, were the places where I was looking at something and saying, “ hey how does this work, what are the triggers that make this work “? And I think we know one of my downfalls as a Theatrical Director was that I was more interested in sort of the underpinnings of the thing that existed rather than imposing my big vision on something. I probably think that; that's the right way to work that your job well certainly the job of The Second City director is to follow the follower, right. Your job is not to impose your vision, in fact, the opposite, your job is to support the vision of the actors and of the playwright. And that's I think I personally believe that's the role of the Director but it's not a showy way, it's not something that's going to get you, people aren't going to jump up and down and say, “oh look at the thing you did”.
S. Salis: 9:18: This analytical process, how did it grow? Let's say you're the first person again and then I'm aware of I think it is the first worldwide…
A. Libera: There's a couple of other there's one…
S. Salis: Comedy Increase?
A. Libera: Salford University in Manchester.
S. Salis: Yeah.
A. Libera: Has a degree in many writing performances, there was a two-year Associate's Degree in Canada.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Libera: But yeah I kind of created this thing that was certainly the first in the United States, by the way, it was the first in the United States…
S. Salis: Yeah…
A. Libera: And at Emerson, they like to pretend they were the first but they were not the first.
S. Salis: I think that's easily verified I mean I think it's easily verifiable that you just take a look at the dates that their classes started and when and [10:03 inaudible], and that's it. But that said, how did he grow into you this passion? When did you realize this is my thing, I want to not dissect, analyze comedy? What was your path from getting into the box office at The Second City? And then arriving here I know it's 30 years, it's a lot.
A. Libera: Well, you know my first passion was improvisation, what I became really interested in as a Director at The Second City, so I was I was an improvisation performer. I was the head of the training center, and I was a Director and what I was really interested in was taking whether the time was kind of an oral tradition, making and formalizing. It was partially just kind of a bossy thing of feeling like well this exists, it should get written down that we can share this information, that this information doesn't belong to people, it belongs as information. And so a lot of it was kind of just like nobody else is doing this, somebody's got to do this, and again from that perspective of there's this enormous wealth of information out there about improvisation and how to do improvisation better. They were books like truth and comedy but that again that told you what happened but didn't necessarily tell you why it happened, that didn't go deeper than the explanation of like here are three rules and here's how to play the game.
S. Salis: It's like observing the effects of physics laws without having the laws.
A. Libera: Yes.
S. Salis: Like I know that an item has been falling and it fell but how, so you started to observe that at The Second City I was like I want to unfold, and not just unfold first like jotting down the rules that were oral tradition and then starting to dissect them more and more.
A. Libera: That was really the basis of my first book which was The Second City Almanac of Improvisation…
S. Salis: 2004 by [12:17 inaudible]…
A. Libera: Northwestern University Press but that was really that was about, that was about really digging into improvisation and part of my I think my deep goal as a human artist in the world is connected to this idea of how do I teach people these particular skills in places where or areas where there's not a lot of teaching where people tend to think it's magic…
S. Salis: Yeah the first time you watch an improv show, first how the hell did they do that? How they improvise a song?
A. Libera: Yeah, and comedy too, right, people think the number of times through my journey as someone who sort of been developing comedy curriculum, the number of times somebody has said to me, well you can't teach comedy, right. People are either funny or they're not, the fact of the matter is that of course, you can teach comedy, then there's this horrible… it's not horrible I love you be white but there's the quote about the frog that dissecting comedy…
S. Salis: Is dissecting a frog.
A. Libera: A frog.
S. Salis: [13:30 inaudible]
A. Libera: Nobody cares very much if the frog dies of it, and which by the way means that every third book about dissecting comedy has a frog on its cover, the fact that's it so besides the point. The point is and you know this because you were my student…
S. Salis: If I studied well.
A. Libera: The point of studying comedy, the point of teaching comedy is to get better at creating it, it's not to make any individual joke funny again. You study comedy so that you can be a better comedy creator, and on a really deep level that's the base of what I want to do is figure out in improvisation that's my home, right. Second City improvisation and Second City in my home. What are the deep levels that I can take this apart so that I can teach it better? So, that this is not about my ego and me being the, you know there's a lot of comedy and improv teachers who are who are gurus, right, you have to spend some time in my aura. And by just being around me you will discover the great truths on a really deep level what matters to me, is to find those things that are not connected to me being the wise guru for the mountain. But instead find the things that I can give to you the student, you know so that you can make this thing happen yourself. But it's not magic it's not something that somebody has and that you can't have, again I'm not funny but I'm funnier just by the way the title of my new… I'm working on a book…
S. Salis: Okay,
A. Libera: That called Call Conair because I really do believe that, I believe that there are mechanisms, there are things that you can do. Practices that you can have, understanding that you can can follow that can make you I don't know that it's ever going to make somebody who has no sense of humor.
S. Salis: Funny or…
A. Libera: So, again beside the point also I will never be able to hit a ball with a bat. I have no… I had coordination with a lot of practice I could get better at that. But it's not again at the point I'm not talented at baseball I'm talented at the theater arts.
S. Salis: 16:21: I am Simone Salis, and this The Hoomanist with today guests Anne Libera, Comedy Writer, Director and Researcher, you can't teach life experience that's this amazing part, right. That's the original point of view in…
A. Libera: Well, yes and no, right. You can teach people to honor their life experience.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Libera: One of the ways in which I personally became aware of how I could be funny was actually in working with Michael Gelman, working in one of his process workshops, and having that sort of aha moment that the life experience I have. The running tape that goes through my brain when I'm going to be late and the lies I start to make up about why I was late whether or not I say them. All that's funny to people…
S. Salis: The rehearsal part…
A. Libera: Like this is going to make…but that's funny to people but the detail that comes from my own upbringing, my own… so my sister and I were growing up. We were horrible to my brother, my brother as I said my brother has cerebral palsy, he couldn't walk he sort of when he was younger he sort of hopped around on four legs. And we would… these are the days before remotes, we would want to see our television program…
S. Salis: Oh, no.
A. Libera: And we would take the channel changer, and we would move it to a high shelf…
S. Salis: Oh, God.
A. Libera: So, that he couldn’t get it or worse; or worse he had these braces that he wore when he went to school, and he would come home my mom would be still be at work, and we were supposed to take them off of him. So, that… and we would like argue about who would take the braces off [18:10 cross talking]
S. Salis: While he was there.
A. Libera: I know, yes, this is what I’m saying is that detail that you know how horrible small children can be to their siblings, their handicapped siblings is funny to other people. And that was the sort of aha moment that I had which was that, a, I didn't have to work so hard, I didn't have to create something finished I just had to be authentic and be myself. And that my life experience was enough…
S. Salis: And share honestly.
A. Libera: Yeah, and so to me you just said is that life experience, everybody has it, you know my little comedy theory and is a theory of comedy as opposed to a theory of humor. So, if a humor theory is about why people laugh, right, why people are amused by anything? A comedy theory is a theory of created comedy, what elements do we use when we build a thing to have other people laugh? And my theory around that is that they're three elements, the first element is truth or recognition, the thing that I understand. And by the way, recognition can get a laugh all on its own, you know we've all been in a comedy show where somebody said a reference to a television show we all know. And we all laugh, oh I know that.
S. Salis: Yeah, it's a second of nostalgia or it's common knowledge that gets acknowledge like in between brains.
A. Libera: So, but there's, and there's our loss of recognition we laugh when somebody moves in a way that we sort of recognize kinesthetically, right.
S. Salis: Okay
A. Libera: I mean to me that's and I you're talking to Adrienne a while but to me, there's a lot of clowns that's about… that sort of recognition of a sort of body recognition of emotion or movement, right. So, it's not just, its truth but its recognition, it's this element that has to be you can't laugh at a joke unless you understand it, and the jokes that make us laugh the hardest are the ones have this kind of deep reservoir of oh, wow I know that yeah
S. Salis: Even in between human beings there was a piece from George Carlin which was the little things that make us human, and he was all about like looking at the water well now I'm going to dissect the frog but not even…
A. Libera: Well go ahead this is my job…
S. Salis: Yes.
A. Libera: Join me in this, by the way, I think it's also true that all comedians dissect the frog.
S. Salis: Yeah.
A. Libera: They pretend, oh no; no, it ruins it, is bullshit…
S. Salis: I remember and I don't want to lose your train of thought of the three elements but I remember I was fascinated when I was like 12 or 13, we're never realized that comedians and stand up comedians didn't just like walk on stage and they were funny like magic, that's was a magic moment to me, it was like, oh that’s I said they did the same monologue over and over, and over and over, and over and over again.
A. Libera: Oh, yeah, and tightened it and took out a half second of a breath, put in an extra two syllables I mean it is in so much ways it's not magic, it's math, right. Which is ironic for all of us…
S. Salis: Like music.
A. Libera: It is, absolutely in fact…
S. Salis: Rhythm.
A. Libera: Rhythm I think that there are sensual elements to comedy that actually mirror what's happening in music very; very direct. All of those things are the things that make us human right, so one aspect of comedy is this aspect of truth, this aspect of recognition. The second piece is pain, that all comedy contains some aspect of and it can be a lot of different kinds of pain, it can be literal pain as in slapstick, right. Where somebody falls slips on a banana peel and falls in their ass, it can be cognitive dissonance, two things that are together that shouldn't be but somehow they make sense together. I mean a lot of comedy is about that moment of like something is wrong, right, it can be tension but you know this idea that there's this… that something's about to happen, you know which is the connection by the way between horror and comedy. That idea of this waiting for a thing that's about to explode, so there's all these different kinds of pain, emotional pain, physical pain, mental pain and then there's this recognition and so but if it's just those two things then it's not comedy, right.
S. Salis: It can be a horror, it can be a tragedy.
A. Libera: I said comedy is the third piece, it's a context that allows us to see this truth in pain not internally and emotionally but intellectually and from a little bit of a distance.
S. Salis: Tillery's detachment.
A. Libera: Yeah, and that is what allows us to laugh at it versus to cry, and you know of course there's all that stuff about you know tears of a clown.
S. Salis: Sure.
A. Libera: But actually and you know my own personal theory is that one of the things, there's a couple of things that happen to people who go through trauma, one of which is that we become… people who go through trauma become very aware of behavior, right. You see people who go through trauma see a lot, and they learn to pay attention to a lot of things, like you…
S. Salis: I'm saying like oh I know yeah but…
A. Libera: But this is the second condition, right, so that's number one and then the second thing is that people who go through trauma develop, not everybody goes to trauma. But a lot of people go through trauma develop as a coping skill, psychological distance on their trauma, and it's that distance the combination of those two things, right. This is wariness of detail and this psychological distance that allows us to laugh at something versus cried, you know and anybody who's ever been through the death of a family member or a friend knows that there are moments of tremendous sadness. They're also followed by moments of tremendous laughter that gallows humor, right, the awareness that like, oh my god this is the worst possible thing that could ever happen and we laugh in those moments because it gives us psychological space. Ultimately it's those three things that truth and pain and distance that a comedian is manipulating, right like almost like faders on a mixing board…
S. Salis: Soda and okay.
A. Libera: Right, so that…. and there's a bunch of other things that develop distance, exaggeration, patterns, and repetition also creates distance, it makes it feel like a game rather than… rather it gives us this sense of it's not really happening, it's play.
S. Salis: It’s a loop that that can either end up how I know it, can surprise me but either way, I'm going to have an outcome at some point…
A. Libera: Yes
S. Salis: And so it gives you also recognition through that.
A. Libera: Yeah, I mean and all these things kind of crossover but the fact is ultimate to me like if you as a comedian know that, first of all, and this goes back to what you said point of view. First of all, it allows you to start to find the things that can generate comedy, so that if you can really just start making lists of things from your life that are painful to you. I think details from your life, weird details for your life, right but those become the raw material of comedy, and then you can ask yourself how do I create distance? How do I create psychological distance, temporal distance, distance through exaggeration? To take those things and make them not painful but funny, so there's that and then secondly you can then use those three elements again as part of that iterative process. Wow, the reason the audience isn't laughing is because they don't recognize this, right so how do we give them the information that they need to know in order to recognize it?
S. Salis: Of all the things you said I want to see how improv intersects the study that you're doing with the University of Chicago Booth is about a behavioral…
A. Libera: Yes.
S. Salis: Science and what interests me is how does improv intersect with those elements? Because it sounds like that it might give you the tools to generate enough distance from yourself and from what you're doing, so you can do I'm just thinking self-debugging. Like you can look at yourself understand the flaw and knowing that you failed how you can improve in an iteration both with yourself and if you are a comedian. Is that what improv does and how it intersects the sides…?
A. Libera: This is really interesting is that there's so many intersections between improvisation behavioral science and between improvisation and between comedy and behavioral science. Well before we started working with the folks at Chicago Booth I had read Danny Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow and was just like running around saying to everyone I knew including my husband. This is brilliant, this is all the things we do because what improvisation does is it gives you exercises that allow you to recreate recognizable human behavior on stage. That at its essence is what actually both Spolin and John Stone were looking to do with their exercises, and it allows… it's the deep work that is all the things that improvisation can do because improvisation helps you create recognizable human behavior.
It can then allow you to practice human behaviors that you want to have, it can help people with autism, practice behaviors that are not natural to them. It can help Scientists who are interested in human behavior to study the way people behave in certain situations and then vice versa and this is what the second science project is all about. It's this sort of twofold piece of we can use improvisational exercises to recreate human behaviors that scientists can study, we can also then use the insights of behavioral science and create improvisation exercises that help people practice being aware of the insights, of the biases and mistakes we make as human beings. And to practice recognizing them and to practice them maybe making a different choice…
S. Salis: 29:59: Okay, that's the self-debugging part.
A. Libera: Yes, exactly, so it is both. It's that moment of like oh this is something that I assumed was right and it's not…
S. Salis: And yeah.
A. Libera: And recognizing this is a behavioral science thing, recognizing that our… that we make up stories about things that we justify… we justify where we are. Generally, this is actually an improv game or like an early spoil improv game but this was the game I played as a small child, called statches. Where basically one child like spins another one around and throws them someplace you end up…
S. Salis: In a position.
A. Libera: In a position and then you have to create a character…
S. Salis: To justify…
A. Libera: To justify [30:44 cross talking] but we will literally do that as humans, we will find ourselves in a position and then our brain will justify why we got to that position. So, our brains don't actually, there's a fair amount of evidence right now by the way that there's very little subconscious, like there's very little deep we are all constantly improvising.
S. Salis: 31:20: I am Simone Salis and this is Hoomanist, you can listen to every episode on your favorite podcast app or with a full transcript available on The Hoomanist.org. Today's guest is Anne Libera creator of the first higher education curriculum in comedy studies.
The Second City has a hilarious show but it looks to me that this is the actual treasure that is hidden under the stage…
A. Libera: You know that's absolutely you know when I was the Artistic Director for of The Second City training centers, people would come up to me, people go through the A3 programs, so people who maybe thought they were going to be Comedians but really you know took classes because their Mom said they should. And they would come to me and say you know it's amazing I have been through these classes for a year, and I don't know that I'd become funnier but I am better at my job. I have warmer relationships with my friends, and I don't know what it is I did, so it wasn't even like we were doing this deep intentional work that we are trying to do now. That just by virtue of coming and improvising once a week for three hours with other human beings that those practices, they internalized a bunch of practices that showed up in their everyday lives.
And that is, and now imagine if we do it intentionally which is part of what we're doing with second Science project also Kelly and I are working with a group called Caring Across Generations…
S. Salis: What is it about?
A. Libera: Developing a program that we just did at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, a six-week program called Improvisation for Caregivers.
S. Salis: Okay
A. Libera: So, there's two folds to this, this is for people who are working with people with Alzheimer's and Dementia, family members who take care of people. There's two parts to it, the first part is to be with a group of people and to have that connection that improvisation gives you that keeps them from feeling alone, that keeps them out of depression. But it also gives them skills that they can take to their interactions with people with Alzheimer's and Dementia, it's a bunch of classic improvisation things are really useful when you're working with people with Alzheimer's. One of which is not asking questions, which is a sort of classic improv rule that you use to keep something going. Practicing not asking questions is actually, and not asking questions is actually a really important way of someone with multi-verse of Dementia. When you ask them a question, you've sort of put them in a place of being unsure and scared and instead saying we're going to do this, this is what's happening is the way you should talk to them.
S. Salis: Okay like keeps focus on that way?
A. Libera: Yeah.
S. Salis: All of these is going to be in your upcoming book?
A. Libera: Oh, I don't know…
S. Salis: You don’t know?
A. Libera: Look at the book itself is taking a lot of the framework that I created for the comedy major because one of the big questions was what does it mean to teach comedy? How do you teach comedy? And the three philosophies that we talked about in the comedy major which is ensemble, and ensemble not as any specific people but ensemble is a practice, so that's one the second one is risk. And that you must risk to get to the next step of comedy, and then the third thing is completion which is that iteration aspect. That if you're committing you've got to get your idea to a certain place in order to then test it in front of an audience, and iterate it that you can't just have a good idea that you have to make it into a thing, which by the way is how I'm currently writing my book. Jen Ellison was making fun of me, she's like you are nano rhyming yourself, that…
S. Salis: Surely not piss off of the…
A. Libera: Yeah.
S. Salis: That worked?
A. Libera: Right, so that’s all the things but it's also the, you know the sort of organizing principle people tend to think comedy is just being jokes or do useable comedy. And that comedy is jokes, it's physical comedy but it's also character jokes don't travel across countries or time. But it seems like characters do, it seems like there are basic human characters that we've all recognized…
S. Salis: From you know, well you taught us but I come from the country of comedy and laughter…
A. Libera: Yes, what's great about commedia is that you see it in early Greek comedy, and you see it in today's sitcoms and you don't just see it in America or in Italy but you also see it in China…
S. Salis: Or Japan where the comedy is completely different.
A. Libera: Yes, there's something I think unique in comedy or at the very least it's true in other things but is common in almost all comedy, which is the sense of a brain. Another human brain behind the joke that what makes it funny to us is not the character, is the observation of the character.
S. Salis: The thought.
A. Libera: You Simone saw and then decided to show to me, so there's a lot of that stuff and it's not written down anywhere, and nobody else has written it and I…
S. Salis: And we are looking forward to it.
A. Libera: I looked down and said I better write it before a bunch of other people goes, oh we thought about it.
S. Salis: Lots of people come to The Second City also because it's the place where Tina Fey and all these names are, and that's great but when you go there you don't necessarily know that you're going to improve on to yourself and that's might be one of the important things that you get out of it. But you expect that you might become famous that you want to go to SNL, it's not that true anymore necessarily but you definitely probably know those students, and also those adults that turn into people that were students for 15 years or trying to audition, again and again, these kind of things. What do you think do you after all these years teaching and studying and seeing students go by and evolve as people, do you see any skill that makes performers happy throughout the years? Independently of rich satisfactory point with fame and all those expectations.
A. Libera: Well the thing I always say and it's really true, is it the people I know who are successful and that includes the famous people but it also includes a lot of people who aren't famous. They all did one thing, and what that thing is; is that they intentionally looked around at the world and said what's the next thing that's going to excite me, that's going to challenge me? Who are the people who are going to make me be better and excite me and challenge me? And they went and they worked on those things and with those people, and while they were doing that they were with them and intentionally doing the work with those people. And then when that thing was over they looked around and said, what's the next thing that's going to excite me, and it's going to challenge me?
And it's going to make me be better, and maybe be a little bit hard and who are the people who are going to excite me and challenge me and I'm going to make me want to be better and work a little harder. And then they did that, the people I know who genuinely did that found themselves someplace they want to be and it sometimes was Saturday Night Live and it sometimes was something completely separate from theater or improvisation or comedy. They found themselves working in a new way, in a new place, and those are the people who have something that belongs to them because they're not worried about being a thing. You know they sort of like, I want to be a movie star, I want to be on Saturday Night Live, I want to be at Second City, you can only ever do, right and not be. And if you keep doing the things that excite you and challenge you and make you want to get up in the morning, then you're going to find yourself someplace that makes sense for you. And that's so, look at me, right, and I’m still doing it, I’m in my 50’s and I’m not done. I’m doing this whole weird behavioral science thing that is completely separate from the comedy thing, but you keep moving, and that is the successful, that is the successful career, right. And certainly the successful life…
S. Salis: A straightforward.
A. Libera: Yeah.
S. Salis: Are you a spiritual person?
A. Libera: I was raised Catholic but I'm not a practicing Catholic but I do have and have had a meditation practice for, wow okay easily 25 years off and on.
S. Salis : 25 years, so I'm going to try to guess that you did ™.
A. Libera: No; no it's my basic sort of John Kabat-Zinn mindfulness meditation.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Libera: I'm interested in Buddhism but not specifically a practicing Buddhist, there's a fellow by the Philip Moffat who has a book called Dancing with Life that I read at like sort of a critical juncture…
S. Salis: A moment of your life.
A. Libera: Yeah, and they were a number of points in that; that sort of resonated with me. So, I believe in something greater than us mostly I believe that there is something that is so much larger than us that we can't comprehend it and that if in fact there is a spirit that of course, we wouldn't be able to comprehend it.
S. Salis: You're logical in this one, what is your meditation practice like?
A. Libera: Sometimes good and sometimes bad like I'm trying to be a consistent meditator, I’m not…
S. Salis: What do you do?
A. Libera: I sit and I do the breath practice, and I do a bunch of different things sometimes you know. I allow myself to not be a perfect meditator I try to do it every day for at least 20 minutes, and then beyond that sometimes it is you know the Vipassana you know just breath. Sometimes I'll do like a loving-kindness meditation, there's a period of time where I did a lot of that sometimes, I count and I don't have a mantra I don't have any of that. It's sort of the really…
S. Salis: Not judging you basis.
A. Libera: No; no it's being in the moment with myself.
S. Salis: That's your goal, that's the reason why you do it. How did it work for you so far in 25 years? I'm going to, and like you say they like of maybe inconsistent and more consistent practice throughout different moments of your life. But what has it given to you the choice of being consistent with this practice?
A. Libera: Okay, well I have a long experience with depression.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Libera: Almost my entire adult life just sometimes much greater depression and sometimes much less, sometimes with medication. I am less depressed, I am more focused, I am less likely to spin out into some negative thing when I'm meditating and it is as simple as that. So, it I don't know that I've gotten better but I do now I say to my students you know treat yourself like a baby, say to yourself you know what does Anne need? Well what Anne needs to do in the mornings, she has to get up and work out for 20 minutes, and like not a good workout, like just move and then she has to sit for 20 minutes.
S. Salis: Thank you for sharing this from an Artist point of view because I tell you this, I think the two biggest things that I recognize in my life helped me with mood and are definitely like meditation. Which I'm totally inconsistent with and physical exercise whatever might work for you, solid eight hours of sleep like those three things are the most invaluable thing in being like not being in a spin of negative thoughts and…
A. Libera: 100% and they all work together, often on my lifetime I've had a various physical practice, and about a year ago May I was feeling not connected, I was feeling not like my brain was working and I really attached my brain. I really, you know like when I'm not on my… when my brain isn't working the way I want it to do, it feels the worst.
And so I said I'm going to start, and I started exercising and said I have to exercise at least 20 minutes at least four days a week, and it doesn't have to be good, it doesn't you know literally I just get up and do it. And here's the thing that it makes me meditate more.
S. Salis: Yeah
A. Libera: Then it helps me sleep better, it does all three of those things happen in tandem, and I have been doing it, that practice for a little over a year now. You can look at my little Fitbit but it makes a huge… it makes an enormous difference, those three things and they feed each other and vice versa, right when you're not. When you're not meditating, and you're not working out, and you're not sleeping then you also start to drink more and you start to do all the other you know and you start to gossip more you do all the other bad.
S. Salis: It is just, yes it's just you know it's a destructive spiral slightly, it degrades the quality of the interactions and also I start to pick up fights, verbal.
A. Libera: You didn’t do those fights in your brain, right where something happens and you have this huge reactivity.
S. Salis: Yeah.
A. Libera: Of where you are going into fight mode even if the person is like on the other end of the, you know.
S. Salis: What matters to you? Emily Brett now has achieved a lot and you constantly change and take a look at the next thing, let's say that at some point that the journey has the same destination for everyone. So, what is the thing to you; you want to be able to look back…? And and not going to be like judgmental on it but let me like that was a good investment of my time, I'm happy that I focused on this thing, I'm happy that I worked out of this thing for myself during this journey.
A. Libera: Well, I think at its base you know I have kids and my children are part of this, right but I also have students, and my students are part of that, I'm tearing up. The work that I do thinking about how to be funny, thinking about how to improvise is about empowering other people, empowering my student, empowering my children to go forth. And do better work, and to do it in the right way, and in the healthy way, and ultimately as I sort of look back on my life that's what's important, right. What's important is supporting that generation in a way that's not about me I said that earlier, right but it's really important. It's not about, oh I had an deliberate and blah; blah; blah, no I don't care if I look back at my life and continue to look back my life I'm thinking about the skills I empowered other people to take forward with them. And that's hugely; hugely what is important to me, that's what I love about the work I do, I love to see the success of my students as human beings and as Artists. And that I have given them tools that allow them to do that in a way that is useful to them.
S. Salis: She teaches how to be funny, trusts me [48:05 cross talking] hey I came out of those classes and I feel really happy that I had the chance to talk with you today.
A. Libera: Thank you.
S. Salis: Thank you. Anne Libera, today on The Hoomanist.