Am I An Idiot or an Asshole?

Many times before I get on stage for an improv show, I ask myself that question. This is the story of why I am both of those things. I have had to start and restart telling this story like 8 times now, so maybe I'll just get to the meat of it (no I won't).

First off, and the one thing I'd like to point out immediately, I never touched Lisa. I think she wanted me to at some point, but I didn't and I'm glad I didn't. 

I only had one improv victory in college. As I auditioned for Mission: Improvable, I had one scene where all the other auditioners laughed and clapped really hard, more than anyone else. One girl came up after the audition and said "you are definitely getting in."

I looked her straight in the eye and said "No. I'm definitely not."

I was a shy kid (and remain a shy adult) through much of my school years. I don't recall exactly how I discovered improv (possibly through the repeats of the British version of Whose Line), but I remember early on thinking just how fascinating it was. I remember playing a short-form game in grade school Drama class where two kids would pretend to pick up a hitchhiker and the hitchhiker would have a quirky personality and everyone in the car would take on that personality. And I remember it just being amazing when I entered the car as a Mad-Scientist's-assistant-like character, and I said "keep your eye on the road" and the person driving (Eliza, who deserves credit) pretended to pop out her eye and throw it out the window. HI-LARIOUS. 

I founded my high school improv troupe in my senior year. Most of the kids in my high school knew me as the kid who, on Halloween in Freshman year, had dressed up like a panda and not spoken all day "because pandas can't talk." Comedy was really the only way I knew how to communicate with other people, and my brand of comedy tended to be fairly bizarre. I also assumed (often incorrectly) that people didn't like me because I was weird.

But, needless to say, when I went to college (after taking a year off after high school) I knew ahead of time that I was going to join my local improv club. I attended UMass Amherst, whose short-form team Mission: Improvable was very good for a college team, and some people may know the founders or alumni of the troupe, as many of them have gone on to bigger and better improv things. I hadn't known all that when I applied to the school, and I didn't know that after seeing them the first two times I did. The first time was in a dining hall on campus the night College started. The room was packed and they bombed. It happens, we all know that. Then they opened for Louis Black in my campus' arena. They did one game of pan-left-pan-right. I remember turning to my roommate and saying "this is like watching a suicide." They left immediately after that game, and Louis Black came out and made fun of the audience for a good long time.

This was all within the first 2 months of me being on campus. I was mostly distracted by school and girls to go to the weekly shows that Mission held on campus, and seeing as I had already known that they were awful (I fuck up a lot in this story, so hold on to your hats), I didn't see much point in going. Until I met Cozi Orlen.

Cozi lived a few floors away from me, and I had seen him around. I don't know what it was that prompted him to come up to me one day and ask me "hey, do you want to be in a sketch comedy troupe?", but I have many reasons to be eternally grateful that he did (not least of which because I met my wife through that troupe). 

In addition to feeding my sketch comedy love, Cozi brought me to Open Air, which was the improv troupe anyone could join. Beginners and veterans played together, doing all sorts of fun little theater games. When I joined, it was run by Josh Michel, a person who is very very dear to me. In the same way that I feel makes Bill Chott someone special, Josh truly believed (believes) in improv for everyone. I didn't know the circumstances behind why, and I don't recall them well enough to elaborate now, but he'd already had some kind of falling out with the improvisers on campus. Josh is a great improviser (check him out in ImprovBoston's family show), and helped mold some more great improvisers on campus. He's a strong personality with a distinct point of view (you know, the kind of person you like improvising with). But enough gushing, let's get to the fuckups.

I started going to Mission shows. They're good, smart, funny people, and it became clear pretty quickly that I'd made a mistake not trying out earlier. By this time, the sketch group I was in with Cozi, Don't Make A Scene (a name I loathe to this day) was already getting rolling. We had just taken on a few new members, including some very pretty girls. One of those girls I would end up dating in a few short weeks. The other was Lisa. 

My impression of Lisa was that she was unafraid, but not particularly funny. She was cute and forward, and I was very much a wilting flower. I liked Viv. Viv and I shared interests. And besides, Lisa was already involved with someone, kinda. She told us how she was seeing Steve, one of the members of Mission. Well, not seeing. Sleeping with. But that she wanted to be his girlfriend. Here's where I fuck up.

She asks me "will you help me make Steve jealous so that he'll ask me to be his girlfriend?"

And rather than saying "No, that sounds like a terrible idea" or "why don't you just tell him you like him?" like I KNEW I SHOULD...

To quote Mike Birbiglia, "I know. I'm in the future also."

Here, I want to talk briefly about Steve. Up until this point, I had literally known nothing about Steve other than he was in Mission: Improvable. I had assumed that Steve was a player. That women loved him. He was on the team, how could they not? He was (is) a decently attractive man. He was funny. What's not to like? Sometime later I stumbled upon his deadjournal. (Yeah, that used to be a thing. Oh, the internet.) I didn't read too closely, but there was that feeling of seeing someone's pain in writing that hit so close to home. That he and I shared this thing, but that I could never tell him, because at that point he already hated me.

Now I need to tell you about me.

If you go rooting around in the past on my blog you'll find a post where I talk about how I was NOT raped, but that I know now I experienced a sexual trauma. This was roughly 4 years before the events in our current story. By this time, I have not kissed a girl in a year. The last girl who had kissed me was lightly insane (and is frankly a decent human being I shouldn't be saying bad things about), and I knew I had to break things off with her before we had sex (though I was very tempted, and nearly did). But at this time, I am healing, and moving forward in my sexual life but at what I considered a snails pace. I was in College! And there was a girl taking interest in me, even if in a weird way. It was flattering!

...I said, "okay. What do you want me to do?"

I didn't even really like her, though she was attractive. I liked Viv, who was punk rock and read books and did interesting things. But I wasn't very sure of myself, and even when Viv was giving off all the YES YOU AND ME signals, I was tentative. She was too cool. She couldn't Actually Like Me. (Which is the feeling I had throughout all when we dated, which, trust me, can definitely be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Boys, if you're dating someone, they probably Actually Like You. I hope you learn that the easy way.) 

I don't even really remember what happened with Lisa. I know she had been kinda interested in me, but I know she found out I hadn't had sex in many years and that turned her off from me. I know that things with Steve imploded. I have no idea what she told him we had done. I think all I actually did was sit near her at some comedy shows. Viv and I had already hit it off, and within a few weeks we were dating. She's still cool (though she has made some... odd dating choices. Some of those dudes, yecchhh. But hey, those guys didn't worry about Actual Liking, so good for them.) BUT I DIGRESS.

After that, I noticed a vibe at some of the Mission shows. I quickly didn't feel welcome. I didn't even know what had happened, but I knew it was my fault.

At one of the secret shows I fucked up again (though this one I would do again). The Mission: Improvable regular shows were always Family Friendly: no cursing or lewd stuff. Once a year, they would have a secret show (that wasn't very secret) where they went all-out raunchy. The Aristocrats (the film about the raunchy joke) had just come out that year. I yelled out during the show that they should perform it. (I should point out that the secret show was full of shit like people yelling out, so I wasn't alone in being a bad audience member). My suggestion was quickly dismissed by the whole team... but then Tyler Wolff-Ormes, who now does good improv work in Chicago, pointed me out and called me unoriginal, unfunny, and a whole slew of other shit for about 15 seconds. Pointing. Yelling. Loudly. In front of all the people I called friends. I left with my friend Dave and cried in his car on the way home.

Let me defend Tyler here for a second. Tyler is very funny, and he was defending a (perceived) slight against a friend. He (kind of) got it wrong, but I don't think he did the wrong thing. But boy it sucked. I didn't go to a lot of Mission shows after that. 

I still went to Open Air, and went to IWA (Improv With Attitude) shows (Josh was in that, and I remember telling him after his last show how much he had helped me. After graduation, Josh brought me into the sketch group MOSAIC that I loved every bit of. I owe a lot to him, and that's why he gets two paragraphs of gushing about him). I got dumped by Viv (rightly). I auditioned for Mission. People I knew got in (people who rightly deserved it). I had that one AWESOME audition. I remember looking that girl in the eyes, telling her I wouldn't get in, and then going home and waiting by the phone for my callback until midnight, hoping that I was wrong. It was so disappointing. 

After I left college I didn't do any improv in Boston.

I hated improv. I hated it because it was a funny place I wasn't welcome in.

I kept with Sketch because I loved comedy still. And I did theatre. A student film or two. But no improv that wasn't ad-libbing within a sketch. MOSAIC was a godsend. It always felt like a safe place. The best people in the world worked on MOSAIC. All of those people always made me feel safe to be me, I could gush about all of them, not just Josh Michel (but if any of you are reading this and want me to gush, just send me a message and I'll tell you how great you are.) I will say I was nervous to even write for MOSAIC. The few sketches I did write were pretty well received. I think after the whole thing I was nervous to even create anything...

After leaving Boston for Los Angeles, I knew that having some improv training out here would look good on an acting resume. Cozi was out here and doing it. I joined his team, which became Sweet Dalai Lama. I started classes at UCB. I remembered how enjoyable it was. And after being here for almost two years, it's really helped me again. I just shot a pilot as the lead character, and I've gone on tour with my improv team, with whom we have a weekly show... It's been pretty good to me.

I still get nervous around the people I think of as the cool kids of improv. In real life, I think I have said less then 10 words to Jonny Svarzbein (outside of scenes), but I can tell that he's a nice guy (and I'm happy to just send him requests in Candy Crush Saga). If Gian Molina wasn't my coach and so outgoing, I probably would've just been terrified of him. Bill Chott is fucking awesome because he's got that special thing that reminds you that improv is for everyone, including you.

I still get nervous about going to shows. For the most part, I assume people here don't mind my presence. Hell, you probably don't even notice it. I can be silently, cruelly, painfully shy at times. I'm trying to not allow myself to be. It's because at one point in my life, I fell into a category. One of two. Maybe both. Either way... 

Anyway, thanks for reading. Sometimes my brain... enh, you probably get it. You're the kind of person that accepts a premise and then thinks ahead. Good on you.

Justus Perry

(P.S. I used to see Steve around Boston all the time. I could never look him in the eyes. I didn't know how to tell him I'm sorry. That I had fucked up. Every once in a while I see him post something on facebook to mutual friends. He seems happy, and I hope so. He deserves it. Anyway, I'm sorry for being an asshole. Or an idiot. Or both.)