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Interview with a Second City Comedian

Tuesday, January 22, 2020

In preparation for the first UNCW Presents show of 2020, The Office of The Arts has been digging into all things comedy. The Second City Conservatory, considered by most to be the Ivy League of comedy programs, produces some of the most recognizable and prolific comedy performers of our time. Names such as Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, and Bill Murray are all affiliated with The Second City. Graduates of the Conservatory often directly feed the cast of Saturday Night Live, among other comedic programming. 

On January 28th at 7:30 PM, UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium will host The Second City: Laughing for All the Wrong Reasons. Tickets are available for purchase online, at the ticket desk in Kenan Auditorium, or by calling (910) 962-3500. We hope to see you there!

Brooklin.pngAs we reached out to UNCW professors to promote our educational program, Linking Learning to the Arts, we discovered that one of our very own, Professor Brooklin Green, is a graduate of The Second City Conservatory. At UNCW she teaches Public Speaking and Performance of Literature, but her scope of involvement doesn’t end there. She is active within the comedy community, teaching workshops, organizing and participating in comedy festivals, and appearing on various TV shows.  Brooklin kindly agreed to be interviewed for our Behind the Curtain Blog. 

From the moment we began correspondence—coordinating meeting place, time, etc.— Brooklin had me laughing. Within the first five minutes of meeting her in person, my suspicions were confirmed:  she is quick-witted and down to earth, confident while slightly self-deprecating, and downright hilarious.  

Sitting down to coffee at Port City Java, Brooklin answered my questions with candid animation. 

What made you decide to pursue comedy?

I thought ‘well, what is the one thing I have most in common with my family?’ Every Sunday, no matter what side of the coin they were on—left, right, whatever— we always talked about what was on Saturday Night Live. So, Sunday dinner after church, everybody was doing their Will Ferrell impressions… Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman.  I wondered, ‘where is it these people come from?’ I looked it up and realized it was doable.

 So, you are a graduate of The Second City?

Yes, of the conservatory. I went to school for theatre, but I always had more fun with comedy because it took a lot more thought, and more process. What’s funny is that people don’t see comedians as having thought and process, but they are generally the most creative and brilliant people I’ve ever met… sometimes too much for their own good.

Could you tell me about the process of being accepted to the conservatory?

There were probably about 300-400 people who auditioned to get in. We took classes and they narrowed it down, choosing a certain number of people per class. A little over 100 made it. They reauditioned us and cut it down again to around 60 people-- roughly 3 per class. I was super thrilled to have made it through. It might be changing now, but there was never a huge number of females in the organization.

Do you know why that is?

Its comedy. There’s usually not a large number of females in comedy. There’s an old stigma to some degree that women aren’t funny. You’re supposed to be pretty and lay down and make babies, you know? And you don’t make jokes while doing that. I do though…side note. Maybe that's why I'm divorced. (laughs)

I’ve worked with people who’ve said, ‘the only reason you were chosen for that showcase or competition is because you were one of the only females.’ It’s one of those things that you kinda go ‘oh, ok, I’m sorry you see it that way, but… maybe I’m just funny.’ My kids don’t think so, because they’re teenagers! A lot of other people don’t either, and that’s fine too.

So, rejection must be a big part of this.

You definitely have to take rejection, and I’m good with that. I’m rejected on a regular basis.

Do you have tools that you use to deal with that?

(Laughs) Is this being recorded? Legal substances, or not? I’m joking! But that’s usually where comedians go, I hate to say it.

It’s not that it doesn’t suck, it’s just you get used to it and realize that people’s thoughts change. They are finicky. Half the time they don’t even mean the things they say. Rejection is a part of any type of performance. You’ve got to be able to take being chopped down so you can figure out what to do to make it better.

From personal experience and some reading, I understand that people have a lot of fear for the kinds of things that you’re teaching.

Absolutely. One of the things I start class off with is the question: ‘Where is the fear of public speaking ranked amongst fears?’ And they usually say around spiders or heights, and I tell them ‘it’s ranked right up there with death. Most of you would rather be six feet under than in this class right now.’  

That was one of the biggest things that The Second City taught me: the vulnerability aspect—to be able to put myself out there. One of my biggest goals in teaching is to get everyone to be vulnerable and to know that vulnerability is a strength.

What a job. How do you get them to do that?

Slowly! I always open my conferences with a little bit of stand up and humor and follow it with something interactive and simple. When you put something in the guise of a game, you’d be surprised by how many people will rise to the challenge.

So, games are a big tool?

Yes. I use games all the time. I’ve taught probably 400 games over the course of my life. For one game I have students continue to talk until I move away from them, and that’s one that usually gets them because they’re forced to talk when they don’t want to. That’s when you’re getting their actual voices, and they are learning to rely on the things that are coming out of their mouths. It frees up their stream of consciousness. That game will occasionally paralyze a student. I did have a student leave a class, and another pass out.

Essentially, I am trying to teach my students how to create and how to adapt.

When I did my thesis for communication and leadership, I did it on the effects of improvisation on interpersonal communication.

Could you tell me about that?

I was blessed to have great contacts from doing improv all these years— Matt Hovde (at the time he was head of the training center at The Second City) Bob Kulhan (who teaches at Duke and does international business and improv) Linda Hagan (who was one of the original spolin players) and Gina Trimarco (with Carolina Improv.) —I interviewed all these people about the research on interpersonal communication and whether improv training has helped them with that. It was really interesting because each one of them without being prompted stated something to the point of ‘Brooklin, you realize that improvisation, if you really study it, is not just a performance art technique. It’s a philosophy for life.’  If you think about it, being present and in the moment on a regular basis is what these games are trying to get everybody to do. It’s a practice of constantly keeping yourself centered and not thinking about the negative, accepting what’s been given you and making something out of it. This could be from a performance point of view—if you get a suggestion on stage, or it could be from a life point of view—if something good or bad happens in your life. Like in the case of medical issues, instead of denying it, saying ‘yes, and what’s next? Where are we going with this?’ Or if you have a great opportunity presented to you, instead of turning it down and being paralyzed, saying ‘yes what are we going to make out of this?’

It’s definitely a philosophy of life. You are supposed to not negate or deny what is handed to you because all that does is create paralysis and keep the scene from moving forward. Pushing back against life does the same thing. It keeps you from moving through it and learning whatever it is that life has to teach you. It changed my inner life as well as my performance life.

A friend of mine, Richard Levy who used to be a reverend at Unity of Wilmington, told me, ‘wherever you are right now is exactly where you’re supposed to be.’ He said there’s nothing you can do about the past, and nothing you can do about the future, other than stress and worry and waste energy. Where are you now?’

I thought ‘that’s exactly what improv is.’ Whether it’s a good place or a bad place, you can find a little bit of peace within it because you know there’s nothing you can do other than just take it in.

I believe my teachers and colleagues who told me: This is philosophy, this is life. You have to understand, if you really live it through, it’s a great thing.

Well, I’m rambling like an S.O.B… good coffee!

We’d like to extend a special thanks to Brooklin Green for taking the time to share her story and her humor. We are lucky to count her as one of our own at UNCW!

-Cara Marsicano