I’m officially fat. In the last two years I’ve moved from slender to chubby to fat. Being fat necessarily makes me a worse improviser. With the exceptions of Chris Farley and Melissa McCarthy, fat people are incapable of performing to their full potential because of their physical limitations. In a scene, I’m not only less likely to attempt a physical choice, but physical choices occur to me less frequently.
There’s an improviser I know. His name is Jason. Jason is the kind of guy I enjoy pretending to hate. He’s handsome as hell, a practicing attorney, has a talented and beautiful fiancé, regularly wears unwrinkled clothes, likes Howard Stern, is self-deprecating, and he’s a physical beast when he’s improvising.
We’re in a show together called JTS Brown. The show opens with a shared monologue, with each cast member taking a portion. The first improviser gets to decide who the character is. In rehearsal two weeks ago, Jason went first. The suggestion was something like “brass.” And with zero hesitance Jason leapt into a marching band leader. He started furiously kicking his legs up into the air and pumping his arms. AND HE WAS TALKING THE ENTIRE TIME. He was moving and talking. To a fat guy, this is still a novel concept.
I stood on the sidelines in sheer dread. In a couple of minutes it would be my turn, and I’d probably have to adopt this high-kicking, arm-flailing character. I prayed that someone ahead of me in line would drop the kicking routine so that I could avoid doing it. No such luck. And I acquitted myself admirably during those 20 seconds. I kicked, I talked, and I moved across the stage. When I was done I was exhausted, of course, and stayed out of the next couple of scenes while I gathered myself.
And there you have it: proof that being overweight (and/or out of shape) prevents you from being the best improviser possible. Not only were my kicks a bit pathetic to watch, but (a) I was scared to do it and (b) too drained to immediately leap into the following scene.
Thank god I’m funny. Thank god I can make silly faces, do silly voices, and say silly things on cue. Because if I had to rely on my physicality I’d be doomed. Yet I’m operating at only a portion of my potential. I’m floating somewhere in the 50% range, because half of good improv is what you say, and the other half is what you do.
This bums me out, and is threatening to inspire me back into an exercise obsession. Because I sometimes fantasize about all the fantastic shows I could do if my movement wasn’t so hamstrung. I could be the next Stephen Kearin, who moves with effortless clarity. I could dance. I could jump onto Mia’s back without filing an insurance claim afterward. I could play fully.
For the Jasons out there—you fit, acrobatic yoga teachers and whatnot—allow me to share with you some of the worries we Fat Guy Improvisers encounter:
In the summer in Austin, everybody sweats a lot. But we fat guys sweat in the winter. We sweat in the swimming pool. We sweat from getting up off the couch. And so, when we do something mildly aerobic like an improv show, our sweat kicks into high gear. We’re drenched.
Tim Orr, one-third of the group I cannot seem to stop writing about, 3 For All, told our workshop:
If you’re not drenched in sweat at the end of the show, you probably didn’t work as hard as you should’ve.
I’m paraphrasing. But I remember thinking, “Dude, I could sweat in a show that took place exclusively on a bench.”
I’m fortunate though. Unlike some of my beefy brethren, I don’t sweat from everywhere at all times. There are some poor bastards out there who sweat excessively—guys whose shirts are noticeably damp and whose handshakes leave you dripping.
But still, being sweaty in a show makes me self-conscious. And self-consciousness is the instant death of good improv.
Skinny people, let me debunk a myth you might believe about fat people and their pants. You may think that chubby folks more easily hold up their pants—ya know, with the pressure from their bellies.
Wrong! Myth debunked!
In fact, fat men spend about 10-15% of their waking hours dedicated to keeping their pants up and comfortable. It’s a never-ending siege. The gut, instead of pressing against the jeans and locking them in place, actually apply a downward force that must be corrected with constant upward yankings. I yank a dozen times a day, easy.
And so I’m not eager to bend over onstage, or to get down on the ground—out of fear that anyone behind me, or god forbid the audience, should see the pale yellow canyon I call my ass. Even calling it an “ass” is generous. My butt is what you’d expect from a 33-year-old software trainer: non-existent, concave. While fighting to stay up against my belly, my pants can’t even rely on a protruding butt to provide relief. Nope. It’s just a big slippery slope.
It’s hard for a fat guy to play a snake.
This said, improv tends to erase our shortcomings, if only momentarily. At least for those 30 minutes onstage we tend to forget our worries, anxieties, and limitations. So it’s not uncommon to see a fat improviser attempt any number of physical moves. If the scene calls for me to jump off a chair, I’m probably going to jump off that chair (and then berate my troupemate after the show for endowing me with that bullshit move). And again, Chris Farley dancing with Patrick Swayze on SNL remains in the Top 5 Funniest Things I Ever Saw.
So fat can be funny, but fat cannot make for better improv; it makes for worse.