I don’t get it. Today, I again admitted to my Kenyan students that I am a clueless American and I am trying hard to learn about and understand the Kenyan sense of humour. This time I shared the sad fact with 40 of my undergraduate students. They laughed at me when I admitted my struggles. I was being serious and they laughed at me. Tomorrow I will get back on the cross and admit that I have a malformed funny bone to the other 45 undergraduate students that I teach. I needed to come clean and admit the truth; “I am a humourless zombie.” HELP ME!
Kenyans laugh loudly and easily and regularly. They can also be piercingly silent. I have learned again and again that when they witness someone suffer a misfortune on stage, or someone have serious troubles, or someone make an error, that they will roar with laughter, while I ponder thoughtfully.
I wanted my actors and directors to create three great original theatre pieces this week. Last Friday as I introduced the assignment I instructed them to make work that was powerful, and strong, and complex, and smart, and I cautioned them about resorting to easy humour. I basically told them to stop being Kenyan, without realizing that’s what I was doing.
I had an epiphany over the weekend and today I apologized and challenged them to meet me half way. Bring your humour, bring the laughter that I always struggle to appreciate, and wrap it in work that is well rehearsed, with clear beginnings, middles, and ends, and we’ll all learn something.
My students have troubles with beginnings and endings; life is one long ‘middle’. If they work on that, clear theatrical story telling, then I will try to laugh when tragedy befalls a character. The first time someone is attacked and hurt in a theatre piece I will roar with laughter the loudest.
Together, we will make something new and fresh, a little wiser, and a little funnier.
Look at these faces in rehearsal today. Joy is everywhere. I look forward to seeing their showcase on Friday. I hope I laugh at the right moments.