Every Tuesday for the next month, we will feature a guest blog and video from New Orleans-based comedian CJ Hunt’s #CharacterADay series, a project of solo comedy videos that depicts a different fictional character.
Today features Gerald’s Girlfriend:
This is a character I created for the #CharacterADay Project. Invented on the road, this jankily-costumed character has no wig and little more than a scarf and a cardigan to identify her. However, she’s one of my favorite characters because she reminds me that the comedian’s primary job is to notice.
Faced with the pressure of creating a new character every day, I would spend most of my time half-present, desperately attempting to dream up funny things. What about a woman who doesn’t realize the man she just slept with is Santa Claus? Or what about a tough-looking gang leader who really only cares about his gang having cute trendy outfits? I would dream up these ridiculous characters for hours. Endless lists of outlandish dissonance.
One day, I was panicking and running through lists of characters in my head. As I walked, I noticed a woman next to me yelling at her husband for walking too fast ahead of her. There was something funny about how upset she was – about having such urgency for something so insignificant. Later that evening, the image of this flustered woman stuck in my head far better than any of the characters I had been trying so hard to create. It felt unfair. All that listing, daydreaming, and drafting, only to discover that the best character was sitting right there in plain sight!? And that’s when it clicked: great comedians are obsessive observers. They watch the world around them and make a habit of noticing the tiny particularities of that world.
In his masterful “Several Short Sentences on Writing,” Verlyn Klinkenborg muses-
“Whatever you notice. Behavior, thought, overheard words, light, resemblance, emotion, tonality, particularity, whatever you find in the habit of your perceptions, anything no matter how minute…is particular to you, and is a part of what gets construed as ‘style’”
He’s right. Those of us who try to make art and tell stories would be well-served to spend more time paying attention to the little things that catch our eye. What do we notice about what we notice? What do those things tell us about our style and our unique take on the world? Personally, I’m learning that I love smiling frustrations and disagreements – a parent calmly attempting to diffuse his child’s department store tantrum, a first date that is clearly not going well. These things catch my eye. And I’m sure that, if I pay enough attention to them, they have something to tell me about what kind of comedian I am becoming. Perhaps the best characters aren’t invented; they are discovered. Perhaps they are right in front of you – picking their nose in traffic, smuggling extra Splendas into their pockets at lunch, listening to their voicemails out out loud – just waiting. To be noticed.