Fault Line

Janet Tashjian

Henry Holt and Co. BYR Paperbacks

Fault Line
Take my life ... please.
Laughter is one of the only things in life you can count on to bail you out of anything. Even when you're grief-stricken, shocked, or petrified, laughter can bring you back to that place deep inside that knows there's life beyond your pain. I remember the day I learned this in my bones: my uncle Danny had just died, and my mother had spent most of the morning sobbing at the kitchen table. I was maybe four at the time, feeling more helpless than usual. My father had brought up some extra chairs from the basement for all the relatives who would be coming in from out of town. I didn't notice when I sat on one that it was missing its cane seat. PLOP--I went right through the frame of the chair onto the floor. I didn't cry; I grinned--the shock of the fall was a welcome surprise from all the sadness. My mother burst into laughter at the sight of her little girl sprawled on the rug, smiling. Which of course made me fall through the chair again. And again. It was as if I hadwaved a magic wand. Before my very eyes, she was transformed from a broken-hearted woman back into good old Mom. Because of my actions, because of me. Humor was something thunderous from the heavens, with a power to change things in an instant.
Of course, bottling something as formidable as lightning is a tricky thing. Trickier still to do it night after night. Most of the time when I'm onstage, I feel like an alchemist: mixing a little bit of this story, a slice of that detail to come up with a fresh and humorous aha for the crowd to enjoy. But sometimes you fall flat, with a joke so inert you want to hang your coat on it. Those nights, it's back to the drawing board, pure and simple.
Here's what I want more than anything: not to headline the Improv, not to join the cast of SNL. (Okay, you nailed me. OF COURSE I WANT THOSE THINGS. I'd be lying if I said I didn't.) But more than those--much more--I want to learn how to trust my instincts. It's the part of comedy I haven't gotten a handle on yet, although I work on those skills all the time. Where I intuitively come up with some thought on the spot that binds me and the audience together for a brief moment--I get goose bumps just thinking about it. During each performance, there's some connection with the audience, but I'm talking about the cathartic,spontaneous kind. The search for that link keeps me writing jokes, keeps me auditioning, keeps me hoping lightning can strike.
I'm like Ben Franklin in a storm, holding a kite, a key, and ajar.
Waiting to connect.
Copyright © 2003 by Janet Tashjian