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This doesn’t mean Vinn thinks stand-up is without its challenges. “Everybody gets stuck in a rut, where you can’t think of anything new. You’re supposed to be able to tell the same story over and over again, like it just happened, and you’re just now telling it. After a while, you get tired of the same jokes. Comics always have to write.” Vinn aspires to Louis C.K.’s practice of writing a new hour’s worth of comedy every year. “He writes five minutes a month, and by the end of the year, he has a whole hour.”

Dharni, like Thompson, sees stand-up as a path to both catharsis and connection. “You get to really delve into yourself. The kind of stand-up I like is baring it all, baring your soul, talking about deep, dark shit, and tying it into the human experience.”

One of the most memorable open-mic moments for Dharni was when, intending to perform pre-written jokes, he found himself improvising instead. It was two years ago, after a “nasty” breakup. Dharni was waiting to go onstage at the open mic at Winstons in Ocean Beach, when a sudden need to work through his emotions led to a change in plans for the set.

“I had just gotten off the phone with my ex,” he recalls. “I got onstage, and I don’t even remember what I said. It was a really cool breakthrough moment. I started talking about what the conversation was about. I was so pissed. My eyes were closed — I was just ranting into the microphone. I forgot I was even onstage, forgot I was even talking. It was like I was thinking in my head.”

When he finished, Dharni remembers, “I opened my eyes, and people were laughing, like, losing their shit, and I wasn’t even trying to be funny.” From that experience, he derived a joke he’s recited countless times since. “When my ex was being weird about something, she’d make you feel like you were being weird. She’d say, ‘Why are you being weird right now?,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m not,’ and she’d say, ‘No, you’re totally being weird,’ and then that would make me weird.” When he delivers this joke, Dharni says, “I try to break it down. I go into this whole explanation onstage, and I lose my breath trying to explain it. Then I take a deep breath and say, ‘That’s how you know a girl isn’t for you — when your body can’t even breathe because you’re trying that hard to understand or explain something. It’s not worth it at that point.”

Dharni is rare in that he both performs and regularly associates with comedians from both improv and stand-up, despite how separate the two communities can be. Thompson, on the other hand, says she knows more musicians, primarily because open mics tend to incorporate “comedy and music.”

“I love stand-up,” Dharni says, “because you really get to express your point of view — you get to better know yourself. With improv, you get to pop into a character and be someone else, and you never know what’s going to happen next. So, basically, I learn from one, and I surprise myself in the other.”

“Stand-up gets right to the joke,” Kramer says. “It’s set-up, punch line. Improv stretches it out. You take a comic situation and add a curlicue to it.” The improv veteran compares the two forms to different sports. “Ours tends to be scary to a lot of people. You hit that stage, and you don’t know the first thing you’re going to say. You have to trust in your teammates. With stand-up, you’ve got your set memorized and just hope it’s good enough.”

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Comments

rosebath July 17, 2013 @ 2:16 p.m.

Great article! This is one step further towards educating San Diego about different types of comedy. If you are interested in learning improv, there are plenty of place to do so! As mentioned, there's National Comedy Theatre, as well as now Sidestage Improv and Finest City Improv. The latter two focus on long-form improv which is mentioned in the article. It goes beyond the kind of improv you see on Whose Line.

Improv teaches you a great philosophy to live by in which you learn that collaboration can open the doors of creativity. Additionally, you see that a mistake can become a gift which helps one to tear down the defenses that we create to not "look bad" in front of others.

Besides that, it's a lot of fun! It's a great way to meet people. The improv community keeps growing in San Diego, and it's a fantastic place to connect with creative, fun, and unique types of people.

If you are looking for a new hobby or to mix things up, definitely check out a show (all of the above theaters have FB pages) or take a class! I did six years ago, and haven't looked back sense.

Great to see this article out and about!

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Barbarella Fokos July 18, 2013 @ 9:18 a.m.

I'm seriously thinking about taking a class sometime. It just sounds like a fun way to hone some life skills and keep your wits up. Also, there are very, very few things in life I take seriously. ;)

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DeVerna Rogers July 17, 2013 @ 5:19 p.m.

Great article! LifePlay Productions sounds like the kind of thing I would have loved when I was a kid.

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Barbarella Fokos July 18, 2013 @ 9:19 a.m.

Thank you! And yes, I kind of wish I'd had that kind of anti-bully support in my arsenal as a kid. They do a lot of other things over there at LifePlay that give kids real coping mechanisms for, well, life.

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chenmingi July 21, 2013 @ 9:37 a.m.

I like the article! Some of the funniest bits I've seen have been in improv comedy, not stand-up. LIke you point out, the stand-up comics are more rehearsed and so improv skills can help them if (or when?) they start to bomb. When many stand-up types get a little off, they get obviously desperate and then start dropping f-bombs or go for low humor. Yawn. Sure, that gets a little laugh, and then can get pitiful and a little sad. That's when I get up and leave. With improv, their being in the moment can be deeply funny and have me laughing about their bits months or years later. They don't seem to see the audience as hecklers out to get them, and instead thrive on connecting with their audience. Great work on sharing some fun stuff.

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AshleyMcGuire July 22, 2013 @ 10:05 p.m.

Thanks so much for a fantastic article that shows the many sides of improv! I love a great improv show (no way to see the same thing twice!), and I really admire how aware of self, others, and relationships improvisers must be to be successful. We at LifePlay are so grateful to Barbarella for her interest in the innovative work we're doing with improv and creating peace in our little neck of the woods.

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frodoblk July 23, 2013 @ 2:40 p.m.

I was feeling forlorn that there was no Barbarella, then I realized there was. Awesome. Girl you a very versatile and you made the innards of comedy interesting. Makes me want to see some shows and take a class. Thank you, thank you, thank you

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Barbarella Fokos July 23, 2013 @ 3:06 p.m.

Aww, thank you! Yes, my column is now at every other week, but I'll try to fill in the gaps wherever I can. And I appreciate your reading, and your support. :)

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dwbat Dec. 29, 2013 @ 12:52 p.m.

A couple of blocks from my place in North Park there's an improv training center and theatre. Has anyone checked it out yet? If so, somebody post a review!

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