My friends, I have discovered the secret to comps study longevity.
“Lateral Thinking” is a concept introduced to me by the great John Basil when I was studying with him at the American Globe Theatre. John contended that it was the key to comedy. He had a hard time defining it, but gave us the following example to help understand it:
He once saw a televised game show akin to family feud in which contestants had to reply to a prompt with something which they think might be a popular answer. So for instance, if the category was “things you would take on an airplane”, the contestant could say “suitcase”, “neck pillow”, etc. There was a time component to this particular round so the contestant had to be the first to press his buzzer and answer.
The category was “things you sit on.” One contestant, feverish in his
pursuit of fame, fortune, and a cruise, instantaneously pressed his buzzer and shouted the first thing which came to his mind: “BROCCOLI!”
“Lateral Thinking” it turns out is a fairly recent development in logic. A phrase coined by Maltese physician Edward De Bono, it refers to the method of solving problems by way of creativity. Rather than a “vertical” approach (solving a problem step by step, with each step logically leading to the next) or a “horizontal” approach (throwing out idea upon idea without concern for implementation, a process often linked with imagination over logic), lateral thinking encourages ingenuity and attacking a problem via completely indirect means.
In terms of comedy, we can see how this appeals. Comedy, the axiom goes, comes from recognition and surprise. We laugh at something because we either recognize the situation which is being presented to us, or we are utterly surprised by the seemingly illogical response of the individuals/things within the situation (think of every Charlie Chaplin sketch ever).
In terms of comps, Lateral Thinking is key. I can spend several hours a day with my books, but when I recognize that I’ve hit brain-melt o’clock, it is time to implement something drastically different. Often, I can work for six to seven hours at a clip before I just can’t work anymore. At this point, I need to walk away from my computer and engage in a physical activity of some kind.
Because of this, my running schedule has been wonderfully regular, and I’m picking up some extra party tricks to add to my “fun, cool-looking, dangerous things that Danielle does because she was allegedly raised by circus gypsies”*. I’m learning to spin poi (…mostly so that I can light them on fire and add this to my list of fire tricks; I already breathe and eat fire so really, what else is there to do but weave the stuff around my body in complicated and death-defying ways?), and my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law have finally convinced me of the merits of the bull whip as a viable form of physical relaxation (Okay, I know what you’re thinking, and it probably has something to do with corsets and
dungeons, but please believe me when I tell you that bull whip is actually more of a martial art than a… ahem… personal art form). If you consider the fact that I have to bike about a half mile to get to anywhere where I can legally play with the whip (and where it’s safe to do so), that’s a fair amount of physical activity I can sneak into my day.
I’ve found that this serves as a combination stress-reliever, mood enhancer, and diet-booster. I’ve also found that if I take a break like this for about an hour, I can come back and sneak in another few hours of work.
So there you have it: physical activity saves brains, and always eat your vegetables.
Lateral thinking: not just for problem-solving logicians anymore.
*only partially true; we’re more like the Partridge Family meets a Renaissance Faire