Friday, May 8, 2015

Writing The TJ & Dave Book (#10): The Hard Work of Juggling Clouds

By Pam Victor

["Writing The TJ & Dave Book" is the series plucked from the journal I kept while writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. You should buy the book here. (I mean, if you want to.) 

I suppose if every part of the process of writing this book was effortless and encrusted with the gold flecks of rubbing elbows with SNL players in private back room bars in Greenwich Village then there would be something lacking, right? You need a little adversity to make it a good story. Some tears. Some rejection to overcome. A whole chunk of worry and self-doubt. In that case, welcome to the rollercoaster of doing the real pedal-to-the-metal work of writing the book with Mr. Pasquesi and Mr. Jagodowski.

How I wish I could have known then what I know now about writing a book with TJ and Dave, what draws them out, what to expect from them as far as interpersonal communication goes, how to get the work I needed without bugging the shit out of them, how to better edit the work once it was on paper, how to write fluidly in three voices, how to make them laugh.

Making David Pasquesi laugh feels like winning an award to me. 

Those laughs were the ups. And there were some downs. To nobody's surprise, the work of writing a book was, well, work. Hard, sometimes terribly frustrating work. Writing a book with two other people is harder still. And writing about how to make art is like juggling clouds. It took
me many moons to become adept at funneling their complex concepts through my brain and onto the page. Eventually, I discovered that I could read over what we'd written, listen to what changes they wanted to make and what they really wanted to say, and after a momentary pause to let the sand settle, I could channel the proper phrasing out my fingertips and onto the screen. (I'm not sure how to put that skill on my resumé.)

Work. Laughter. Rejection. Publishing bullshit. Hard work. Long hours. Juggling clouds. But by August, 2013, it seemed like we were about three-quarters of the way through the book, I think. Maybe a wee be more - it was hard to tell since we didn't know when it was going to be complete. (It's over when the lights go out, right?) 

For the most part, we had settled into meeting once a week for two hours – almost always on a Wednesday, which was their preference because they said it put them in a focused state of mind for their show that night. Then I would spend the next week working full-time on the book, all alone in my home office in Western Massachusetts. Sometimes during our Wednesday meetings, I would interview them as fodder for new chapters, either by meeting all together on Google Docs or meeting through phone conference calls that I would then transcribe before wrangling it all into a semi-cohesive and hopefully coherent chapter. Other times, we would edit existing chapters in the manuscript online while we chatted via a three-way phone call. It was a long spell of productive, often fun work, and always, ALWAYS intellectually stimulating. Those guys are so fucking smart. Between trying to keep up with them, grappling to understand their concepts well enough to write about it, and managing communication skills over the barrier of the virtual world and the thousand-some miles distance, I always hung up from our Wednesday meetings thoroughly exhausted and spent; but nevertheless humming contentedly deep in my improv bones with the pleasure of sharing the minds, humor, and company of TJ and David for a couple hours every week. 

Many Wednesday nights as it neared 11pm central time - which was what time they played in 2013 - I would look at the clock and give a little sigh of longing, sad to not be sitting in the pleasantly beer- and adrenaline-scented iO Cabaret space, waiting with the other expectant audience members for TJ and Dave to take the stage. There is something different about the energy in the room for a TJ & Dave show. More excited chatter than a typical improv show. More nervous energy. More of a feeling of potential greatness hanging in heady swags around the small, tightly packed tables. I know I sound like a total improv-whore when I say this, but Wednesdays at 10:55pm in the iO Cabaret Theatre in 2013 is what the gates of heaven might feel like to me. 

Often, I felt sorry for myself that I wasn't there to enjoy the show that night. But then I'd remember that I had spent two hours in a meeting where Dave tried (often successfully) to make me laugh…while I got one or two successful chuckles out of him, though more often a smile I could hear across the phone lines (which was fine by me too). During one spring Wednesday meeting, he struck exactly the right spot on my funnybone's sweet spot when he started speaking alternately in his own voice and in a high-pitched silly voice, as if he were speaking to a puppet he wore on his hand. I spent most of that meeting in fits of schoolgirl giggles. I know. I know. I'm such an easy and cheap laugh sometimes. I guess you had to be there. But hours later, I was still giggling to myself at David Pasquesi's puppet voice.

I guess given the option of seeing TJ and Dave with the masses and getting my own private show every week, I’d choose …


Can I have both?

If you're interested in reading more of my slurry, check out

Here's one about practicing non-judgment called
The Great Spirit of "Fuck It!"

Or perhaps you'd like to read interviews with great minds in improvisation in the Geeking Out with... series here?


Pam Victor is the co-author of the newly released "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" along with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series and The Zen of Improv series as well as mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on the blog "My Nephew is a Poodle."  Pam is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show.   Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" and "Mindfulness Through Laughter" in Western Massachusetts.

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