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I HEARD GOD LAUGHING: Local comedy troupe holds benefit for victims in Orlando

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Mark Basquill waxes on laughter to overcome tragedy.

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The Comically Impaired—Wilmington’s “most retired” comedy troupe—will perform a show to benefit victims of the Orlando massacre on Friday, June 24, at the Cape Fear Playhouse on Castle Street, which is managed by Big Dawg Productions. Members of the troupe have performed off and on locally for over 20 years. Its core members are active in theatre, film and music in a staggering array of individual projects. The group occasionally does benefits to assist individuals in need and always has an eye in providing at least a small dose of healing laughter.

With “yuuugge” numbers of people in need of healing laughter and a few possessing such an impaired sense of humor about things they are willing to kill others, I spoke with troupe member and Big Dawg’s artistic director Steve Vernon, curious as to why the group chose to perform in benefit for this particular tragedy.

Steve and I fumbled through a brief unscripted conversation. Was it the specific assault on the LGBT community? If there is a “Gay Agenda,” it’s the same as the “Black Agenda”—not getting killed just for being you. Was it because of the fears and fragile grasp of gender identity in general that lead to a whole variety of violent overcompensations? Was it the assault-weapon angle? Another shooting with weapons few other countries allow on the street? Was it the unholy marriage of Islamic and Christian homophobic killers? Perhaps our predictable politicized response to yet another tragedy? Perhaps the initial tweets of the presumptive Republican nominee—words that display tactical denial of facts and lack of compassion provided a tipping point? One of Steve’s initial responses struck a chord.

“You know, that’s a really good question. There’s so many senseless tragedies and so many causes. I really don’t know, exactly.”

Uncertainty? Complex causes?

I felt like saying, “Shit, Steve. This is America, North by God Carolina. We don’t do uncertainty or complexity. And we kick Chinese and Mexican ass not doing it. In fact, my people tell me we are the absolute best at not doing uncertainty or complexity.”

I didn’t go there.

Instead, after I hung up, I did the most important thing to protect my fragile sanity: I laughed at my ignorance. I caught myself in my own trap. I wanted the answer; the situation was serious and I wanted Steve to give me certainty.

Ha! Ha! The Certainty Trap! To allay my own fears, I sought a script—a kind of certainty.   

Writer Anne Lamott said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out he or she hates all the same people you do.”

Certainty is one of the most troubling aspects of the violence perpetrated in Orlando. The shooter’s particular religious faith is only part of it. Faith may load the gun, but certainty pulls the trigger.

How much certainty does it take to walk into a club with a high-powered assault weapon and open fire on mere strangers? How serious must it all seem to the perpetrator?

Carrying the dread weight of certainty about things we consider serious can drive someone crazy enough to kill. I fear our collective addictions to certainty and seriousness may drive us insane enough to suicide as a species.    

Most of us are just winging it. Mostly, we know that. Despite bits of wisdom sprinkled through the Vedas, Torah, Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon, and hallowed US Constitution, not a one of these writings are scripts. There is no freaking script! 

Mostly, it’s not all that serious. 

“The saint is engaged in a sublime chess game with God, tripping over joy and bursting into laughter, while most of us think we still have to make a thousand serious moves,” notes 14th century Muslim Sufi poet Hafez in a collection of renderings by his 20th-century Jewish admirer, Daniel Ladinsky, in “I Heard God Laughing.”    

When Comically Impaired perform, they will not be working from a script. They improv—“a form of comedy where most of what happens is created in the moment.” They improvise laughs from what life gives them. Hopefully, that awareness doesn’t threaten anyone’s fragile sexual identity or violate any sacred addiction to certainty. Hopefully, embracing the uncertainty contributes to some healing laughs.

They won’t be making any serious moves. If things go well, folks who attend might find themselves chuckling and tripping over joy for at least a few steps of this journey. 

The Comically Impaired and Big Dawg’s Benefit for Orlando
Friday, June 24
Two shows: 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Big Dawg Productions
613 Castle St.
Tickets: $12
All proceeds will go toward the Orlando shooting victims and their families, and donations will be accepted at the door the night of the performances.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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