Comedy Lessons: How Breath Control Helps Your Brain Cope
No, this post isn't being sponsored by Breathe Right, but: according to new research quoted in the article below, if I’d have breathed through my nose after being heckled 25 years ago I might’ve had better comebacks. Here's what I'm talking about. Check out this article: "Your Breath is Your Brain’s Remote Control".
We’ve known for some time the benefits of a deep breath for the mind, heart, and thinking better of that hapless insensitive thought your mouth chose not to post. But now science is telling us that deep nose-breathing is apparently like hanging out in an oxygen bar with a pocket-size yogi in your ear, nose, and brain.
For the non-science types in the room (like me), take a deep nose-breath as I share some Cliff's Notes. Our (deep nasal) in-breath is like a remote control for our brains, directly affecting electrical signals that communicate with memory and emotional processing centers. By using the in-breath, we can have "faster, more accurate emotional discrimination and recognition, as well as gain better memory.” Holy Breathe Right, Batman, who knew? Another deep nose-breath everyone! In fact I need one right now — maybe two or three — because this new nose-breathing science makes me spit-take mad.
I want a time machine and a chance to nose-breathe after being heckled during one of my early attempts to transition from comedy amateur to struggling pro. BTW in the 90’s amateurs entertained for free and pros were given gas money to return the next night. On this night, I was auditioning for an early player and local icon of the comedy boom known to all as “Big Ed.” Also known by any local comic of this era was Big Ed’s long-standing Corleone-style feud with another club owner, Jay Burke. Jay ran Ed’s club for a while but let’s just say when the credits rolled, love and money was lost and Ed’s former godson Jay was profiting from his own too-nearby club — intentionally named “The Last Laugh.” (There’s more to this story but my tangent may curdle if I don’t move on.)
Ed was known for running a tight ship, telling hecklers or chatty comics, “Hey, you wanna talk, go to JAY'S!” But this particular night Ed had stepped out and I was left to tangle with a semi-lucid heckler who clearly sniffed some inexperience. He the slightly buzzed alligator and I the youthful wildebeest attempting to cross the comedy savannah. I don’t recall his precise challenge but I’m sure it was some combination of “you’re not funny” and “don’t quit your day job.” What I recall thinking but not saying was, “You know, he’s not wrong, not funny yet, so true, and no way am I giving up my adjunct faculty gig at a local community college especially given this early review.”
I can’t help but wonder whether, if I’d taken a deep nostrilly breath, my emotional discrimination may have ended up with a better retort — basically any response other than slinking off like the now-bleeding and bewildered wildebeest, as the MC came bounding anxiously back onstage to remind the audience how to enjoy life and clap once again.
Now in the parking lot I was finally taking my long-overdue deep breath — primarily to dispel toxic clouds of second-hand smoke, but also to hit rewind and play through the hundreds of snappy smart replies that all would have been preferable to the "how not to handle a heckler" demo I’d just put in the can.
You may be surprised to know that I headed over to Jay’s and was again heckled, and again failed to take the deep nasal breaths necessary to enhance the proper dismantling of my new tormentor. Nope, the proper approach to this moment took years for me to figure out — to learn how to breathe deep, stop the moment, and summon the proper gator-taming balance of tolerance, inclusion, a gentle nudge, a dismissal — or perhaps a well-deserved back of the hand to their slightly altered Jim Beam psyche.
Alas, ye nasal breath, I use you now — but only to more accurately recall what I wish to forget. Nose-breath ... and scene.