I’m enrolled in an improv class at Upright Citizens Brigade. I signed up because I had the time and I felt I needed to exercise my comedic instincts. I also wanted to meet new people in Los Angeles, since I’ve only been living here for a few months.
Today was the sixth class out of eight, so we’re starting to access some real truth (and TRUTH. IS. COMEDY!), which is exhilarating and uncomfortable. We started with a two-person exercise UCB calls “Park Bench of Truth”, where two people just sit in chairs onstage and have a conversation as they normally would. It resulted in some of the funniest scenes yet. The scene I participated in got huge laughs, which was interesting, because it left me shaken and despondent for the next three exercises.
My partner, Max, and I received the prompt “car wash”, and while my first thought was to talk about Breaking Bad, I blurted something about how street parking in LA is making my car really dirty, and it sucked because I didn’t want to pay for washing it. Here’s a rough summary of what followed.
Max: You could wash it yourself.
Me: I can’t, though, because I don’t have a place to park that isn’t on the street, and I don’t have a hose.
Max: You don’t know anybody who has those things?
Me: No, because I don’t have any friends.
That became the thesis statement of the scene. Max responded with some variation on “Well, what am I?” and I told him he was an improv friend. I started talking about how ever since graduating and moving to a new place (or “being an adult”, as I put it), my friends have started falling into categories: improv friends, roller derby friends, and my boyfriend and his friends. While I spend hours per week with these friend groups, I never spend time with them outside of our set activities, and I certainly don’t feel like I could ask any of them for a favor. Max then admitted that while he was enjoying spending time with me in improv, he sensed that our friendship would have an expiration date, since once the class ends, our relationship will lose its context.
The scene got some big laughs, but it was very sad and frustrating, too. Tonight, about 12 hours after the scene ended, I’m still wondering why it’s become so hard to make and keep true friends.
In his TV show, Louie, comedian Louis C.K. talks about the same phenomenon. The monologue I’m excerpting here ends the Emmy-winning episode “Pregnant”. In the main act of the episode, Louie’s complete-stranger neighbors offer to watch his kids so he can take his pregnant sister to the hospital during an apparent emergency. Nothing disastrous happens, Louie is shocked by the act of kindness, and he processes his feelings as the credits roll:
“I have a new friend, which is weird…I don’t like it…I’m 43 and when I’m trying to make a friend it’s creepy…I hung out with this guy who I didn’t know, and then inside my head, I’m like, ‘I want to see him again! …If I just let him go, I’ll never see him again. I have to say something!’ And I felt so sick, like, I felt so disgusting…I was afraid he might say no.”
This monologue jumped into my head as I was driving home from class. It made me feel a little vindicated, like the maybe laughs I got in class weren’t about me being weird, they were about me being normal. My oldest friend is a girl I went to kindergarten with. We were sitting on a boulder in front of our school, waiting for our moms to pick us up. She was doing something that looked fun so I talked to her. One of us said, “Want to be friends?” and we became inseparable, and we’re still in touch. Now I don’t even know how to ask a person’s full name, and I’m itching to know just what it is that makes making new friends as an adult so daunting. I don’t yet have the resources to interview any friendship PHDs at USC, so I have some hypotheses that might develop something bigger, or not.
WHY FRIENDSHIP MIGHT BE HARD FOR ADULTS:
1. Social media makes it easier to be in constant half-assed contact, so we worry that asking for something as above-and-beyond as face time could be perceived as desperate.
2. After a few years post-puberty, we’re no longer accustomed to trying to make friends, but we know all about trying to get laid. We might fear, subconsciously, that our friend-target will think we want to get extra-intimate (???? I NEED THAT FRIENDSHIP PHD FOR COUNSEL.)
3. The economy! Recent college grads can’t get a job, so we’re constantly encouraged to “network”, which I hate. All many grads have to show for their networking efforts is a group of people they’d love to have a real relationship with, but they can’t, because they have to act professionally around those people, because they’re still waiting to get that job.
4. This might be LA-specific, but nobody wants to hang out with anyone else because driving is hard and gas is expensive and parking sucks and we’re very tired.
5. Everyone else makes friends well and Louis C.K. and I have something more pathological on our plates.
6. Something about women “having it all”.
Clearly, my reasoning is starting to fall apart, but I think I’m on to something in the first, say, 3 and a half points. Hopefully I’ll do some more observing, and maybe I’ll develop this idea in some more writing. I’m also planning to keep up my friendship with Max out of spite.