I think you might be like me in at least this way:
There are times in your life when you have seen something or participated in an event that you are so overwhelmingly and positively impacted by emotionally . . . that you want to share that feeling’s cause (the natural setting you are looking at, the music you a listening to, the entertainment you are attending to, the activity you are participating in). I’m not making this fact up: there is a good deal of research that reinforces this tendency, among them these recent articles in the popular press:
- Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, “Why Do We Experience Awe?” The New York Times Sunday Review, May 22, 2015.
- Adam Hoffman, “How Awe Makes Us Generous,” Spirituality & Health
- William Kenower, “Staying Humble While Sharing Awesomeness,” The Huffington Post, Feb 22, 2016.
How I Use the Word Awe
The problem is this, though: the meaning of awe has changed several times in our recorded past, and there several different ways we might be using that term:
Awe is difficult to define, and the meaning of the word has changed over time. Related concepts are wonder, admiration, elevation, and the sublime. In Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion, neuropsychologist and positive psychology guru Pearsall presents a phenomenological study of awe. He defines awe as an “overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness.” Pearsall sees awe as the 11th emotion, beyond those now scientifically accepted (i.e., love, fear, sadness, embarrassment, curiosity, pride, enjoyment, despair, guilt, and anger).” Most definitions allow for awe to be a positive or a negative experience, but when asked to describe events that elicit awe, most people only cite positive experiences. (Wikipedia definition of Awe)
In fact, when I use the word in the contexts I will layout here, I am using it in the positive sense of “an overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness.” Jaw dropping moments in a person’s life, as I am saying that, as psychologists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Kathleen Vohs from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management found in their study, “Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being,” which was published in the journal Psychological Science:
Across three different experiments, they found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others.
The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and well-being can be explained by awe’s ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down. Experiences of awe help to brings us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions, and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.
That is the feeling I recall in what I describe as warm, satisfying experiences of feeling time slow down as I focused on the cause of my elation.
For example, I’ve often felt that way about pieces of orchestral music I was listening to alone, maybe watching and listening to compelling operatic performances, or listening to jazz groups perform, or soloist instrumentalists or singers performing.
But I’ve also felt that way about nature and its scenery: when rounding a corner on the state road that runs between Santa Fe and Taos, coming upon some magnificent cliff outcropping hugging the road we are on, or seeing below us the gorgeous vista of the Rio Grande rippling along through yellow fall cottonwoods as it continues winding its way down to the Gulf of Mexico east of Brownsville.
And–as it turns out–I’ve felt that way about those who offer up spectacular performances in any of the other forms of entertainment that I am a viewer of or listener to as well.
Take the comedic performances by artists who do what they do very, very well. Especially improv artists. Like, Second City performers, many of whom we’ve seen after they leave Second City. To a person, they seem to have found ways of using their improvisational talents to bring their audiences to a state of positive emotional response, some feeling mild responses of pleasantness or joy, some–like me–getting absolutely positive feeling of both joy, unexpectedness and awe from the performance I am witnessing.
Second City Improv Artists
Recently I found out that my son and daughter-in-law also had Directv satellite in their home, just as we do in ours here in Norman. On visiting them over the Thanksgiving break week, I determined that they were not yet subscribing to the optional Showtime package that Directv offers which includes the program, “Inside Comedy,” the series of 30 minute interviews that David Steinberg holds with a huge array of comedians and comedic actors who make up at least a healthy portion of the entertainment we get in this country that is intended to be humorous.
I’ve written a couple of posts before on the topic of Second City and one of its products, David Steinberg:
- David Steinberg (and Second City), Part II
- Mike Nichols and Elaine May Actually Started It: Second City
So, you’ve seen a list of Second City players before who hit it on television or the movies after their days doing improv in either Chicago or Toronto, but I had not realized that Eric and Kristen weren’t able to see the interviewing work that Steinberg had done over four years interviewing the best and brightest comic talents in this country (and Canada), some of them directly out of these two Second City operations.
As I result, we made the Murray Swishers a present of a subscription to the Showtime channels on Directv, and I set about to text to them the particular episodes of the four years of interviews that I found good either because a) they explored those who had come out of improv training at one of two Second City operations, or b) they were just about other comic geniuses who were creatively great.
To recap, though, here are some of the Second City players you might have heard of or seen after they left Second City:
Players Out of the Predecessor Chicago Compact Players Group
or from either Second City, Chicago or Second City, Toronto
A few were very early Second City players in Chicago in the 1960’s (like Alan Arkin, and Del Close, Severn Dardin, Andrew Duncan, Barbara Harris, Robert Klein, Richard Libertini, Elaine May & Mike Nichols (earlier Compact Players days), Joan Rivers, Paul Sand, Paul Sills, David Steinberg, and Fred Willard.
Many of the others you will recognize as they were working at Second City in the 1970’s or 80’s or 90’s.
And you probably noted that there were a couple of teams that came out of Second City experience, from the earliest (and I think the greatest) Nichols & May, to the later very funny routines of Burns & Schreiber.
Two Instances to Share About Our Experiences at the Chicago Second City
I believe the only reason I knew that a place in Chicago existed that was called Second City was because of a record that had been played on the radio by one of the Chicago stations I happened to listen to. That record was by several of the improv artists at Second City, and the track I remember especially was a routine they did on stage called “Football Comes to the University of Chicago:
- Football Comes to the University of Chicago (Youtube audio, 5:56)
This sketch was originally developed for the Compass Players and revisited for Second City. It satirized the university and its students, presenting a possible explanation for the failure to introduce football. A typical coach teaches “Football 202” and struggles with the intellectual students.
Severn Darden was an American comedian and actor, and an original member of The Second City, the Chicago-based comedy troupe as well as its predecessor, the Compass Players.
Darden plays Morgenstern, a student who states his field is the “history of arithmetic”. After the coach mentions the football positions called “ends”, Morgenstern asks where the beginnings for those ends are, because ends must have beginnings, according to Aristotle. The coach presents the football, and Morgenstern declares, “It’s a demi-poly-tetrahedron.”
You will also hear Alan Arkin, singing.
And here a short clip from Second City, Chicago with David Steinberg, along with Robert Klein and Fred Willard (must have been 1962, 1963 or so):
- Eskimo Folk Singer: Look Out For That Polar Bear (YouTube, 8:09)