A comedy lesson for new dads: play it smart

I’m just making this all up as I go. Who isn’t? ‘Fake it till you make it’ is the key to good comedy improv. The same goes for being a dad.

In improv, a good rule of thumb is to play each of your characters to the top of their intelligence.

Improvisers are called on to play a variety of roles, and most of the time the characters they take on have occupations the performer has no experience in. I play doctors all the time on stage, yet I’ve never been to medical school.

At some point I was taught by my wise improv elders to “play the character smart.” I was instantly apprehensive about this idea. Could I pull off a smart doctor character?

I tried it anyway.

What I found is that as I said things like, “Nurse, hand me the spine removal kit” in my most confident voice I was getting more and more laughs.

This opened up a lot of characters to me. Now that I could talk about any subject I wanted as an authority, even though I didn’t know what I was actually talking about, I could play a whole new array of characters. I could be a geneticist, a beekeeper, or even a Fox News anchor.

I take this same mentality into my world as a parent. Let’s face it, I don’t have the foggiest idea what I’m really doing. Do any of us?

I’m just making this all up as I go. But rather than act as if I don’t know what to do, I put on my best doctor character and play the smartest dad I can.

“He’s going to need a pacifier stat. It has to be taken orally.”

It’s quite effective, really.

“Oh, he’s crying, eh? You’re going to want to bob him. Never shake the baby. But give him a light bobbing.”
Immediately I save the day. Or at least feel somewhat useful and intelligent in a role that seems made to show you all the things you don’t know.

Playing your dad character at the top of his intelligence will benefit you in a lot of ways. For instance, when you and all the other dads are sitting in the viewing room during swim class you can spout off information about how babies can naturally float because they are descended from dolphins.

You can do a similar thing when you go to music class. You can tell everyone your child has natural rhythm because his great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side was a drum.

The key to effective fatherhood is playing it intelligent. You grew up in a world of rules that you had to follow. Now that you are the dad, you get to make the rules. Just make sure you run them by Mom first.

As you can see, I am currently putting this theory into action by writing this article as smartly as I can. OK, now I have to go watch the movie “Young Einstein” with my son. If you watch it with your child every day, you know, he will grow up to be a genius.

Nate Smith is a father and comedian. He blogs at improvisingfatherhood.com.


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