Last week I wrote about “comebacks.” No, I don’t mean when famous people come out of retirement to ply their trade once again, like Michael Jordan did three times and Cher did three-thousand times (and counting). I mean witty comebacks, such as when a person fires off a clever or funny or even insulting remark at the exact right moment during a conversation.
These remarks are sometimes referred to as snappy rejoinders. Hey, I went to college with a weird guy named Snappy Rejoinders. No wait, his name was Snappy Rejowski. Never mind.
In last week’s column, I related the key parts of an episode of “Seinfeld” titled “The Comeback,” which featured George Costanza as a frustrated, high-strung buffoon. (Yeah, I know, totally out of character.) If you thought “Seinfeld” was clever and entertaining, then it’s worth looking up that episode on YouTube. On the other hand, if you thought the sitcom was tedious and narcissistic, then you still should look it up.
Anyway, as I was doing my research for last week’s column — umm, why are you laughing? Surely, you don’t think I’m this brilliant and insightful each week without some plagiarism — uh, I mean, some research involved? Do you think I know off the top of my head that the French phrase “l’esprit de l’escalier” and the German “treppenwitz” both mean “stairway wit,” that is, the clever comment that finally comes to you at the bottom of the stairs, long after the discussion is over? Of course not. The only things I know off the top of my head are baseball statistics, and since the sports page of this newspaper already has plenty of writers with batting averages and RBI data pouring from their ears, I have to write for the Features section, which means doing a little research once in a while.
And during my research about snappy rejoinders, I discovered there actually are people whose job description is “Improv Consultant.” That’s right, these people get PAID to help clients become more adept at firing off witty comebacks. One such improv consultant is Jim Tosone, who developed a program called “Improv Means Business.” Another improv expert is Belina Raffy, the CEO of a company called Maffick. She, too, helps business people sharpen their clever comment skills.
Improv experts focus on three main areas. The first is not to think too much. (If that’s true, then most of our modern culture is well on its way to success!) Raffy says people should not overthink a situation. Just listen to the other person, be in the moment, and fire off whatever comment feels right.
The second area is to develop your spontaneous mental muscle. Many professional comedians write down and memorize dozens of insults and clever comments, so they have a full arsenal of wisecracks at the tip of their tongue. The improv experts want normal business people to do the same. Reading some of the legendary comments made by Winston Churchill or W.C. Fields is recommended, along with watching episodes of clever sitcoms like “M*A*S*H” (or “Seinfeld”) and taking notes.
The third area is to work at muzzling your inner critic. This means to ignore those inhibitions or internal judgments we all make, while trying to discern if a comment is funny or offensive. The experts encourage their clients to suppress these cautionary feelings and just blurt out whatever pops into their heads.
I honestly can’t imagine how these clients are able to pay the improv consultants’ fees. Because if they truly follow these three steps, they’ll be fired (or indicted) by the end of the week. I’ve never heard of such nutty advice. It makes people like George Costanza and Snappy Rejowski seem normal.