Last week, our mutual friend, the fabulous Eve Serena Fizzinoglia, posted a link on Facebook congratulating Opus Moreschi for his appearance during Stephen Colbert's funny-with-a-purpose Congressional testimony on the status of immigrant farm workers. Opus performing? What was Eve talking about? Definitely worth a click.
Eve and I both know Opus through the improv theater, I.O. West in Los Angeles, where, before he moved to NYC to win Emmys writing for The Colbert Report, he performed with one of the best improv groups I've ever seen, Trophy Wife.
In viewing the video, I see right away what Eve means. Opus is the guy sitting over Colbert's shoulder, and literally shares the scene with his boss. He plays it straight to Colbert's absurd, which is classic scene structure. He's dressed more conservatively, his hair more neatly combed, and he's more clean shaven than I've ever seen him. He wears a deadpan expression. At least you read "deadpan" when Colbert begins his testimony. Then you begin to notice Opus. He's actually not deadpan. He's working the room with his eyes, his attention alternating between Colbert and members of the committee, like a scientist coolly observing an experiment.
Watch the video again and pay attention to how Opus counterpoints Colbert's monologue perfectly.
When Colbert has to look down at his script, which is often, Opus keeps his eyes on the committee, which helps hold the scene's focus. He is 100% committed to the moment, never glancing at his watch or looking at anyone but the other players in the scene, and a time or two, directly into the camera. Where it lands, there is purpose to his gaze.
For the duration of the testimony, Opus demonstrates the cool detachment of a seasoned pro. He shows no emotional investment in the audience's reaction, he's not counting votes, or wondering if his jokes will go over (if indeed he wrote them). This is a good neutral backdrop for Colbert to make all kinds of faces as he reads into the record. It's also an attitude that says to the committee, "We know exactly who you are, you are people who have forgotten how to laugh at your problems, we accept that, and we are here to show you how to do it -- by laughing at you." Just brilliant.
I don't know Opus well, but I have seen him perform often enough to suspect that he almost breaks 54 seconds into the video, and maybe one or two other times during Colbert's five-minute testimony. These little tics turn to gold in the moves of a master improviser like Opus. He owns them. They become the serene smirk of the scientist who fully expects the experiment to pay off.
When the camera cuts to the side angle, check out Arturo Rodriguez, president of the UFW, who's sitting next to Colbert. He's cracking up all over the place. Like Colbert and Opus, Rodriquez knows that laughing at one's problems is a step toward resolving them.
In this video, the problem is sitting across from Colbert, Rodriguez and Moreschi, in comfy leather chairs behind elevated wooden barricades in large temperature controlled rooms, wearing tailored suits and expensive jewelry and working smart phones with uncalloused hands while deliberating endlessly over the fate of people who are just trying to feed and clothe their families and give their children a little better life than the one they're having.
The problem is not laughing.
Mike Bonifer is the author of GameChangers -- Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. and the CEO of GameChangers LLC