I use the word badass almost excessively. I am not entirely sure when this happened but I know that someone around me must have picked up this word, which not unlike “rad” or “killer” had been mostly confined in my brain to the eighties, dusted it off and started using it to describe improv. That’s where its application recently became more and more convenient and expressive. This is my first of two articles on what “Badass” means to me when applied to improv and comedy.
Let’s start with a simple need I often have, the need to describe what my improv show is going to be like and thus why you should consider attending it. I personally want to promise you two things: a) Risks will be taken, authentic real risks with what I and my fellow improvisers will do to stretch ourselves and be open with eatch other, that evidence bravery. b) The presented product, though experimental, will be of a sufficient quality to earn your patronage because the players are proficient in their art. “Come see a risky yet proficient show! BYOB” I could say that I suppose, somehow “Badass” is the more zingy and colloquial way of saying the same thing. This poster of Mad Max gets across those ideas too, and how they’re related to being a badass. In a post apocalyptic world these characters are proficient survivors and confident about taking risks; they are badasses. Also well dressed.
A second situation where this word comes in handy is when trying to describe my community. Sometimes I want to get across the idea that my community is “awake” in the way the great wisdom traditions understand that word: that we have a communal consciousness and conscience that is striving for something beyond ourselves and yet is in a joyful state beyond striving. Verbose right?! When you look at these protesters you see all of that, you see courage that is beyond admirable and you see people alive to the needs of the universe in their own time. You see badasses. I feel that way about my improv community. I believe that is what we are.
I also need this word to describe how what we do is cool. It’s neat. It’s engaging and inventive and surprising and not clichéd. Like the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven (who called herself that whole name; eat it Prince) everything we do is cool because everything we do is weird and has full commitment behind it. The Baroness debuted in a Man Ray film, back in the silent era, called “America” where she just shaved her vagina and her head and everything else. This was the early 20th century when leg shaving was still quite risqué. She showed up to parties wearing cages, with birds in them, and tin cans even though she actually was a Baroness. She Badass.
If you aren’t doing improv that has that spirit behind it, you aren’t doing my kind of improv.
Ok, and one more detail/iteration of that same idea. Why is Badass such a better descriptor than cool? Well, sometimes you can do things that look very un-cool and yet they can be totally badass. It is a paradox. Take these kids who showed up to the Renaissance Festival last year. They do not work there. They paid to get in. They have spent clearly lots of hours making these really elaborate nerd-suits. They would be ridiculed by the Tosh.0s of the world. But the ridiculers would miss the whole fucking point. Look at how much *fun* these guys are having! More than that, look at how inspiring and freeing their willingness to just do the dumb thing to the hilt is! They were mobbed, completely mobbed, by fans all day long. People took pictures. People asked questions. People were envious. Why? Because these guys were going to go have cocktails with Kanye at The W after their trip to the Renaissance Festival? No.1 The knights of cardboardlandia had a following because what they did was badass. That makes them badasses.
Improv is a sphere where it is important to let people know that you are not afraid and that your choices will come from a place of raw courage and power. This is not the power of the social structure we’re all so sick of, but the power of fearless individuals to behave wildly and authentically with each other. We are the Eternal Badass. We are the force of creation.