When I first encountered Lost Moon Radio, it was with dread. I’d been invited to a friend’s new sketch comedy show, and I hated sketch comedy shows. I also hated lying to friends after a sketch comedy show about how good it was.
This particular sketch comedy show was in a tiny theater above St. Nick’s Pub. When I entered, I saw two cheap microphones which five actors had to share. A strange man with stringy hair sat in front of a poster board with the words “Foley Department” scrawled on it. The vodka drink I was served was the size of a movie theater soda. As the lights lowered, I clutched it close to me and girded myself.
An hour later, I was swearing to anyone who’d listen that I’d just seen the funniest show of my life.
Three years later, I’ve been lucky enough to participate in nearly every Lost Moon performance — first as the show’s director and now as the company’s artistic director. I’ve watched the group move from that tiny stage to performing at the Avalon for the LA Weekly Theater Awards. I’ve watched us grow in scope, moving into other media like videos and podcasts. I’ve watched us continue to put up shows that make people laugh. And, the biggest miracle of all, it all happened without one skirmish or uncomfortable moment!
That last sentence was, of course, a lie. As anyone who’s ever made art with the same people over and over will tell you, it’s far from an easy road. When the audience comes, laughs, and goes home happy, they don’t see the hours of effort and intense conflicts that went into that experience. They don’t see what it’s like to fight over a punchline for 45 minutes or cut someone’s starring sketch in tech week because it’s just not working. They don’t see what it’s like to lose one of your original actors, or go through the process of becoming a legal entity. These are the unavoidable ups and downs of moving from casual collaborators to a true company. It’s more than just growing pains. Sometimes it’s as violent as breaking and resetting a bone. All art, even comedy, can cost its makers a dark price.
Like so many people, I love the beginnings of things. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been tempted to jump ship once or twice on my journey to the Lost Moon. As a product of two blended families, I know that the process of making a new group can take years and still not always be successful. There are no guarantees. Worse, you don’t get to rest. There’s always another challenge ahead. People need ongoing support, not one pep talk. The business needs continual upkeep, not occasional attention. Constant vigilance takes a particular kind of strength, and it’s a lot less glamorous than the initial impulse to “put on a show!”
Aren’t I making this comedy group thing sound so fun?
Of course, it is so fun. There’s nothing like the joy of hearing a new round of sketches read out loud for the first time, or seeing the actors crack each other up.Â A friend recently told me what she likes best about Lost Moon shows is the way all the performers seem to genuinely enjoy each other and the material. You can see it onstage in their faces.
When she told me this, something clicked into place for me — maybe that is the reason no one in the audience can see the struggles behind each show. Yes, people laugh at the jokes and tap their toes to the songs; but on a deeper level, on a human-to-human level, maybe it’s the joy of the performers’ shared experience that really grabs the audience and compels them to come back. And perhaps that joy is really only possible if we, the creators, are willing to pay the dark price for it. Maybe it’s the depth of the struggle that defines the height of the joy.
Oh, theater. How can making stuff up for strangers teach us so much about living our own lives? It’s sort of a miracle, really. Kind of like going into a grimy bar with a giant drink and emerging with a new family.
Whatever the price of the laughter, I’ll gladly pay it.
Lost Moon Radio: Episode 12, Fringe Central Mainstage at Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Tonight and Friday 8 pm, Thursday 10 pm, Saturday 11 pm.Â Tickets: $13 for general admission or $10 for Fringe participants.Â www.lostmoonradio.com or www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/888.
Lauren Ludwig is a director, writer, and educator. She is the artistic director of Lost Moon Radio, an LA-based comedy and music group. Her past work has earned a Hollywood Fringe Festival “Best of Comedy” Award and a Chicago Reader “Critic’s Choice” distinction. She is a current participant in AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, through which she will be filming her short, Burn Brightly, this summer.