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It's Thalen's Turn column: Laugh Out Loud

The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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Roosevelt Hall in Barrett will host Improv the Last Stand at 7 p.m. on April 9.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

I remember my first time.

My stomach twisted like a Kansas tornado, and my palms moistened as I paced the basement.

The anticipation wrecked me. I didn’t know if I could go through with it. I didn’t know if I was ready.

"What if I don’t perform like expected." "What if they don’t react." "What if all the practice doesn’t pay off." "What if studying those videos doesn’t help."

All these "what ifs" danced in my head. They tormented me.

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I sat and tapped my foot and tucked my head between my knees.

The movement in my stomach intensified. I ran to the toilet and said hello to lunch. At least I felt lighter now.

I looked toward the ceiling as I heard them arrive upstairs. Showtime. Time to buck up.

I took a shot of whiskey to kill the nerves and proceeded upstairs. It was dark at the top and I bumped into someone.

They leaned in and whispered, "You ready for this?"

“Ready as I will ever be,” I replied.

“Let’s do this,” they returned.

I closed my eyes.

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One by one, my cast mates were called on stage. Then I heard my name.

“Time to be funny,” I thought to myself.

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From left, Cody Mehlhaf, Daniel Rauchbauer, David Ehlers, Thalen Zimmerman and Kayleigh Odegaard reach for the mic to promote their last comedy show, Improve the Last Stand.
Contributed.

I leaped from backstage to center stage and confronted the audience. All my nerves melted like a third date candle.

When I hit the stage, I felt electric. We all did. Our first time was fantastic. We had laughs, we had "ohs," and we had fun. And so did the crowd.

That was my first-night doing improv comedy.

Some buddies from high school and I organized back-to-back shows at the Roosevelt Hall Prairie Wind Players Theatre in Barrett in April 2018.

My friends and I have always been quote-on-quote "entertainers" — from class closing to a couple of them acting in school dramas during their middle and high school years. I only performed in plays my senior year. I was a late bloomer. I almost attended an acting school in New York, but I chickened out when they said we needed to audition first.

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From left, top row to bottom, David Ehlers, Daniel Rachbauer and Cody Mehlhaf, Thalen Zimmerman and Zachary Rameden pose on stage for their second annual improv show in 2019.
Contributed.

However, what I really enjoyed was writing scripts and making videos. This is why I enrolled in the Mass Communication program at Bemidji State University.

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During orientation, they said we would learn video production and editing, writing and photography and access to the school's television and radio station. It was the closest Bemidji had to a film program, so I was sold. I did not even look into job placement percentages and pay; I wanted to have fun.

During my time at college, other students in my department wanted to be TV news anchors, radio personalities and journalists. I wanted to be an entertainer. If I had a chance to work out my creative side, I didn’t hesitate. This is why I wrote a parody of the show "Cops," which made fun of campus security – I am pretty proud of that one. You can see the pilot episode on my YouTube channel.

In 2018, when my friend, Daniel Rauchbauer, asked if I would participate in an improv show, I didn’t need much convincing.

We prepared by meeting a few weekends leading up to the show. We went over which games we should perform and watched “Whose Line is it Anyway.”

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A print ad for our first show back in 2018.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

We had a great turnout with lots of laughs during our first performance, which repeated the second night.

Since then, we have done five shows over four years. We skipped 2020 for obvious reasons.

Now, I am preparing for another show, our last show, which will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 9, in Barrett at Roosevelt Hall. We even titled it, “Improv the Last Stand.”

Even though I have done this a few times and generally to the same audience, I still get those original nerves. But every time I walk on stage and look out to the pond of people, those feelings subside, and I let loose without a care in the world.

Laughter really is the best medicine. It is therapeutic. Not just for me, not just for my improv group, but also for the audience. Whether you are laughing or making someone laugh, the effect is the same.

Comedy is a way for us to laugh at ourselves and each other. To call out our insecurities and send them packing. And to remind ourselves, life is a lot better if we can laugh at the things that upset us.

We say stupid things to make people laugh. Sometimes we say really stupid things, and nobody laughs. You brush it off and move on to the next joke because life is all about taking risks and learning from mistakes. But if I can get just one person to laugh in a room filled with dozens, hundreds or even thousands, I still consider that a win. This is why I feel bittersweet about this being our last show.

I won’t miss the nerves, but I will miss the laughs.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
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