Teacher Spotlight: Susanna Spies

I hate looking like an ass. Some people don't mind it, or even love it, (my dad being one of them). But my fear of looking stupid has left me on the sidelines of many great experiences. Just the other day, I was with my friend Jessie and we drove to the liquor store to get some brandy to make eggnogs and drink them unceremoniously in front of the Quaker Television (her wood stove). In the parking lot I realized I didn’t have my ID with me. I told Jessie she had to buy this round, but she didn’t have her wallet at all.

“Just go in there and act like you know what you’re doing, it’ll be fine,” she said.

“I can’t. I’ve done that before and got carded and it makes me feel like my stomach was on fire.”

She looked long and hard at me, looking for a nice way to say, “Dude, you’re 35, you’re not going to get carded.” We both smiled.

“Look, I know I'm old as F, but I can’t do it. I’d rather not have eggnog than deal with that.”

She was clearly a loss, but entertained by the absurdity. “Well…off we go then!” 

This is how I feel about comedy. At Stanford, I went to improv for the first time and wanted desperately to do it. I also knew for certain that I wouldn’t. The thought of saying the wrong thing, or killing the group momentum was petrifying. I decided I would always be in the audience. This same way of thinking is what has impeded my relationship with athletic performance and creative writing at various points in my life.

When I was at Muse Camp last summer, Susanna Spies was one of several awesome teachers offering workshops. I was teaching writing at the same time she was teaching comedy, so I couldn’t attend hers, but if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t have had the guts anyway. I really liked talking to her, though. She was interesting, and smart. She helped me loosen up with a mixture of laughs and sincerity when I admitted how nervous I was to teach something unrelated to running for the first time in my life. I was surprised how much confidence she injected into me with just a few words.

On the last night of Muse Camp, she asked me if I would be one of the volunteers for a sketch she was going to lead at dinner. I said yes without thinking about it, on a high from not screwing up my writing workshop too badly. What resulted was an improv sketch in front of 70 people that was super fun and left me totally buzzing and, quite frankly, delighted. A big part of that comfort was the overall environment cultivated at Muse Camp that everyone seemed to be thriving in. But also, the brilliance of Susanna herself. People trust her. 

Susanna mentioned to me that comedy and writing would be a fun match to do together some day. When planning some new things for the August retreat, I asked her if she would be interested in teaching alongside Jennifer Louden and I. Her reply, and I quote:


An emoji battle commenced.

"I think comedy, like writing and running is an outlet for expressing oneself, and a means towards living a vibrant, healthy, and positive life. Laughter is an ingredient towards deepening connection, encouragement, esteem, and steps forward. It is a "running" of the spirit to be free, express, share, and come together! Comedy, just like the sport of running, is an expressive form that the more you nurture, the stronger you become. The more vibrant, the more confident, the more courageous. Writing is an essential ingredient - 90% of the curriculums within the comedy programs...I'm looking forward to being with amazing individuals to connect, share, unite and celebrate through the incredible platform of humor, writing, and more!" -Susanna Spies

As for me looking stupid, I would be lying if I said I got over my fear after one improv session. Fortunately, I have a few more chances. I'm personally looking forward to seeing how it affects my writing.

Check out Susanna's work at Comedy Playground, and consider joining us in August!