Studiola Roundup: Tony Nam on Stephan Feck and what is funny what is painful what is funny

Tony Nam is an actor in the Washington DC area working in print, film, voiceover, and on stage. He has performed with some of DC’s top theater companies including The Shakespeare Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, The Folger, and Roundhouse. Film credits include the feature length thriller The Fugue (2009) and the dramatic short Equity due out fall of 2011. His print, commercial, and industrial clients include Marriott International, Geico, Capital One, Gaylord Hotels, BAE Systems, and the Washington Capitals (commercial with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom). He can also be heard as a voice artist on numerous audio book recordings with Graphic Audio. Tony holds a BA in Political Science, Economics, and Dramatic Arts from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, has trained with the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and received his MFA from the University of Washington PATP. He lives in Silver Spring, MD with his wife and two children.

Nola Studiola: What makes you laugh?

Irony and grumpy people.  I think for the same reason.  There’s the way things are, and the way things are supposed to be.  Sure, there’s something to the idea that things are funny because they’re true, but the thing that’s funny because it goes against expectations, that lives a little closer to my soul.  Why? I think it has something to do with failure.  Take poor Stephan Feck.  My heart really did go out to the guy seeing pictures of him hitting the water flat on his back.

And yes, the grief I felt seeing the still photos of Feck’s epic failure online did not stop me from immediately searching out a link where I could watch the full horror unfold over and over and over again.  It was painful yes, and undeniably humiliating for Feck, but damn if it wasn’t funny.  Maybe I’m a bad person to laugh at another’s very public embarrassment, but in my defense, I was struggling to get over a failure of my own at the time.  My mistake wasn’t quite as public as Feck’s, and thankfully did not go viral, but it did leave me feeling less sure of myself and uncertain.  I saw something of myself in the moment Feck hit the water; while aspiring toward perfection and grace you may find yourself flat on your back.

As an actor, laughter can be a double edged sword.  An actor loves getting the laugh.  It’s the most immediate authentic response a performer can receive.  You hear the laugh and you know you’ve hit home, you’ve connected.  The audience is right there with you and you feel you can almost ride the wave of good feeling all the way through the performance.

Laughter can become like a Geiger counter pointing the way to what works, what lands, what seems real and true.  But it can also be a crutch, an escape from something more genuine.  It’s easier to go for the laugh, safer even.  You make a silly choice, do some funny physical bit off the line to get in a small chuckle.  But you may have sacrificed a moment to go deeper, find something honest and true, just to get a laugh.  I think ultimately laughter is a tool.  It’s a way to open the door and invite the audience in.  But once they’re there, perhaps there something more to share than just a joke.  They’re with you, you’ve won them over, now hit them in the gut with something amazing.

AB post script: In May, Tony accepted the role of Sam Craig in Ford Theater’s 2013 production of Our Town, directed by Stephen Rayne. He’s looking foward to diving into the work on the 75th Anniversary production of an American classic.

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