4 of the 5 members of my immediate family are either students or teachers of students. So August in our house is referred to as The Biggest Sunday Night—a 31-day, slow-building tour-de-force of anxiety that begins, mildly, at the MLB Trade Deadline and peaks, with noticeably more nervous sweating, around Labor Day. You ruminate about the previous year. You worry about the new year. You wonder/laugh if you’ll go to the wrong classroom on your first day and wind up 15 minutes late to the right classroom—again.
So how did I quiet and soften the August Anxieties this Labor Day Weekend? How did I brace myself for another year of very humbling critique? Did I polish some essay drafts to breathe a little easier? Did I do a practice walk-through in our building on Tremont Street where all my classes are this semester to avoid more potential first-day-of-school-wrong-classroom embarrassment? Or did I mostly just watch this Steve Carell speech to calm the nerves? Yup, that’s mostly what I did.
It’s a 4-minute master class on comedic efficiency, comedic delivery, and… graciousness —which is to say a master class taught by Steve Carell.
He talks about their experience working together on Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad RELEASE Date:
Jen and I were cast against type as the affable, earnest, slightly goofy parents. It was an acting challenge for us both. And I marveled at Jen’s ability to TRANSFORM herself into the role of an intelligent, caring, loving mom. True chameleon. We had so much fun working together that we have not done it since.
The way he gushes while also being hilarious. The way he’s self-deprecating about how much of a challenge the role was while also mocking the Generic Pretentious Actor who takes himself 900% too seriously (i.e. TRANSFORM herself). The way he appreciates his teammates.
For me, and I say this as someone who’s watched seasons 2 through 5 of The Office north of 25 times, Steve Carell is not and will never be just Michael Scott, the hopelessly un-self aware, blissfully naive boss. He has so much range and charm and infectious playfulness beyond Scranton, Pennsylvania. But the genius of Steve Carell is most abundantly clear on The Office, how he somehow makes Michael lovable, how he somehow makes this self-consumed buffoon so endearing. That is an artist: operating with such brave instinctiveness and openness and whole-being-ness that we, the audience, root for the jerk because we also see the jerk’s remarkable complexity and generosity (and his deep-down motivation of just wanting to be seen/heard/loved all these years later as an only-child to divorced parents). We love Michael despite his flaws and because of his flaws. That’s Steve Carell: the actor who embodies that complexity, the creative soul I most consciously imitate, and the unassailable Abe Lincoln on my Creative Hero Mount Rushmore.
And that’s the Steve Carell who gave this speech for Jennifer Garner (“Gar-di-ner…Gar…Gar…Gar-ner”). It’s a speech that, for most actors, would devolve into loud self-congratulation, with a sprinkle of Humble Brag, a few small dashes of quickly acknowledging the actual Walk of Fame recipient, and zero servings of actual LOL-worthy humor. For Steve Carell, it’s an opportunity to celebrate his good pal—with some goofs and gags and bits brilliantly woven together. His comedy off screen is wonderfully predictable: inclusively laughing WITH not AT, stating the obvious that most people don’t think or want to state, and operating with a warm un-self-seriousness, humility, and thoughtfulness rare for most comedians.
On Sunday morning, I watched this speech while I was feeling the Sunday Scaries, scaries that, I noticed, were all pretty self-important. How will my work be received in this class? In that class? Will I get a teaching job in the spring? Will those super kind, older ladies in the dining hall continue to swipe me in for free along with all the undergrads?
But then I watched Steve Carell’s speech here. And then I watched it another 18 times. And I was reminded of what I most appreciated during my first year of school and what I’m most excited about with my second year: COMMUNITY—the support it provides, the levity it brings, the mutual understanding that writing’s, like, super hard and isolating, so, um, be honest and helpful with your critique but also do no real harm.
On Monday, I was no longer as consumed in my Sunday Scaries or my August Anxieties. Maybe because it was no longer Sunday and no longer August. Maybe because I also watched Steve Carell talk about his early dating life and commiserated in feeling similarly scared and dorky in that arena (see below).
And today, on Tuesday, I went to class— the right classroom this time around—eager to see old classmates. We had so much fun working together that we have not done it since.
And then I realized classes don’t start until Wednesday.