10 Questions with Alicia Dattner

1. Tell my readers a little bit about the Online Spiritual Comedy Festival.

First of all, I’m thrilled about it. And you must know how much it takes for someone with as much equanimity and peace as me to be thrilled, so that’s saying a lot. It’s an international festival of comedians with a sense of Spirit and spiritual teachers with a sense of Humor who are coming together, online, to share what’s funny to us about being human. The festival is basically a series of shows in which I will interview these folks and they’ll share their humor, insight, and wisdom. It’s a unique concept to make it all online, all audio, and all free, and I am excited to introduce this new idea.

2. Why do spirituality and comedy mix?

Essentially, they come from the same place. I decided to call it The Spiritual Comedy Festival because no other set of words described it better. How I see spirituality is that it’s a contemplation of and awe at the great mystery of our existence. And when we truly contemplate this mystery, we can come into communion with its beauty, its absurdity, its “suchness”, and its divine perfection. At its purest, human spirituality is a communion with truth and spontaneity and the unexpected. And that’s what humor at its purest is also. They mix because when we leave behind our concepts and beliefs about what they are, they are actually very similar.

3. What do you hope the festival accomplishes?

I hope to bring more people into contact with these brilliant-hearted souls who weave humor and spirituality together and for this contact to make space for our audience to experience more love, joy, playfulness, laughter, and peace in their lives. And I hope that these qualities ripple out to everyone who meets the people affected by the festival, and to everyone they meet. I hope it adds more peace to the world. I also believe that it’s important for us to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable—again bringing seemingly opposite ideas together—and that for those of us who are suffering, we bring some laughter and ease to the pain. For those of us who are hovering safely inside our comfort zone, we give a healthy nudge outside. Even within our own beings, we have comfortable and afflicted parts, and we can address those inward parts with both nurturing and nudging.

This festival is about speaking truths that happen to be funny. So I hope we make some people uncomfortable, if it means they’ll grow through more telling of truth. And I hope we do it in such a funny way that even difficult truths feel good to hear.

4. There are over 15 performers lined up for the Online Spiritual Comedy Festival. Did you have any difficulty finding participants that were in sync with your idea?

Yes and no. There were several people who, in my mind, express the idea of spiritual comedy beautifully, but when invited, they declined. I have the sense that most people in the world of comedy just don’t see themselves as spiritual—or wouldn’t want their audiences to see them quite in that light because it makes them feel less funny. Soft. Serious. It might not be good for a comedy career. And the same for spiritual teachers who might worry that their sacred spiritual ideas could be made fun of. This could feel dangerous if they didn’t trust that this festival is coming from a loving place. But there were actually a whole bunch of people—those who decided to participate—who are playing this same exact game of bringing funny and sacred together. They all said yes. And I feel this festival has been divinely guided from the moment it started. Everyone who is supposed to participate has shown up, and I feel so grateful to be the conduit for this particular event to occur!

5. Do you think it will be difficult to do comedy online where you won’t receive that immediate feedback of laughter from the audience?

Yes—that’s why, with most of the shows, we’re going to open up some of the phone lines so that the guests will be able to hear their laughter. That was a really important piece for me to figure out—who wants to do comedy with no audience?

6. Can you describe how you discovered the comedy-spirituality connection?

I’ve been a comedian for, like, 15 years – and a spiritual being for, like, 15 million years. After a number of years of doing comedy, I went into addiction recovery (I couldn’t stop telling jokes. Kidding. I went into actual recovery.) When I tried going back to the comedy club after doing all of that spiritual, emotional, and psychological work on myself, it felt kind of… oogie. I don’t ever want to stop doing edgy and irreverent comedy, but the smell of beer bitterness in the club just didn’t fit for me anymore. I figured there had to be a better way, so I started creating one-woman shows and filling theaters with audience members who wanted to hear what I had to say. And eventually I discovered there were other people doing this same kind of thing.

7. You’re a certified laughter yoga instructor. What’s a Laughter Yoga session with you like?

A lot of Laughter Yoga happens in libraries and senior centers. It’s beautiful to bring that playfulness to people there. But sometimes I get the sense that the teachers are trying really, really hard to get people to laugh, and it can feel a little fake, or just uncomfortable. That’s the last thing I want people to feel in my class. So we begin with lots of meditation and relaxation. I believe joy is our natural state, and when we release the tension, our life force just flows and we feel it again. I like to rub people’s feet or neck to help them really let go, and sometimes even tickle them a little. As we relax more and more, releasing the tension through breath and sound work, we begin to make that “ha” sound… and eventually, somebody just “pops”, and suddenly we’re all giggling uncontrollably. It’s such a beautiful sight to watch people lose themselves in hysterical laughter, and to laugh even harder when they hear someone next to them laughing. Eventually, we gather together in the center of the room, and get to interact too. Sometimes we’ll do improvisational exercises in dyads that also encourage spontaneous laughter. My favorite part is watching people leave looking younger, lighter, happier, and re-filled with love. We underestimate how incredibly powerful an experience like this can be—and imagine if we could have something this nourishing in our lives on a regular basis!

8. What’s next for you? After the Online Spiritual Comedy Festival is over do you have any other projects my readers can be on the look out for?

Yes, I’ll be jumping back on stage with my new show The Oy of Sex, which is a comedic one-woman show about love and sex addiction and recovery. It’s a bit more edgy than the festival itself, but every bit as spiritual. I’m excited to premiere the show in San Francisco as well as touring The Oy and also my previous show, Eat, Pray, Laugh! around the country.

I’m also excited to be offering both online and offline workshops teaching people how to cultivate their own inner spiritual comedian!

9. Here’s a last chance to leave us with some parting Alicia Dattner comedic spiritual insight!

Many people think that enlightenment is an unreachable goal reserved for monks in the Himalayas. Many other people still believe enlightenment is a myth and that the present moment is as bright as it gets. And in my experience having traveled through India in search of the great truths, I agree with that. The big secret that nobody tells you about enlightenment: it’s not that hard, it’s for everybody… I was enlightened yesterday. For, like, a minute. The hard part is being enlightened around other people. Like roommates! “Ooooooommmm… Damn, you guys can’t wait ten minutes to turn on the blender?”

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

What’s your favorite laughter-delivery mechanism for deep belly laughs? Comedy? Unintentional comedy? Tickling? Contemplating the absurdity of the universe? Puns?

Usually, it’s being a snarky, catty bitch amongst my friends. I also love cartoons for laughs. There’s obvious adult oriented ones like “Archer” or “Family Guy”, but I also get solid laughs out of some children’s cartoons like “Codename: Kids Next Door” or “Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil”.

About Alicia Dattner:
Spiritual Comedian Alicia Dattner has been touring the world, selling out her one-woman shows, Eat, Pray, Laugh!, The Oy of Sex, and The Punchline, and winning awards, including “Best Storyteller” in the NY United Solo Festival, “Best of the Fringe” in the SF Fringe Festival, and “Best Comedian 2011″ in the East Bay Express. Now she’s bringing together comedians with a sense of spirituality and spiritual teachers with a sense of humor in the world’s first Online Spiritual Comedy Festival Jan. 29-March 21, 2013.