If a person is really funny, you can bet they're also introspective. Comedy can come off as a shallow pursuit, but mining one's own experiences and deciding which of them an audience will connect with takes emotional intelligence, not to mention a willingness to expose oneself to a crowd, often with little payoff.
In Carissa Dorson's new project, “Funny People. Serious Photos,” local comedians and comedic actors tap into their more somber sides in a series of straight-faced photos, accompanied by quotes about their struggles and anxieties, from childhood traumas to the perceived shortcomings that niggle at them.
Actor-comedian George Basil (Flaked, Crashing and those Bud Light commercials with the Mayor of Whatever) told Dorson, “My humor started from a place of needing to belong. I was an overweight kid from an immigrant family, so there were no social or cultural shortcuts to understanding my peers or being understood.” And Dave Theune, an actor who performs with the UCB Franklin team Bangarang, revealed that he always felt like, “Without comedy I don't have enough. I don't have enough of whatever other things make up a person.”
Dorson, a cinematographer by trade, says, “I always loved portrait photography, and I started doing it on excursions with close friends and family. I liked the results that I was getting with just my film camera and natural light. I was able to achieve a level of intimacy with those portraits, and I wondered if I could expand the practice to include other people that I didn't know as well.” Working almost exclusively in comedy, shooting videos for brands like Funny or Die and CollegeHumor, Dorson had developed a network of comedy acquaintances who were willing not only to model but to bare their souls a bit.
She and her boyfriend, Shane, developed the idea to frame comedians in a way that was more serious. At first she wasn't sure whether she'd include quotes, but she recognized that a lot of comedy comes from a “dark place.” She says, “I decided to ask them how they turn their fears and struggles into comedy. A lot of them bookended their responses with self-deprecating jokes, but I just left those out and kept the core of their answers.”
There are currently 28 photos on her site, each accompanied by an insightful quote. They make the otherwise straightforward photo project something to spend more time with. Of one of her favorite quotes, Dorson says, “Madeline Walter had a great [one] about how experiencing anxiety can feel isolating, but when you're expressing it, it's connective. That's such a great way of putting it, and I find that to be true in my own life.”
“Funny People. Serious Photos” is an ongoing project. Check it out here.