Les Wolff stood at the edge of the circle, introduced himself, and threw a punch into the air before him. For the next few minutes, anytime his name was mentioned, a punch was thrown.
It was all part of an improv exercise at the inaugural Cognitive Comedy workshop, presented by the Penn Memory Center with local comedian Leah Lawler. The program is now seeking volunteers for its third “season.”
In this particular activity, participants were challenging their memory recalling both the names and unique actions from around the circle.
“For people who are getting older, it’s very important not only to exercise your mind, but to be aware that you’re capable of new things by not just what you’re doing but by watching what others do,” Wolff said.
Cognitive Comedy is open to all members of the Penn Memory Center community, including patients, research participants and family members.
“Filling a room with old timers doing comedy where some have Alzheimer’s may invite cruelty and ridicule. Not so,” said participant John Morris. “While we make a lot of mistakes, Leah taught us to cheer rather than to react in other ways. This helps keep the mood light and cordial.”
Cognitive Comedy is the brainchild of Lawler, who held two trial sessions in 2015 to gauge interest. The first two “seasons” were at capacity.
“I had an inkling that long-form improv keeps you sharper and improves not only cognition and memory, but confidence, trust, and agreement,” Lawler said. “In the trial classes, everyone described a feeling of connectedness, or a ‘new family’ from the group. It takes you out of your own head and creates group mind.”
Cognitive Comedy is now enrolling for Season 3. This free, eight-session workshop begins June 3 and ends with a finale performance August 26. All sessions will be held at Ralston House, 3615 Chestnut Street.
- Saturday, June 3: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
- Saturday, June 17: noon to 2 p.m.
- Saturday, July 1: noon to 2 p.m.
- Saturday, July 15: noon to 2 p.m.
- Saturday, July 29: noon to 2 p.m.
- Saturday, August 12: noon to 2 p.m.
- Saturday, August 19: noon to 2 p.m.
- Saturday, August 26: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Finale: Saturday, August 26: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Location: Ralston Center, 3615 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa.
Contact: Megan Fucci