Laraine Newman Tells Chautauqua Audience To ‘Go Out And Play’

Laraine Newman, Emmy- and Annie Award-nominated performer, gave a lecture inside the Amphitheater at the Chautuaqua Institution on Friday. Newman is an original cast member of Saturday Night Live and told many stories reminiscing on her career. P-J photos by Jordan W. Patterson

CHAUTAUQUA — Two things that aren’t traditionally considered connected are playing and learning, but for Laraine Newman, they are essential to each other.

Newman took the Amphitheater stage Friday morning at Chautauqua Institution and quickly evoked from the crowd what she has generated a plethora of times: laughter.

Newman is an Emmy- and Annie Award-nominated performer and is an original Saturday Night Live cast member.

From New York to Los Angeles, Newman has also appeared in numerous movies. That list includes “Problem Child 2,” “Stardust Memories” and “Perfect.” She also has various TV appearances in shows such as “Dice” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.

She lent her voice for the movies “The Emoji Movie,” “Despicable Me,” “The Secret Life of Pets,” and “Inside Out” among others.

As if performing wasn’t enough, Newman has additionally written for Esquire Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Believer and McSweeneys. She also serves as a contributing editor for Oneforthetable, an online food magazine.

Sticking with the Chautauqua Institution’s theme of “The Art of Play,” Newman highlighted the benefits of improvisation and imagination during her lecture.

“You can’t classify ‘play’ as one thing,” Newman said.

For Newman, play could range anywhere from horror movies and horror houses to cosplay and the game Dungeons and Dragons, commonly refered to as D&D. For the latter, she said her friend Dan Harmon, creator of TV shows “Community” and “Rick and Morty,” is an avid player of D&D.

“The significance of D&D for this talk is that (the game) is improvised,” Newman said.

As for the style of “play” incorporated into cosplay, Newman said the genre allows for people to act less inhibited and more freely with essential strangers.

A combination of her two examples merged into one aspect: freedom. Newman explained that improvisation, in general, works in the very same way.

For Newman, her improvisation skills were put to the test when she became a parent. She described her local park near where her family lives as a place where she and her child create worlds together through imagination. The park, as Newman described it, isn’t the prettiest one. But she and her children made the most of it.

“There is something so intimate about shared fun experiences,” Newman said of her time playing with her children.

She questioned why adults shy away from play later in life. The former SNL star highlighted that play and the features that accompany it can be a “bridge to communication and empathy.”

“Did we abandon that side of our selves that’s more open?” she asked the audience.

Newman hoped that those gathered in the Amphitheater could take something related to play, improvisation and humor away from her lecture. She encouraged people to actively participate in play, improv and comedy. Newman said joining in on play gives “love and affirmation” to those involved.

“How can that not make for a better world?” she said. “Now, go out and play.”