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Cognitive Comedy

The actor stops. “Where was I going with this?” he thinks to himself.

Whether from the moment of panic or the hot wind blowing through the open window, a bead of sweat grows and rolls down his temple. He looks, wide-eyed at his peers.

Within seconds, they cheer and clap as though he’d won an Academy Award. The misstep is ignored, and the next scene begins.

There are no mistakes in Leah Lawler’s Cognitive Comedy workshop; there are only opportunities to adapt.

Cognitive Comedy, run by Lawler and the Penn Memory Center (PMC), welcomes PMC patients and their caregivers to the world of long-form improv.

“Having taken classes with professionals…I had a sense of how a normal, long-form Improv 101 class is held,” Lawler said. “And I thought I should do just exactly that but combine some of the values that I learned from each school and focus mostly on support and accepting when people make mistakes.”

Participants met regularly with Lawler in the spring of 2016 for workshops.

“You had to think on your feet, and in a way that struck a funny bone,” said Les Wolff, who added the team effort boosted his confidence.

“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,” he said.

The workshops concluded with a public performance at Christ Church Neighborhood House in June. Due to the success of the workshop and subsequent performance, Cognitive Comedy will be returning for a second season this fall. More information will be available on