"Got Your Back" by Jason Hensel

Many people know actor Bill Pullman from his roles in such films as Independence Day, Lost Highway, and Spaceballs. The latter was his second film, and in a recent New York Times article, he talks about a concept we in the improv community know and practice. 

We often say the phrase, "Got your back." Sometimes it's said so quickly it sounds like "coturba." However it's said, it means that you will not let your co-performers fail, that you will support them in whatever reality is created, that you understand when they want help or (often more importantly) when they have everything under control and your role is simply to make a good edit.

For Pullman, the performer who had his back was John Candy. 

"John was feeling that, as scripted, most of the funny lines were being given to Barf, and he suggested I might take one of the wisecracks," Pullman wrote. "A certain silence suddenly dominated the sound stage. Mel [Brooks] paused.

"Now Mel had been, and would continue to be, as generous as any director that I’ve ever worked with," Pullman continued. "But something about the circumstances made him want to use his metaphorical light saber. Maybe it was because we were on one of our most elaborate sets, with several camera crews buzzing around us. He was the writer and the director, and a gentle giant of modern comedy wanted to give away a line that Mel had provided for him."

Leadership is not always about who is in front. It's more often about support and generosity. And having someone's back is the true mark of a leader. Pullman's piece is a great example of that, and I recommend you read the whole story. I think you'll enjoy it.  

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.

(Image: Eye Steel Film/Creative Commons)


"Great TED Talks About Comedy and Improv" by Jason Hensel

Raise your hand if you love a good TED Talk. Alright, nice, a lot of you do so this post is worth it. And since this is a venue focused on comedy, that's what these TED Talks are all about. Of course, this is a sampling. There are many TED (or TEDx) talks about these subjects, which you can find online via your preferred search site. 

Anatomy of a New Yorker Cartoon
"The New Yorker receives around 1,000 cartoons each week; it only publishes about 17 of them. In this hilarious, fast-paced, and insightful talk, the magazine's longstanding cartoon editor and self-proclaimed 'humor analyst' Bob Mankoff dissects the comedy within just some of the 'idea drawings' featured in the magazine, explaining what works, what doesn't, and why."

Comedy is Translation
"Every act of communication is, in some way, an act of translation. Writer Chris Bliss talks about the way that great comedy can translate deep truths for a mass audience."

Don’t Do Your Best
"How to lead an improvised life by the inventor of Theatresports and world-renowned improvisational theatre instructor Keith Johnstone."

Learning Lessons Through Improv
"After decades of working with comedian greats such as Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Keegan Michael Key, and Steve Carell, Kelly Leonard shares the lessons he learned through improv."

Make 'Em Laugh: Common Ground in Comic Characters
"Are some things always funny? While most jokes rely on cultural context, comic performers throughout history have found common sources of amusement that transcend linguistic or national boundaries. Actor and historian Matthew R. Wilson finds the funny in character types from Greco-Roman comedy, Commedia dell'Arte, Kyōgen, and contemporary film and television."

Silicon-based Comedy
"In this first-of-its-kind demo, Heather Knight introduces Data, a robotic stand-up comedian that does much more than rattle off one-liners -- it gathers audience feedback through advanced sensors and tunes its act as the crowd responds. Is this thing on?"

Your Brain on Improv
"Musician and researcher Charles Limb wondered how the brain works during musical improvisation -- so he put jazz musicians and rappers in an fMRI to find out. What he and his team found has deep implications for our understanding of creativity of all kinds."

The Way of Improvisation
"Improviser and storyteller Dave Morris teaches you seven steps to improvising and how they apply to life in 'The Way of Improvisation.'"

What Makes Things Funny
"Pete McGraw is a leading researcher at the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In this talk, he not only discusses what is funny but what makes something funny, as well."

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.

"How to Tell a Friend That She’s Mad at You" by Emily Ball

Uh oh! Your friend posted a vague message that could have meant anything, but you KNOW that it means she’s upset with you. Now the two of you are in a fight, and the worst part of it is, she doesn’t even know! Here are a few tips to let your friend know that she’s mad at you:

  1. Give her a taste of her own medicine. Post a status referencing her post that starts out with “I guess some people think”, but don’t tag her in it or draw her attention to it in any way. She’ll see your post and realize that her status actually WAS about you, not about a rude stranger in the grocery store!

  2. Fight fire with fire. Message her directly and say “If you were upset with me, you should have just come to me about it.” This will open her eyes to the fact that she actually is upset about your choices, and definitely not about an illness in the family.

  3. Bring up old arguments. Statements like, “So I guess you’re still not over the Arby’s incident,” will remind her that she has plenty of reasons to be angry with you already, so this newest argument is just adding fuel to a fire she didn’t even know she was burning!

  4. Tell all of your mutual friends. Just because she doesn’t know she’s mad at you doesn’t mean that everyone else shouldn’t! This is the time for screenshots. Get everyone on your side so that by the time she realizes she’s upset with you, your allies are already set.

  5. Hire a skywriter. Nothing says “You’re mad at me” quite like expensive cloud calligraphy that literally says “YOU’RE MAD AT ME”.

I hope these tips have been helpful and informative. Please feel free to tag a friend who’s upset with you – happy fighting!

Emily Ball is an improviser, bartender, and stand-up comedian based out of Dallas, Texas. In her free time, she likes to moderate arguments between her cat, Debbie, and her dog, Tucker.

(Photo: Reyner Media/Creative Commons)

"Troupe Talk: Shameless Pug" by Jason Hensel

The Dallas Comedy House (DCH) improv troupe Shameless Pug has a performance opportunity for DCH students Level 3 and above. It's all in honor of the recently befallen “Student Lotto.” For their show on Wednesday, August 16, at 10:30 p.m., they would like two-to-three students to perform with them. This is a great opportunity to play with an experienced troupe. Interested students can leave a comment on the post on the DCH Training Center's Facebook page or contact Glenn Smith via Facebook. Those selected to play will be notified this weekend.  

If you don't know who Shameless Pug is, well, that is where I come in. I recently sat down with the Pug outside a PetSmart in Plano to learn more about being shameless.

Who makes up the Shameless Pug?
I am currently owned by Mano Galaviz, Josh Hensley, Becky Rentzel, Glenn Smith, and Ryan Vicksell, but I like having a different human for each day of the week, so I am looking for prospects. If you are reading this and like walks in the park and having your face licked, then hit me up. I’m on Facebook!
How long has the Pug been around?
I was initially raised on a Ewing farm over two years ago. Hey, I guess that makes me a teenager in improv years.
Who trains the Pug?
Well, after a youthful foray into academia at Pupperdine and DePaw universities, I roamed the Earth in search of spiritual guidance. This is where I met my current sensei, Tyler Via, who has helped transform me into a comedic Hong Kong Phooey.
What tricks does the Pug like to play?
I love putting someone’s paw in bowl of water while they sleep. That is a classic! They still won’t let me back at Dotty Dumplin’s Doggie Daycare because of that. I can also twirl on demand and play "Uptown Funk" on the banjo. A dog has to have a few extra tricks under the collar in case this improv thing doesn’t work out.
What is the Pug's favorite pun?
Hmm, that is a tough one. Do you smell up-dog?
Where does the Pug see itself in five years?
My psychic told me that you would ask that! In light of the fact that Keegan Michael-Key has opened many doors for improvisers with his varied successes, I feel like I will be in line to at least be a Kibbles N’ Bits spokesperson, become a staple on the TV series Downward Dog, and film my version of a cult classic, called Doggie Darko…..or playing the banjo on a street corner.
Who's been a good boy/girl?
Well, you, of course, Jason. Here’s your treat! Pats on the forehead to Stephen Colbert, Wonder Woman, Kumail and Emily, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. May their bowls be filled with Scooby Snacks. My owners? No, that lot needs some serious obedience training! I would hit them on their noses with a newspaper…..er, if I could actually hold a newspaper.

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.

"Improv Tips Reaches 100 Milestone" by Jason Hensel

Congratulations to Paul Vaillancourt on posting 100 Improv Tips videos! For two years, Vaillancourt, co-founder of iO West and author of The Triangle of the Scene, has offered timeless advice for improvisers at all stages in their development through his short videos on YouTube.

Even more, he often brings in revered improvisers to offer their tips, which is great for students who don't get a chance to take workshops or classes taught by these esteemed performers. 

For example, Armando Diaz offers his advice on how to keep growing as an improviser, Molly Erdman shares her thoughts about therapy improv, and David Koechner explains how to hyper agree

Vaillancourt's 100th video features Del Close and advice about the art of improv.

"Del [Close] used to tell us that being funny is not really the sort of point of improv," Vaillancourt says in the video. "Sometimes, especially new students, want to say, 'Well, what's the point, or what's the purpose of improv?' and I don't think improv has a purpose. I think improv is like a medium like paint. Once you learn how to mix the paint and apply it to the canvas in certain ways where you have a command of that medium, then you can use it to express anything you want."

Sure, Vaillancourt says, you can get an audience to laugh.

"[But] what else can we get them to feel? Horror? Sadness? Joy? Happiness? Transcendence? All of these things," he says. "I think that if I had one thing to impart to you as we move on to the next step, it's challenge yourselves to let the work be more than just funny. I mean, funny is great and funny is a fantastic goal or a fantastic byproduct of what we do, but I think it's so much more than that."

As an example, he offers a clip (below) of Del Close "himself improvising a monologue about the suggestion 'Del Close.' It's like it's layers upon layers, but I think that when you see him do it, it'll really drive home this point."

Once again, congratulations Vaillancourt, and thank you for all of these tips!

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.

"Six Eats for Your Comedy Appetite" by Jason Hensel

That comedy on stage is making you hungry. Time to order some food. With so many good options, it’s hard to decide what to pick. Here are some suggestions.

Pros: The perfect theater food. It’s light. It’s inexpensive. It hardly makes a sound when you chew it (with your mouth closed, you heathen). Cons: You always grab more than can fit in your hand and half of it falls on the ground.

Tortilla Chips
Pros: Their only purpose in life is to be queso (or salsa or guacamole, if you’re nasty) vessels, just like humans. Cons: Hard to eat them quietly in a timely manner. Tortilla dust.

Pros: The quiet Tex-Mex food. Full of cheese. Can add steak or chicken to it. Cons: If you’re with someone else, you’ll be asked to share or offer a bite. Don’t. This cheesy goodness is all yours. Make your date or friend order his or her own.  

Pros: The sandwich of the Southwest. A step above the pedestrian bread slice. Can save the other half for lunch tomorrow. Cons: Loose wrapping. But then it becomes a salad; so pro, fewer carbs!

Pros: Classic. Food of the people. Not uppity like wraps. Always there for you in a pinch. Cons: You’ll be forced to categorize your friends into those who slice diagonally versus those who slice horizontally.

Pros: Fulfilling. Magical. Life-changing. Will hold your hand when you're sad. Cons: There are no cons with queso.

Guess what. Yeah, that’s right. The Dallas Comedy House offers a food menu featuring all of these items and more. Bon appetit!  

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.