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Humor on the Brain: AHA! The Relationship Between Insight, Improv, and Your Brain

Aha Moment What do you think of when I say DESERT and HUMPS?

Was your answer CAMEL?

If your answer wasn’t camel, you either misread desert as dessert and came up with a kinky alternative, or maybe you just need some brushing up on zoology. If your answer was indeed camel, then you have engaged in what some neuroscientists refer to as the "Aha Moment." How often do you experience that tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon where you can’t come up with a word, but as soon as you do, it’s this incredible burst of realization? That’s the "Aha Moment."

Research at the Center of Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas, along with scientists at Drexel University and Northwestern University, has found that the "Aha Moment" is a crucial form of creativity that allows you to understand a joke, clarify something confusing, or make a greater realization about yourself or others. More generally speaking, it's a form of insight. Those who are more insightful are actually better at blocking out irrelevant information so they can better direct their attention and prepare to solve problems analytically. These neurological differences are even seen during rest - so more insightful individuals naturally have greater activity in regions associated with language processing and attention.

Being able to integrate and reorganize all different elements in a situation subconsciously to solve a problem and make important innovations about a scene is a necessary component of improv and other forms of comedy. While we still can’t say for certain the directionality of the relationship between insight and improved brain activation for problem-solving and attention, it seems as though there may be a clear link between the insight you use in an improv scene and these neurological benefits. In other words, it seems you may be doing your brain some good every time you have an "Aha Moment" over a joke or the game in an improv scene.

Julie Schneider is a neuroscientist and graduate of the DCH improv training program. When she isn't working to finish her PhD, she enjoys traveling.

(Image: Jason Hensel)

DCH Snapshots Presents: Storytelling Showcase

DCH Snapshots is a weekly webcomic where Shawn Mayer watches improv shows and then draws what he remembers. Please click the image to enlarge it. DCH Snapshots Storytelling

Shawn Mayer is a DCH graduate who performs with the troupes Wiki Tiki Tabby and Sunglow. He plays euphonium in a polka band, is an avid lover of Patrick McGoohan, and avoids social interaction by pretending to read notifications on his phone.

Tech Company Offers Revolutionary Childcare Program

capsule February 17, 2017 (Palo Alto, CA) - In the ultra-competitive world of tech jobs, thinking outside the box is no longer just for landing employment, it’s also required for retaining employees. The aggressive ground that is Silicon Valley has seen massive growth in employee benefits to enhance associate morale and increase desire to work for a specific company. From three free meals a day to Lyft rides home, companies are sparing no expense to deliver the ultimate work experience. Often these perks are geared toward the single, midcareer associate, but what about those wanting to start a family? That’s where booming pet app Waggle comes in.

Waggle is an app that allows pet owners to watch, interact, and feed their pets while they’re on the go living their busy life and allows the owner to not feel so coldhearted for making a snap decision to get a dog after Melanie broke up with them to make themselves feel better and not so alone. Over the past few years, Waggle has had more than 100 million downloads and has seen investor funding skyrocket. With the demand already high for technical engineers, Waggle felt that they had to offer more than just a fully stocked bar at work. That’s when founder and CEO, Bennet Greer, knew he had a model many other businesses did not.

“I had just become a father of my now beautiful, five-month-old daughter, Lucy, and I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way I can be a full-time dad and have a successful career.' That’s when I had an epiphany to create the Pamper Program,” Greer said. “The idea was simple, what if you could raise your child exactly how you wanted to, but never had to leave work? We had a bunch of the key functions and processes in place with Waggle’s operating system. The last hurdle was making it adaptable to a child.”

Waggle’s Pamper Program has taken aim at making the struggle of raising a child effortless for its employees. As early as four-weeks-old, a child can enter the program and remain in it until the age of 18. While in the program, the child is completely removed from physically living or depending on its parents to be raised and placed into a Pamper suite. Parents can then interact with their children through the Pamper app that functions much like Waggle. A parent can feed their child, put on a cartoon, or have an hour-long conversation on about how “tough” grandpa was on them and how they’re not going to be a dad like that, they’re going to be a fun dad, maybe even buy their child beer when they’re 18 because senior year of high school is difficult for everyone.

New Waggle employee, Jay Vernon, believes that the Pamper Program was one of the best job benefits he found during his recent career change. He and his son, Terrance (pictured above), have fun all day, and Vernon doesn’t have to spend a moment away from his desk.

“I was wined and dined during my recent interview phase by some great companies, but Waggle just kind of understood what I was looking for. I knew that if I invested in my son, Terry, I wouldn’t be able to really hone in at work, which probably would’ve led to problems at home, and who knows, maybe I would’ve started drinking again,” Vernon said. “Waggle’s Pamper Program allows me to give work 100 percent of my time and Terry very little, while still being able to shape his future in some way, I’m pretty sure. If I want to spend quality time with him, I pop open the Pamper app, select the quality time action, and within minutes a surrogate parent is teaching him how to throw a baseball. It’s like having a real-life Tamagotchi, and I’m thankful the powers at be gave me that Tamagotchi. Unlike my Tamagotchi in elementary school, I’m not going to overfeed and lose this one. I’m going to take care of Tamagot… I mean Terry.”

Since Waggle’s Pamper Program became public knowledge, applications to the company have increased tremendously. Greer’s business has some of the top tech talent lining up at its door for the work/kind-of-life balance that Waggle has begun to offer, leaving many tech giants wondering how they will compete with such a futuristic job benefit. One thing is for certain, though, soon Waggle will have some homegrown resources it can use to thoroughly beta test its app.

Anthony Salerno was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. He is a current DCH student and has performed with German Harmony and Titanium. When he’s not working at his day job, he’s rocking out to Led Zeppelin and rooting on his hapless Buffalo Bills.

(Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip/Business Insider)

Everyone's a Comedian on Social Media (and I Have a Problem with That)

TwitterLOL Thanks to social media, everybody thinks they're a comedian nowadays.

Newsflash: They're not.

Let's break this down: what makes a comedian? Making people laugh is usually the go-to answer. But anyone can make people laugh. My dog can make people laugh, but being startled by his own farts should not be an act. Instead, a comedian goes after that laugh all the time. It's a bit like an addiction. They understand beats, they understand character, and they understand that the success of a show works two ways - the comedian has to put him or herself out there and make the audience laugh, and the audience has to be open to the experience of enjoying themselves and laughing.

Now, look at social media.

There's a f***-ton of noise happening in social media.

Mind you, social media is a great platform for comedians. Especially Twitter, with that one-two punchline in 140 characters. But the most important people to a comedian is that audience that is willing to be open and laugh.

The biggest problem I find is most social media users immediately assume comedy immediately equivocates to insults or crude humor. Which is simply not true. Yes, those things can be funny, but the reason they are funny is because they are commenting on something that either we know to be true or we are afraid to say out loud. If you do not comment upon something or add to the conversation in a manner that is naturally funny and/or poignant, you just sound like an asshole. Read the room, dude! You have to know your audience and read the room. And I don't know about you, but you can't really get a good tell from Sandra_Mom_1342's avatar. All I know is that she loves baking and is proud of her honor roll student, so she may not have appreciated my joke about her “hot buns.” (Just so you know, there is no Sandra_Mom_1342, I’ve never tweeted her because she doesn’t exist. I googled it, she's not real, I don't want to be sued for libel.)

Also, sometimes those jokes are just akin to bullying.

The perfect analogy for this situation is akin to somebody sitting in their home, talking to the wall about whatever is trending, and then the Kool-Aid Man bursts in as a reply or retweet with a rude, not-at-all-thought-out joke or “liberal tears” meme on the nice conversation you were having with your wall. And sometimes the Kool-Aid Man isn't even the real Kool-Aid Man, but a college frat guy from Indiana with an "K" scribbled on a shirt with a permanent marker. And then when you acknowledge what he just did, he just spray paints something horribly offensive on your wall and then he high-fives his other Kool-Aid Man friend, and now you have a crumbling house structure and you have to call a general contractor...

Does that sound confusing? It’s because I’m not great with analogies. At least I tried.

Look, I'm not begrudging people for making jokes. There need to be more jokes. But what I find unfortunate is that most of these people trying to be comedic would never set foot on a stage or in an improv class where you can learn about listening and reacting honestly and, more importantly, collaboration. It can be a very selfish experience to just slap your accounts with multiple jokes, and with a platform as public as social media, there is already a fight to get your joke out there first. It doesn’t matter if you’re a comic or not. Rather than boosting each other up and “yes, anding,” we’re finding ourselves in a whirlpool where the intended audience no longer knows who is the troll anymore. (Hint: It might include anyone with a Pepe the Frog avatar.)

Sometimes I just want to say to those people, “You don’t have to be funny to be acknowledged or get attention or retweets. It’s OK to not be a comedian. Just like it’s OK for me to not be a teacher for no other reason but security, DAD!”

See, joke. I’m a comedian.

KC Ryan is an improv graduate turned Sketch Writing Level 2 student. When she’s not working at the day job, she is a writer and podcaster for everything that combines feminism, comedy, theatre, and nerdery. She also performs in the puppet improv troupe Empty Inside.

New Fashion Trend May be a Trap

hipster February 10, 2017 (Brooklyn, NY) - From Williamsburg in Brooklyn to the Mission district of San Francisco, an abundance of wheelchair users have begun to crowd the city sidewalks all thanks to a hot new trend. Much like pork pie hats, or non-prescription glasses, the new accessory of choice for the trendiest of young adults are vintage wheelchairs. The latest fad, however, has left many city dwellers with a more crowded walk to the job they hate and a more cumbersome trip to their high-end yoga classes they infrequently attend while paying full membership price.

David Brown, the owner of beard-trimming shop Shave it for Later, is credited with the discovery of hipster wheelchairs and had some fascinating insight into the creation of the cultural explosion.

“Yeah, well, my grandpa died and his funeral was tough on the family, but I figured we should keep the mood lighthearted because that’s what he would’ve wanted, so I jumped into his old wheelchair and started acting like I couldn’t walk," he said. "That’s when my girlfriend, Ellarose, was like ‘Hey Brownie, you look really imperturbable in that wheelchair’. So, we decided to take it back to our apartment that we share with 10 other couples, and dress it up a bit. Before you know it, I was rolling out to our co-op, midweek trivia night, and living room concerts in it. Everyone was like, ‘Brownie, where can we get one of those!’”

Soon after Brown realized what a hit his hipster wheelchair was, he started acquiring more, fixing them up, and selling the chairs out of his shop. The demand for wheelchairs for able-bodied users skyrocketed and he could hardly keep up. Fortunately, Brown’s colleague, Asher, moonlighted at a local nursing home and according to Asher, “every few days, some extra [wheelchairs] would become available.”

urban trapAlthough the trend was quick to catch on, all the extra wheelchairs on the sidewalks have made it difficult for walking commuters in recent months. That’s why opposing groups like Don’t Roll on Me (DROM) have sprung up, to reclaim the sidewalks that once were theirs and the homeless folks they scurried past pretending to read a text message.

DROM’s president, Alec Robinson, said that the group's focus was to make popular Brooklyn sidewalks, bars, and shuffleboard courts less cluttered.

“It definitely was a little difficult at first, trying to pick out those who actually needed wheelchair access from those who didn’t," Robinson said. "We had a lot of lawsuits. Then we came up with the Urban Trap, which features anything from cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon to carafes of drip coffee. After we started installing those around the city, we haven’t misidentified one hipster wheelchair.”

Time will tell if the hipster wheelchair is a trend here to stay. As of last weekend, the Urban Trap had appeared to be influencing the wheelchair craze somewhat. Despite Robison and DROM’s efforts, though, the influence has not been reducing the number of wheelchairs but instead increasing the number of people requiring assistance to get around due to the long list of injuries sustained by the aggressive metal trap.

Anthony Salerno was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. He is a current DCH student and has performed with German Harmony and Titanium. When he’s not working at his day job, he’s rocking out to Led Zeppelin and rooting on his hapless Buffalo Bills.

(Top image: The End of Austin. Middle image: Urban Traps)

Podcasting with Vulnerability

podcastcry I was listening to podcasts at work, as I am wont to do. One of them was a Carrie Fisher tribute from the Anomaly Podcast, hosted by my friends and the former home of my dearly departed podcast, Anomaly Supplemental. They established at the very beginning that they had to take the time to process the passing of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds as they both grew up with them, and they didn't want to cry on the podcast. And while I respect the need to be articulate and stoic, or at least not on the verge of crying, I have to admit that I felt most connected to the episode when they were on the verge of tears.

Many people underestimate the power of being vulnerable on a public platform. It feels more comfortable to have the shield of entertainment and fluff because it protects our gooey centers. I should know. I'm not only an artist, I'm a comedian. But the best performers, visual artists, writers, musicians, and so on have to access their emotions and personal views. Of course, these things are extremely precious to us. So when we share them, we are either going to inspire or invite criticism.

One of my favorite podcasts right now is Matt and Doree's Eggcellent Adventure. The premise of this show is that spouses Matt Mira (The Nerdist, co-host) and Doree Shafrir (BuzzFeed, executive editor) share their experiences of trying to have a child via IVF. It's a personal and funny account inside the process of getting pregnant with the assistance of medical science. What I love about them is that they are honest about how rigorous IVF treatments are and the planning that is involved, as well as the interpersonal relationships with doctors and nurses and anyone else poking around poor Doree's uterus.

I love that Matt and Doree are both willing to be so open about it. Not everyone is willing to do that. I'm not even sure some people are capable of that. I think it's primarily because of fear of negative feedback and trolling. Now, Matt and Doree get nice feedback in their mailbox about how their listeners share similar experiences, curiously ask them why IVF instead of adoption, etc. It's a wonderful, interactive community they are building. And then Matt gets Twitter comments that straight up say, "You know there's this thing called adoption." Luckily Matt is a comedian and is used to this kind of thing happening. But that's kind of snarky, right? I cringe when I read things like that because people are being willfully ignorant. (Because everyone thinks they're a comedian. I'll be writing another blog on this next week. Stay tuned.)

Having a podcast that chronicles a personal journey or has at least one episode where the host or hosts are honest does not come without risk of snark, but it also has the beautiful advantage of allowing listeners to connect with them. I may not be anywhere near having a child right now, but I relate to Matt and Doree's infertility issues. I relate to that loss felt by my friends for Carrie Fisher. I want to relate. I wish podcasters were more willing to do that as their other entertainment and artistic counterparts do. Look, I’m not Brene Brown, but I do think that vulnerability has a place not only in our paintings and movies but also in our podcast feeds.

KC Ryan is an improv graduate turned Sketch Writing Level 2 student. When she’s not working at the day job, she is a writer and podcaster for everything that combines feminism, comedy, theatre, and nerdery. She also performs in the puppet improv troupe Empty Inside.