This weekly blog series features interviews taking place at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) open mic with me and some of the funniest stand-up comedians in the area, most of whom just happen to be my best friends! Read to learn about your favorite local funny people and about the curious emotional makeup of people who like to go onstage alone every night to get laughed at. Clifton Hall: Comedy Chameleon
Clifton Hall is one of the "Original Gangster" members of the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) staff, present from the training center's humble beginnings six years ago. As the school grew and evolved, so did Hall's abilities as a comic and a performer, as is evidenced by his hilarious work with his troupes APB and Clearance Shelf. Hall is not only one of the funniest, most gifted performers in Dallas improv, but in stand-up as well. His well-honed sensibilities, impeccable sense of comedic timing, and charming, confident onstage persona gave him a leg up early on in his stand-up career. Despite his sporadic attendance at open mics due to his busy improv schedule, he regularly crushes at shows at DCH and the Addison Improv and already has enough material for a strong feature set. I pulled Hall away from working the bar Tuesday night to talk about the differences between our two loves, stand-up and improvisational comedy.
When did you start comedy? Seven years ago, I joined a sketch comedy group, and that's how I met Amanda and ended up doing improv.
How did you find a sketch comedy group? Craigslist. I used to get on there a lot and look for acting stuff and short films, and I saw that and was like, "Oh, I do a good amount of impressions! Maybe they can use me." I did it, and the show went great but everything else about it was kind of a train wreck. Then after, she'd call me and said, "We're gonna do these improv classes, I think you'd really enjoy it." I was in the second class to start taking classes at Ozona.
When did you start stand-up? I guess a little over two years ago. I took Dean's class. The great thing about Dean's class was that I actually had to sit down and write. I grew up on stand-up, I was kind of a latchkey kid, and I'd just watch stand-up over and over, and I was like, "I always wanted to do this," but any time I'd try to sit down and write something, I would be, "This is the dumbest thing ever," and say f*** it. Then I did improv, and without even realizing it I learned to "yes and" myself, so when I would write, I would be like, "Yeah, this is dumb, but if this, then what?" Or I'd just kind of add more to it until I found something funny. I realized, nope, they don't just sit and write a killer joke out of the gate. It takes work. I feel like improv is just writing with support and collaborators.
I mean, there's no way I would be able to do stand-up--I mean I could get out there and just bomb and bomb and bomb and do it the hard way, which a lot of people do until they figure it out, but stand-up wise I was fortunate enough to already have my voice via improv.
What was it like writing from a more personal place instead of a character-based place? Honestly, I liked it a lot. It was much more cathartic for me, and also I liked that challenge--that idea of it just being on me. In improv, you can have personally a sh***y show, but the show's still fantastic, and that's one of the best things about improv. But what I like about stand-up is if it sucks, it's all on me, and at the same time the ego is like--if it's great, I did that sh**. I had no one to tap me out.
What feels worse for you--bombing at stand-up or bombing at improv? Probably bombing at improv, because I've done it longer. There's also that feeling of letting the team down, and that's the worst feeling in the world.
Is it ever hard for you to transition from improv brain to stand-up brain, which for me requires more thinking ahead? With improv, I'm much more focused and in the moment and listening to the person onstage, and the audience doesn't register so much. But with stand-up, I'm very much feeding off the audience, trying to figure out what they want. It is a totally different beast. You are using a different part of your brain.
You're moving, and we're all sad! What's your plan for doing creative stuff there? I know there's open mics and stuff there. I don't do a lot of open mics here, because I'm working and doing a bunch of stuff on the weekend improv-wise, but they're not gonna have that there. So I'm just gonna feel that out and see what that's like, because anything improv there is like--"Misunderstood Baby doing a bar show somewhere!" I'll find whatever's there. I'll definitely start jones-ing for that improv thing pretty quick.
Lauren Davis is an improviser and stand-up comedian from Dallas, Texas. Currently a student at the DCH Training Center, she can be seen weekly performing improv with her troupes LYLAS: Girl on Girl Comedy and Please Like Us, as well as doing her stand-up act at clubs around the area.
(Image: Grace Flatin)