Sketch Speak: An Interview with LOOK AT US

You know that sinking feeling you get when you’ve done something awful, and you want to take it back so badly, but you can’t? All you can do is just let it wash over you, like a cold tomato bath after a skunky time. And constant readers, I had a pretty skunky couple of weeks. One of the skunkiest things (among many) involved me emptying out my phone cache to try and clear out some space. You want to know what was in there? Well, in addition to some priceless recordings of my grandfather telling a World War 2 story, I also lost my first ever interview with a Sketch 3 class from Dallas Comedy House (DCH).

This is a true story.

The good news is that I had the magic of the Internet and some really nice Sketch 3 people who were willing to redo the damn interview via Google Docs. Oh, Google Docs. You magical tomato bath, you.

LOOK AT US - posterSO, herein lies my interview with Ashley Bright’s Sketch 3 class, made of: Sallie Bowen, Tori Brenna, Bonnie CrissBrian HarringtonPatrick Hennessy, Cody Hofmockel, Tyler Johnston, and Kim Marr. They are all beautiful, lovely souls, and I apologize to them and my grandfather for my gross negligence. The sketch itself, in my humble opinion, was lovely – a reflection of themselves, really, with some of the most meta links the world famous DCH has ever seen. Not at all corny…though I think they’d take that as an insult.

So, let’s get on with it, then!

You've all been doing improv for a long time. What was the biggest change you had to make to start writing sketch? What was different or difficult about transitioning?

Sallie: Definitely doing homework. In improv, you come in, have fun, and go home. With sketch, there is a lot of work you have to put in outside of class. It was hard to discipline myself at first but I learned that if I could get my sketches done early in the week rather than waiting until last minute, I would usually end up with better quality work. Corn quality. (And so it begins.)

Patrick: Doing work outside of class. The beauty of improv is that it's all made up on the spot. You can decide to do an improv set anywhere, anytime. Any one of the sketches in our show was the product of hours of writing, tweaking, memorizing, and rehearsing. One of the things I found difficult was learning how to write dialogue that sounds natural. When you first start, it is very easy to write scenes that sound like two robots talking to each other.

Bonnie: I think committing to writing every day was definitely a change. You have to be really responsible for getting your work done, not just for yourself but for your classmates because everyone is relying on you to provide and put forth effort in the class to make a great show.

Brian: Yeah, with improv you just have to show up, do it, then you’re done. With sketch, you’ve really got to put in effort outside of class and, even harder than that, is not waiting until the morning of your class to do that work.

Cody: Doing work outside of class was the biggest change and the most difficult part of transitioning.

Tyler: The biggest change I had to make was really putting in the work outside of class. There’s more homework in sketch than improv, so preparing yourself for that transition was definitely tough.

Kim: I really struggled with the inner monologue of, “Wow, everything you are writing is terrible. You aren’t funny at all. Why are you doing this!?!?” Is this too personal? I hope not. My favorite part of improv is getting to ignore that voice on stage because there is just no time for it. Writing provided plenty of time for me to dwell on it.

What advice would you give to improvisers interested in taking sketch?

Sallie: DO IT. Just do it. It's so fun and so rewarding. It's definitely different than improv, but I think everyone should do it. Also, take it with some friends or people you like. Improv is a personal journey, while sketch is more of a group experience. We all were friends and knew each other before class so I think it made for a more enjoyable experience

Patrick: If possible, take sketch with friends. If you can’t do that, become good friends with the people in your class. You’re going to spend a lot of time with these people and occasionally you might have to give someone your honest opinion. It’s all much easier if you really know, enjoy, and respect them.

Bonnie: Do it! It’s so fun having gone through all the levels of improv because improv really helps you learn about the structure of scenes and how they look and feel, and when you get to sketch, you know how a scene should look and feel and you’re able to write with so much more confidence.

Brian: A lot of the fun of improv is building a scene, which you still get to do with sketch, but on a grander scale. How many improv scenes have you been like, “Aw man, I wish I had made this move or I wish they had made that move.” Sketch gives you a chance to really get that group mind going. Also, if you can work corn into your show, it’s good luck. (Straight from the husk, this one.)

Tyler: Find your voice and write toward your and your classmates' strengths. Once you start to get to know each other, it makes it easier to say, “Oh, so-and-so can do this weird voice really well, I can incorporate that.” But, don’t forget to know yourself and write for yourself, too. If you think you can write a really bomb sketch and you can knock it out of the park, then do it!

Cody: Write what makes you laugh. Remember to still yes-and your own ideas and the ideas of others. It’s easy to start coming up with reasons why a sketch doesn’t work. It’s far more productive to figure out how to make it work. You’re going to want to throw away a lot of ideas. Resist that and you’ll probably surprise yourself.

Kim: Do it! You’ll probably learn something and become friends with a great group of people. I did. It’s made me more confident in my performance as an improviser, as well. Do your homework earlier than the morning of class!

LOOK AT US - corn posterHow does Ashley help you write? How much of a hand does she have in making the final product?

Sallie: Ashley was our voice of reason. She was honest with us and told us when our ideas were dumb. She always pushed us to do better. She is the most supportive, smart, angel-haired teacher. She would listen to us spout our insane ideas for this show and she'd lay it out for us. She'd say, "OK, here are the risks, but if you want to do it let's f**king make it happen."

Bonnie: Ashley was the best Sketch 3 teacher this group of weirdos could have had. We were constantly throwing out crazy ideas, and she really helped us wrangle them in and hone our sketches.

Brian: Ashley is Wonder Woman and her lasso of truth kept us from getting too out of control, but if you saw the show, she still gave us plenty of wiggle room. (And what glorious wiggling it was.) Ashley was fantastic in looking at the first draft of a sketch, trimming the fat, finding the meat, and shucking the corn. (!!!) She never tried to write her own sketches; she’s got her own show for that. She just made our writing the best it could be.

Patrick: Yeah, it’s easy to go from a simple funny pitch to a cluttered confusing sketch. Ashley would help us focus on what the sketch was really about and cut out anything unnecessary. She also acted as the director of the show, so she had a say in the final run order and whether or not something would get cut.

Cody: Ashley taught me to read so personally she’s played a key role in helping me write. She made us do important things like write sketches, put a show together, and stop talking about corn for a second. She pushed us to do something “different” but probably saved a lot of audience lives by making sure we were the right kind of “different.”

Tyler: Ashley knew most of us really well going into the sketch class, so I think she had an idea of the kind of shenanigans she was getting into. We’re a beautifully, weird bunch, and she made sure we were polished weirdos. She made us go past the obvious corn jokes and dig deeper into the corn field that is Sketch 3.

Kim: Ashley was super supportive of all of our ideas, but was also a voice of reason because we had some crazy ones. She definitely kept us in check but allowed us to explore the weird depths of our hearts. Basically, she was like our mom who put a leash on us at the zoo. (Dare I go for a “and Harambe didn’t try to kill you” joke? Nah. Not my bit.)

I seem to remember the answer to the last question – I asked them what they would be if they were a vegetable. First, they said they would be [redacted], and then they changed their minds and said "corned lizard."

Sallie: I still stand by [redacted]. [Redacted] 4 life. Corn 4 life. Corn is life. Do you believe in life after corn?

Tyler: [redacted] Corn.

Bonnie: [REDACTED] FOR LIFE. BUT ALSO JUSTICE FOR CORN!

Brian: Cody asked Kim to say [redacted] to whatever the next question was. This was the next question. I wish you still had the audio, but I guess you can’t have your [redacted] and eat it too. (I blame the Android OS for confusing my dumb brain.)

Cody: I thought you said animal. It could be a [redacted] corned lizard. Damn, Brian, that was a great pun. Kim answered “[redacted]” to one of the questions but I was the only one who heard so I wanted her to say it again. The rest is Kimstory.

Patrick: It was def animal. “Corned Lizard” is very formal and that ain’t me. I prefer the more colloquial name, Corny Toad.

Kim: I just want everyone to know that after the initial interview, I went up to Cody at the bar and had to confirm that I had the right definition of [redacted]. (You sure did, Kim. You sure did.)

To round things off, I asked Ashley some questions as well.

What's different about teaching sketch vs. teaching improv?

Ashley: Improv is creating a free-flying ball of energy and support out of thin air; it's magic. Sketch is like if you caught that ball, choreographed some moves, practiced them, and became the Harlem Globetrotters.

What is your favorite thing about teaching sketch?

Ashley: The thing I love about teaching sketch is seeing the work pay off. In sketch, you can watch the tiniest half-baked idea become a fully fleshed-out performance. I get to watch the work go into it and watch the progress. It's like watching a time-lapsed video of a tree growing, and I love it.

What was it like teaching this group of writers?

Ashley: This group of writers have etched a li’l corn-shaped spot in my heart. They're these silly, cool kids with immense talent. Each of them. They probably could've skated by on that talent and charm, but they went to work. Citronella lives. 

~

And that’s all she wrote. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go let the tomato drain out of my tub. If you’d like to experience other sketch shows like this one, or maybe even get involved in one yourself, head over to the classes section of this website to learn more.

Emily Baudot is a Level Five improv student. When she isn’t at the theater, she’s drinking at one of the bars down the street and trying to justify ordering dessert for dinner.  Or, she’s on her computer pretending she’s a banished orc maiden, whichever one sounds healthier to you. If her crippling addiction to sugar and caffeine doesn’t kill her, she can be seen on stage with the soon to be world famous Wild Strawberry and the already-Internet famous Wiki-Tikki-Tabby (just kidding, they do go online a lot though). She’s also a Pisces because that means something.

(Top Image: Patrick Hennessy. Bottom Image: Ashley Bright)