I know you know it, but it has to be said: If art can send messages, comedy can scream them like your violently political uncle. But in the same way that not all political uncles are immature screamers, comedians can make effective points without embarking on diatribes. True to form, a Dallas Comedy House (DCH) sketch show has struck this balance in a fun, exciting way. They even put music to it! Trump’d: The Musical, directed by Kyle Austin, honestly portrays the show’s namesake and his recent…shenanigans. (Kind of a light word, shenanigans. Escapades isn’t right either…Crusade? Sure, that’s a nice, strong word with no historical significance whatsoever.) It stars the writing, acting, and vocal talents of Ashley Bright, Sallie Bowen, Josh Hensley, Cody Hofmockel, Andrew Plock, and Gabe Vasquez. Though they were not present for this interview, the show received invaluable help from Raye Maddox as show tech, Randy Austin as the show’s composer and live pianist, and Lauren Levine as assistant director. Despite their exhaustion (it’s no easy thing to do an hour-and-a-half long show), they very graciously accepted my request to interview them. The transcript follows. First of all, congratulations, that was a wonderful run. The advertisement that you put out, it’s just Trump’s wig and his name. A lot of people might think, just based off the look of the poster, that this is show driven by politics. Was your goal in writing this sketch to be political?
Cody: [quoting the show] Politics, politics, can be fun.
Josh: [quoting the show] Politics, politics, kill someone. I mean, yeah, wasn’t that basically the whole case? We came together, and we all wanted to do something that was important, and not all of us feel like this election year is really the greatest, and who hates anyone more than Trump, you know? I think it was all political in nature, if you had to look at it.
Ashley: We talked about the issues before we decided on Trump. I mean, we didn’t know we were doing a Trump show when we started writing.
Cody: I think it was on everyone’s mind.
Josh: I think there was so much material with Trump as the character he’s presenting – I don’t think we have a super political agenda, we just made fun of Trump.
Andrew: We did take little snippets of like, what we hate the most about the kind of things he’s spreading – hate against immigrants, hate against women, the weird things he does with his daughter, and all the weird stuff he’s about.
Ashley: And just, how did we get to now? You think in the ‘90s, like who Trump was then, and he’s seriously the Republican political candidate? Like, how did we get there?
And so, using comedy to make a more serious approach to how you feel?
Well, you know what I mean.
Cody: Well, once we started, once we decided, “Hey, this is a topic right now, and we can do this and people will respond.” I think we tried to be the least political – I mean, we tried to be as silly as possible. And not really try to push a huge political message. More like, “Hey, this is the show we’re going to do, but we’ll keep it true to the people that are writing it, and just be silly rather than political.”
That makes sense. When you were studying your… "artistic subject," – what kind of research did you do, for Andrew when you were getting into character to imitate him, and when the rest of you were writing about [Trump] for Andrew?
Andrew: I don’t know – for me it was just, I think we all shared a lot of articles about his worst quotes and things that he’s said, which a lot of material just presented itself. You don’t even have to change anything half the time. Everything he says is so ridiculous in the first place…but for me, I just watched him give some speeches, his hand motions, stuff like that.
Kyle: His little bitty hand motions?
Andrew: His ittle bitty hands…Oddly, it felt really easy to be Trump, I don’t know why.
[Author note: I would hazard a guess that it’s because he’s a walking caricature, but who am I to cast judgement upon such a towering, orange monolith?]
Andrew: It’s not a great Trump impression – it’s all body language. And that’s the main thing that I got from it, is that he uses his body a lot to talk…[under his breath] because he doesn’t have good words, probably…
Gabe: And even if you follow the news badly, you know about Trump. It writes itself, because everywhere you turn there is something.
Ashley: Which is why we didn’t go that way. You saw the show, we didn’t write about Trump himself – and when we picked periods of time to send him to, we thought, “What is this time period, and how does it mirror what Trump is about, like the sexism of the witch hunts. That was more what we were going for, with that.
Josh: And every week, people would come in like, “Did you hear this? Did you hear that?” And we had to have a cutoff date, we had to stop writing new stuff and just improvise the show after a certain point. We actually stopped writing at the Republican National Convention – like it says in the beginning of the show, we couldn’t keep up. But even after that, it was so funny to hear us all come together and say, “Did you hear this? Did you hear about this? How ridiculous.”
Is it different when you write sketch to accommodate songs?
I mean, obviously it was. Could you talk a bit about the ways that you wrote and how those ideas came about?
Cody: Thank god for Randy.
Andrew: That’s Randy Newman Austin.
Gabe: That was the thing about it, though. We could write ideas of what we wanted a song to be like, or what to do, and then to come back the next week and he’d say, “I’ve got it! I’ve changed a little bit of it, but it’s the same thing,” and man, ‘cause none of us have that musical background needed to write a song. We can do lyrics, we can be funny about it, maybe, but not make the music like that. It was so hard to tackle, and I don’t think we could have done it without Randy.
Kyle: That’s for sure.
Cody: We would kind of – I guess, when we decided to write a musical, one of the first things Kyle made us do was have everyone go write a song. And so we’d write some lyrics and have a little tune in our head, and when we brought Randy in, we’d just be able to sing the tune we thought of and he would…just be able to play it, because he’s ridiculous. And we worked with him enough to where we got a cohesive song.
Did you have to do vocal training of any kind to –
[All laugh REALLY hard, like, I was killin’ em, guys.]
All: Yes, yes.
Cody: Um, yes.
Kyle: …When I asked these guys if they wanted to do a Trump show, they said, “YEAH!” I asked if they wanted to do a musical - “YEAH!” Can anybody sing? “…ehhhh…”
Kyle: I think what’s great about this is that the content is so rich, the songs are so catchy, that we didn’t bother with worrying about that. We knew it’d be fine. It’s a musical that we put together in two-and-a-half, three months. It should’ve taken six months to do. And the amount of time that people put into it is very obvious. When people come prepared and ready and know their stuff – you know how much time they’re putting into it, how many times they’re listening to that song in the car, or at work or whatever. Josh got caught working on Louis and Clark at work doing this [Kyle bobs up in down, in the style of the dance performed during the show].
Was there a particular part of the show that ya’ll enjoyed the most? Performing, writing?
Andrew: I think everyone’s got their favorites, right?
Cody: My favorite line in the whole show is when Trump says, “I can pivot.”
That’s a very good line.
Cody: I just think it encompasses the entire show.
Josh: I love Louis and Clark.
Cody: That’s my favorite one, too.
Sallie: Gets me every time.
Gabe: I like the now. We aren’t learning the show any more, and we can just have fun with it. And – oh my god, the preview was so stressful!
Gabe: I mean, it was our first time performing in front of an audience. And just, “[Redacted] do I remember this line, that line, do I remember where to step?” Now we’re past that point…it’s more second nature, and –
Cody: Now we’re changing stuff, improvising, [redacted] with each other.
Kyle: And, how many people was that their first time to sing in front of people?
[Half the group raises their hands.]
Ah, so that’s Ashley, Terry…
Kyle: Um. That’s Gabe.
[Cue me crapping my pants.]
Oh – what? Oh my god, Gabe, I’m so sorry.
Andrew: Oh no, don’t worry. That’s what we call him, Gabriel Terry!
Kyle: Off the record, my favorite part is where [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]. Off the record, of course.
Off the record, gotcha.
Andrew: Oh, and how [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]. Off the record, too.
Haha, OK. And last question – this comes standard – if your group was a vegetable, what would it be?
Cody: [no hesitation] Corn.
[Author’s note: Please see my interview with the Look at Us show for reference.]
Josh: Everybody’s corn…
Cody: [sadly] No, we’re not corn.
Ashley: Maybe we can be moldy corn.
Andrew: Yeah, we’re moldy niblets.
Kyle: What would Trump be?
Cody: An orange bell pepper?
Gabe: Or a carrot, maybe?
A taco bowl?
Sallie: That’s it. That’s what vegetable we are. A taco bowl.
Kyle: We would be Home Depot filled with taco bowls.
Josh: Yes. Agreed.
Gabe: Hm…Maybe an eggplant?
Ashley: I was thinking an eggplant, too!
[Everyone babbles excitedly]
No, The Wrong Party was an eggplant.
[Everyone awws dissapointedly. Go look at that interview, too.]
I’m sorry…I mean, ya’ll could be eggplants too…
Ashley: Maybe an orange eggplant…?
Cody: What’s a type of vegetable where they’ll be like, “Oh, wasn’t expecting that…”
Andrew: What’s a vegetable that has tiny hands?
Kyle: We could do like, baby snap peas?
Oh, well, ginger, you call them “fingers of ginger.” That’s like, the technical cooking term or whatever.
Josh: Huh. That’s pretty good.
Gabe: Ginger is gross.
Kyle: What vegetable describes a bunch of random people that probably haven’t worked together a lot in other settings coming together and talking through it at the beginning (followed by yours truly) all pretending to know what they’re doing, and then faking it until we make it?
Ashley: [disgustedly] What vegetable is that?!
Cody: Yeah, what even is that?
Gabe: Well, we just made that vegetable.
Cody: Wait, we brought a potato up…
Josh: Ooh! A sweet potato!
Ashley: A sweet potato, yes!
Sallie: A yam.
Cody: Once you peel it away…
Gabe: A potato is used in a lot of ways. Very versatile, you can use it in all three meals of the day, snacks…
Cody: Also very accessible to the masses.
All: Ahh, yeah…
Gabe: You could fry it, you could bake it, sauté it…
Kyle: The versatility, that’s worth throwing out there. True to Trump.
Cody: [to me] So, a potato. Sweet or unsweet.
Starchy and terrible for you.
Andrew: [in Trump’s voice] But oh so satisfying.
Nice…I think that’s all the questions that I have.
Andrew: [In Trump’s voice] All I gotta say, is that if you see Derek Jeter, run. Don’t ask questions, protect your nuts, and turn the other way.
The Dallas Comedy House prides itself on being an open forum. Anyone with a show idea, script, or routine can submit to dchbackstage.com and it will be considered for a show slot. I bring it up because DCH did not ask for this show to be made. Rather, people moved by today’s political atmosphere came together and made it happen. This in itself says something about the passion they have for their subject, and if you can get yourself down to the House to see it in action, you certainly won’t be sorry. So go buy a ticket…and for God’s sake, go vote, too.
Emily Baudot is a DCH graduate and sketch 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.
(Poster: Ashley Bright. Images: Jason Hensel)