Arrested Development

Comedy Centerfold: Amanda Hahn

Welcome to Comedy Centerfold, where we feature a Dallas Comedy House performer and get to know him or her a little better by using questions that Playboy centerfolds are usually asked.  Amanda HahnI once met Amanda Hahn outside an fMRI machine. She was flipping a quarter and popping bubble gum. She was a real cool cat, and she was looking for a brain to scan. I told her I'd let her peep into my pyramidal cells in my prefrontal cortex to prove my processes were premier. But she had her eye on another, who came in at that moment. Taking off his glasses and loosening his Robert Talbott tie, he rested himself on the bed outside the machine. He told her to call him Tyrone today before catching her quarter mid flip. She pushed a button that moved him under the magnet, but not before telling him he's on notice to visit her at the Dallas Comedy House during one of her shows with Dairy Based, SpanishProv, Bunny Bunny, or the Halloween Sketch Show in October. He offered a thumbs up, and she popped her gum one last time.

Hometown? I grew up in Franklin, Tennessee. It’s a relatively small, old Civil War/farming town outside of Nashville where Miley Cyrus and Paramore are from.

Guilty Pleasures? Well, I spent about 15 minutes at work today watching R. Kelly’s commentary on R. Kelly’s classic hip-hopera, Trapped in the Closet. So stuff like that.

Ambitions? Be Stephen Colbert. Also, to perform at Second City while being a neuroscientist with adorable, well-behaved, funny kids.

Best Concert? This is so hard to pick. I’ll go with Florence and the Machine, because Florence Welch is so stunning. Her voice sounds even more powerful when you see it come out of her in person. And she was dressed in an all black, flowy, partly sheer dress that made her look like a dark angel. Plus she was funny and charming! I think I fell in love.

Favorite Book? The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington by Brian Francis is the one I’ve re-read the most. It was recommended to me by a friend in high school, and no one else I know has read it. Go read it! It’s about an overweight, gay boy in middle school trying to hide his huge nipples. It’s very funny and has a slight Tina Fey feel to it.

Favorite Movie? I have to go with Little Miss Sunshine. I’ve never gotten tired of it despite how many times I’ve watched it, and I once watched it twice in a row in one night. I love how real it feels despite how coo-coo it is.

Favorite TV Show? I know this is everyone’s, but Arrested Development. It changed me. Watching it made me realize how great something is when you let yourself have fun when you write and perform, instead of trying too hard to make a “good” product. I love The Colbert Report for similar reasons.

Pets? Lucy. AKA: Lucy the Dog, Sweet Baby Lucy, Big Booty Baby, Little Boo Bunny, and Dog. She’s my first dog, and I couldn’t have picked a more strange one. She’s a shih tzu/terrier mix that looks like a grisly Ewok with a big butt. She sneezes on my face a lot, and when she flops over for belly rubs, she waves her front paws desperately up and down until I touch her. She’s perfect.

Foods I Crave? Spaghetti and meatballs is my No. 1. I’ve been trying to eat healthier, so I’m trying to convince myself to crave zucchini covered in tomato sauce instead. It’s not working.

People I Admire? My mom is probably No. 1 for being so patient, attentive, and insightful with me as a child. She took the time to understand how my mind, and my siblings’ minds, worked, and parented accordingly. I was stubborn, anxious, and hot-headed, and she gave me such a magnificent gift by teaching me to take control of my actions, regardless of my emotions. But she never made me feel bad for what I was feeling and was so loving, comforting, and understanding. She’s the reason that as an adult I have the emotional stability that I have. She’s an amazing woman. Also, Stephen Colbert. He’s so funny, nice, and smart, and I like that he’s open about being a Christian, but he’s never dogmatic. I want him to be a member of my family.

Dream Role? Something super-duper dramatic. I can’t think of a particular role right now, but something that involves dramatic speeches, crying, and yelling. Maybe a mom at the end of her rope. Or, or, or Heath Ledger’s Joker! Although that role literally killed him, so maybe I need to re-think this.

Favorite Song to Sing? "Rags to Riches" by Mr. Elvis Presley. I like it for the beginning when it goes, “You know I’d goooo…” and then pauses a sec, then goes “from RAAAAAGS toooo riiiichessss..” I’m not a good singer, so it’s just an excuse to yell alone in my car, really.

Good First Date Idea? Any date that allows you to talk and laugh with each other, but also has something to actively do in case the conversation lulls and you get nervous. Or just go on a first date with Tyler Simpson! It's a lot of fun and worked out great for me.

Web of Laughs: Absurdist Comedy

Monty Python There are very few movies that I can remember the exact moment I watched them for the first time, or exactly how I felt when I watched it for the first time. One of the very few, if not the most engrained in my memory, is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I don’t remember how old I was exactly, somewhere south of 11, I think, and I was at my dad’s house and he specifically wanted to show me his favorite movie. I settled in to watch it, and while I’m sure my 11-year-old brain did not really comprehend the jokes (I’m not even sure if my 25-year-old brain can catch them all to this day), I remember laughing the hardest I have probably ever laughed before. The next few months of my life were spent re-watching and over-quoting “It’s just a flesh wound.” Its thick, heavy-handed absurdity was really the first of its kind that I had seen.

Absurdist comedy, while rooted in the same reality as dark comedy, has no qualms in abandoning that same reality after only briefly establishing it. Absurdist comedy takes casual situations and then relies on zero logic, which is what makes it so fun to watch. It’s not bound to one specific style, and as seen in The Holy Grail, can switch between subtitled footnotes, a typical medieval comedy, and then a cartoon. Because of the frequent stylistic choices and changes, the general plot line throughout these comedies tends to remain simple. Essentially, The Holy Grail is just the story of King Arthur and his knights in search for the Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail was certainly an original for its time, but going back to the silent era, you can see its influences from films such as The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup. The Holy Grail also had a lot of contemporaries around its time, in the midst of what seemed like the golden age of absurdist comedy. Five years after The Holy Grail, Airplane! came around and brought the same level of absurdity, as well as an alarming amount of jokes packed into one movie. While re-watching Airplane!, that’s always what stands out to me the most, the sheer amount of jokes per minute that are packed in. Side note: there was even a study conducted by a movie subscription service back in 2012 that found that Airplane! had the most laughs per minute of the top 10 comedies they selected, clocking in at 3 lpm (laughs per minute). The fast-paced jokes in Airplane! make it endlessly re-watchable, because there’s always a new joke to unpack or something you may have missed.

While there have been some notable, modern absurdist comedy films in recent years, the style has really found its home right now on TV. Maybe it’s harder to apply the absurdist formula to longer forms of entertainment successfully, but when applying it in 30-minute increments, it may be more accessible and easier to sustain over a longer period of time. The rapid-fire style of Airplane! has lent itself to similar modern mainstream TV comedies such as Arrested Development and 30 Rock. While less mainstream and accessible, the TV show version of Comedy Bang! Bang! also successfully blurs the realism line with its post-modern/absurd talk show format.

Personally, absurdist comedy is one of my favorite forms. There are no limits to the amount of weird allowable. A lot of comedy (and life?) seems to be bound by rules and constructs that you’re supposed to follow to get the finished product, but with absurdist humor, there are no rules. Sure, you can put that unicorn on a spaceship and make him the president, why not? It creatively opens up any possibilities and allows the audience to enjoy something that, more than likely, they would have never thought of or expected. It leads the audience into a weird universe that can only exist within this piece of entertainment they’re partaking in at that moment, and that’s such a wonderful, inspiring thing. As my life mantra/favorite quote from the ultra-absurd 1990’s kid’s show Eerie, Indiana goes, “Better weird, than dead.”

Jessica Dorrell is a graduate of the DCH improv program, and is currently enrolled in the sketch writing program. Her one wish is that some day she can have a Mogwai as a pet. You can see her perform every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. in the current Ewing show.