Ashley Bright

Sketch Speak: "Trump’d: The Musical" - The Off-the-Record Interview

trumpd-posterI 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?

Trump'd

And so, using comedy to make a more serious approach to how you feel?

[All laugh.]

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.”

Trump'd

Is it different when you write sketch to accommodate songs?

[All laugh]

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.

[All agree.]

Andrew: That’s Randy Newman Austin.

[All laugh]

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…”

[All laugh.]

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].

[All laugh]

Tump'd

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.”

[All agree.]

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!

Really?

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.

[All laugh]

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.

Trump'd

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.]

[Andrew laughs.]

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?

Josh: Potatoes?

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?

[All laugh]

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.

[All laugh]

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.

Trump'd

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)

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)

Troupe Talk: Pretty People With Problems

Pretty People With Problems Dear Dallas Comedy House (DCH) friends, family, and of course, Mr. Vernon,

Pretty People With Problems accepts the fact that they’ve had to sacrifice a whole lot of time and energy, time originally guided by the wonderful Nikki Gasparo and now guided by the equally wonderful Ashley Bright, to flush out and hone a wild idea for an improvised teen movie. They’ve all practiced really hard together, and it’s crazy inspiring to see how far they’ve come. So, “Who exactly are they?” you ask. Well, you may see them as just a posse of unruly, free-spirited improv kiddos, but they’re definitely more than that. They’re a troupe of incredibly talented players who genuinely love to “yes and...” and support each other on and off the stage. With shows chock full of silly scenarios, zany casts of characters, and plenty of talk about Jerrell’s butthole, Pretty People With Problems is helping audiences relive their glorious high school moments: the good, the bad, and the embarrassing. With a lot of love and a whole lot of weird, they bring to life those precious moments rife with acne, angst, and possibly a rockin’ John Hughes soundtrack. In the simplest terms, Pretty People With Problems is the stellar combination of a Cody... a Jerrell and a Sallie...a Tyler and a Brian...a Bonnie...and a Natalie (a.k.a. Buffy in a young Meryl Streep disguise).

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Breakfast/Improv Club (it’s a dual purpose organization)

To start us off, let’s hear the super teen-angsty, melodramatic origin story of how Pretty People With Problems came to be.  

Cody: I was smoking pot behind a dumpster and writing poetry with my tears when Natalie told me Brian had told her that Tyler told him that Bonnie told her that Sallie said that Jerrell said that Nikki Gasparo said I had shit my pants in the cafeteria and that Ms. Bright slipped in it and gave me detention. I looked Natalie in the eyes and threw my letterman jacket on the ground and said, “I need redemption.” Then I messaged everyone on AIM and asked if they wanted to do a teen drama. No one wanted to, but they were all into improv, so I skated all the way to Keller, Texas, where Nikki lived, and we had our first practice.

Sallie: It was a dark, stormy night in the mid-1990s. Brian was working in his father’s grocery store, closing up because he was that kid with adult problems. Tyler was smoking a cigarette outside, just not giving a f***. Bonnie and Natalie cruised up in their BMW convertible with a bottle of vodka and techno music blasting on the radio. Cody was hiding behind the building filming everyone for one of his “art films.” Jerrell flew in on a cloud, and no one was certain whether he was human or God. Sallie was mopping up the parking lot and watching porn on her phone. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck and permanently banded these seven individuals together. Pretty People With Problems was formed.

Jerrell: I wasn't there for the very, very beginning, but from what I understand is that I was brought in as a season one guest star to shake up the personal relationships of the main cast but then I stuck around. It pays to hang around the craft services table a.k.a. chill out at Brian and Tyler's apartment while they're practicing because you're too hungover to go home.

Natalie: Brian and I have always been the dearest of friends, enabling each other to watch cable, instead of studying or binging on junk food and classic romance films (with the sound muted and our own dialogue, of course). And, don't forget the platonic sleepovers and make-out practice sessions. BEST BUDDIES. Then, of course, we always yearned for the attention of our high school's "it" duo, Cody and Jerrell, but flawlessly covered up our desperation with plenty of sarcasm and wit. Anytime Brian or I needed some sage advice, we consulted the original club sponsor/home-ec teacher, Ms. Bowen. No matter the situation, Ms. Bowen could always make me feel better, see the error of my ways, or realize which pill to take. It’s weird, though, I also always seemed to feel like her wisdom had an underlying message about my relationship, which was totally platonic, with Brian. Anyway, the coolest and most badass rebel, Tyler, looked in every room and hallway with a sexual tension that excited Brian and me, but we figured he'd eventually just fall for Ms. Bowen, and they would have some kind of sordid tryst that resulted in jail time and/or a pregnancy. Bonnie came into the picture when she moved here from Idabel, Oklahoma. She was the sweetest, little small-town girl with perfect grades. Brian and I pooled our spare change and sour patch kids together to bet on when she'd finally indulge in her dark side. And that's basically it, but, hey, it's only junior year, right?

Bonnie: Ugh. Total drab of a story. I don't know if you know Nikki Gasparo, but she basically rules the school. She's like the Queen B. And by “B,” I mean BITCH! No, she's amazing! She came up with the idea for an improvised teen drama and we all orgasmed in unison and started the troupe.

For people who may not be familiar with you guys, what can someone expect to see at one of your shows? What's your format or style?

Cody: We ask the audience for a problem they had in high school, then we put on a narrative, ”dramatic” show, in which we try to bring that problem to life. They can expect to see horse girls, dumb jocks, smart jocks, pill-addicted bitches, smelly skater boys, bug-boy, Poot the kleptomaniac, pooping in the cafeteria, teachers at prom, a cool opening credits video, and Jerrell’s butthole.

Sallie: We do an improvised teen drama in a narrative format. You can expect to see all your favorites: the slutty cheerleader, the mysterious bad boy, the pompous jock, the insecure school guidance counselor, the stoner, the horse girl, the bug boy, etc.  

Jerrell: It's VERY dramatic. Like the TNT of the theater. We love drama. But, essentially, we come out to a staple teen drama song looking very good and grab an audience suggestion of a high school issue and we play off of that. And somewhere along the way feelings are confessed and there's a lot of yelling.

Natalie: We begin with an air of drama and an audience member's personal high school obstacle. From there, we present a no-frills, totally unfunny and seriously serious adaptation of One Tree Hill/The O.C./Beverly Hills 90210/Melrose Place/Dawson's Creek/Gossip Girl/My So-Called Life/Degrassi High/Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Bonnie: Basically you will see a lot of sighing and Sallie playing human/animal characters. We also love to open and close lockers and backpacks, to really give our show that high school feeling.

If you could go back in time and give your teenage, high school self some advice, what would it be?

Cody: DUMP HER! And definitely don’t F***ING BRING HER TO DALLAS WITH YOU AND MOVE IN WITH HER YOU DIPSHIT! RUN AWAY! RUN! Also, when you get to Dallas don’t wait three years to go to Dallas Comedy House. Or do, because you’ll like the people you have class with. Whatever. Hey, don’t Bogart the joint, man.

Sallie: STOP SKIPPING CLASS, YA DUMMY.

Jerrell: Chill out. No matter how much that straight dude flirts with you, he's just doing it for the attention. And wash your face at night, you deserve clear skin.

Natalie: STOP GIVING ANY DAMN F***S! And am I kind of crushing on Brian, or do we just spend too much time together AS FRIENDS??

Bonnie: Keep eating lunch in the library. It's so much more peaceful in the library than in the lunchroom. Plus you're never going to get to see a food fight, so what's the point.

Teen movies are often all about those badass girl cliques. If life were a teen movie, what fictional #girlsquad would each of your troupe mates be part of and why? (Yes, Natalie, you can provide what teen drama stereotype/trope they’d be. Whatever makes you happy, boo.)

Cody: I know who’s in this troupe and how good they are at this sort of thing. My knowledge of pop-culture is painfully inadequate, so I’m going to let the others take this one.

Sallie: Natalie would be in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s clique or she would be Buffy herself. She is so obsessed with that show that I’m starting to think she is Buffy.

Bonnie: Natalie would be a part of... Well she just would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So would Brian. They are both Buffy because they are so badass and they have great hair.

Sallie: Brian would be part of the Plastics in Mean Girls because he is a badass, boss bitch that runs things. (Seriously, he is the bar manager at DCH. Check out the new menu!)

Natalie: Brian would be the field hockey captain and the sweet, loveable class president who also isn't afraid to let lose because he's a great leader and hella admirable. Also fit.

Sallie: I think Cody would be a part of the Heathers because he might murder someone.

Bonnie: Cody is definitely Regina from the Plastics because he is such a conniving, secret-starting, boyfriend-stealing, witch!

Natalie: Cody would be the section leader in the school choir, just to hear his own voice more, and he would also be the newest member of the pottery club because he wanted to meet an artsy girl that doesn't have dreadlocks but also doesn't judge anyone for having them.

Sallie: Jerrell would be a Spice Girl in Spice World because he really is a real-life pop star.

Bonnie: Jerrell would be Cher from Clueless because he has the best wardrobe and he is very persuasive. And he has great cheekbones.

Natalie: Jerrell would be the drill team captain who lights up a fat doobie under the bleachers before every halftime show but still has the best high kick you'll ever see. He is loveable as f*** but down-to-earth.

Bonnie: Sallie would be Dionne from the clique in Clueless because she pulls off a nose ring so well and she don't take shit from no gross bitch with a fake weave.

Sallie: Sallie would be one of the detentioners in The Breakfast Club. Most likely the quiet girl with dandruff because sometimes she really does get dandruff and she’s kind of creepy.

Natalie: Sallie would be the school principal on the fast track to being superintendent, but she gets it on with the weird goth kids because she's sexy as hell and could rock leather.

Sallie: Bonnie would be part of the T-Birds from Grease, because I could see her cruising in a sick ride, looking for chicks and greasing back her hair with a comb she keeps in her back pocket.

Natalie: Bonnie would be the bad virgin/clean teen that wants to remain pure but likes getting carried away with dirty talk and weenie play, because she's sweet and hot. Tyler would the president of the AV club, or the school DJ, or the bitchiest klepto you'll ever meet, because he's the bitchiest klepto you'll ever meet. He's also banging Sallie/Ms. Bowen.

Sallie: Tyler would be part of the Toro’s in Bring It On because he is very cheerful, supportive, and probably has a sick round-off back handspring.

Bonnie: Tyler would be Gretchen from the Plastics because he's always starting incredibly ridiculous rumors. These are just two he started at my high school. "Demi Lovato is giving the graduation speech," and "We're getting a Chick-fil-A in the cafeteria!"

Speaking of Plastics and Mean Girls, if you ever found a Burn Book with your picture in it, what do you think would be written about you?

Cody: Probably something like, “He has a big head, both metaphorically AND literally.”

Sallie: There would probably be a very frizzy-haired picture of me and under it would say, “Does she even go here?”

Jerrell: My burn would be something like, "Yikes...kinda desperate." But my picture would look great.

Natalie: “Eats a lot of cheese, ...like, a LOT!”

Bonnie: “Bonnie eats her corn like she's trying to get it off.”

What do you enjoy most about getting to play with this particular group of people?

Cody: When we first started practicing, it was hard to be good, because we were all just being so stupid and cracking ourselves up. Ashley had to develop punishments for breaking. I think the silliness and making each other laugh is what I love most. Also, I have to give credit to the effort Ashley has put into this project. It’s nothing short of inspiring. The passion from everyone has been outstanding.

Sallie: Everyone in this group is an incredible performer and improviser. I am always looking forward to either practice or shows with them because we have so much fun with each other. Each one is a genuinely hilarious person, and we’re always cracking each other up.

Jerrell: These are some of the weirdest people I've ever played with. There's never any judgment about a move being made or a joke or whatever. Like, this entire troupe is so weird, and it's the best. I don't know; it's super freeing knowing that I can do whatever dumb, weird thing I want to and they “yes and” it.

Natalie: I love and adore this group so incredibly much, because while we're all friends and mesh really well, we also each have unique and distinct qualities/styles/personalities. We make each other laugh a lot, and I think that's a great place to start when your goal is to make other people laugh, too.

Bonnie: We all have so much fun together and we know and love teen dramas. Plus, I've seen all these people on the toilet and once you've seen that, a bond forms that's unexplainable and so amazing.

What rule of improv do you try to apply to your everyday life and why?

Cody: Oh wow, thank you for the soapbox.  I’m going to try to only put one foot on it. I guess I have to choose between “say yes” and “listen to the last thing said.” I think it would be the latter because I have a tendency to respond to things with “I” or “me” statements just to relate, and I want to work on really listening to and engaging with the other person in a conversation.

Sallie: “YES AND,” baby. I always try to say yes to new opportunities and experiences, and this has significantly broadened my horizons. Also, listening is so important, and since taking improv classes, I believe I am a better listener in my regular life.

Jerrell: Saying yes. That's so cliché, but I mean saying yes to everything, mostly to myself. I used to spend a lot of time being concerned about how other people felt about me and what I was doing, instead of how I was feeling and whatever. So, more specifically, saying yes to my feelings and what I want and need to do from moment to moment.

Natalie: Improv is a phenomenon to me because every concept/pillar can simply translate into or be applied to life. So, I can't choose a “single” concept that I apply, but in general, I see improv, in its purest sense, as an enchanting, mind-boggling and frustrating entity, which can also be said of life. Also, the support and respect I’ve seen and experienced in the DCH community, especially in regards to gender equality, is a security and love I know I am extremely lucky to have.

Bonnie: I always say yes. It just makes life so much more fun.

As with anything in life, movie quotes are always applicable. So let’s end this Q&A by coming up with a Pretty People tagline, using only teen movie quotes.

Cody: “Whatever I feel like I wanna do, gosh!” – Napoleon Dynamite; Alternate: “Yes… yes… yes…” – Napoleon Dynamite

Sallie: “Well you can’t kill me ‘cause I’m already dead. And I talked to God, and she says, ‘Yo wassup?’ and she wants you to lose the gun.” – Deb in Empire Records

Jerrell: "Do yo thang, Isis." – Bring It On

Natalie: "Shoulda used the window!" – Walter Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You; Alternate: "It don't matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning's winning." – Dominic Toretto in The Fast And The Furious

Bonnie: "Why should I listen to you? You're a virgin who can't drive." – Tai from Clueless

Pretty People With Problems performs at DCH on June 1 and June 9.

Lauren Levine is currently a Level 5 improv and Sketch 2 student at DCH. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.

When the Going Gets Tough

Head in Hands During a recent practice, one of my troupe mates expressed struggling with improv lately. Rehearsals had felt difficult and discouraging, and this person didn’t know what to make of the experience. The first thought that came to my mind was, “It’s a cycle.” I had felt crappy about my play just a week before. I’ll probably feel crappy about it again soon. We all know the feeling when things just aren’t clicking. It’s improv puberty; it happens to everyone.

I've been performing improv for almost four years now. That's a little while. I've been able to buy a drink at a bar (legally) for less time. In my near-presidential-term stint of making pretend, I've experienced plenty of ups and downs. We will always have both.

One of the toughest parts about practicing and performing improv is getting better. When you start, you’re overjoyed just to be able to express the thoughts in your brain. You feel an unmistakable exhilaration the first time you nail a great group game. Because you have done so little improv, every scene is a new scene. The work you’re doing might be good, but it is certainly good enough.

However, somewhere along the road, you get better. Your scenes become more consistent and you develop a small cache of improv memories. From this point forward you are cursed with the knowledge that you have done well before, and you feel a great sense of shame when you don't automatically replicate previous success.

Then you start to notice at shows how certain performers (many of whom have been improvising and teaching for years, mind you) always seem to stick the landing in scenes and why can't I be like them and just do good scenes like I used to and when did this get so frustrating and hard!?

A few things to remember:

  1. If you’re self-critical, it probably means that you care about the work you’re doing.
  2. You’re not the only, or necessarily, the best judge of your own work.
  3. Long-term consistency can consist of short-term inconsistencies. (LeBron James is shooting 30.9 percent from 3 this season. He’s a career 34 percent shooter from that range.)

It’s only because you’ve gotten better that you notice the flaws. A performer’s relationship with improv will always be cyclical. You will always go through phases of struggle and phases of euphoria. For me, it can even change week-by-week.

It’s a commonly held belief that you should regularly mix up your workout routine in order to maximize the time you spend exercising. If you do the same thing every day, your body adjusts and you no longer benefit from the activity.

The same is true when it comes to improv, comedy, and performance in general. If you spend all of your time practicing, you need to perform. If you spend all of your time performing you need to take a workshop or read a book. If you always improvise, you need to write. If you always do comedy you need to try drama. Change-ups give you a new perspective and offer an alternative when the fastball isn’t working.

In college, when I tired of our free-range improv environment, I’d focus on stand-up. When stand-up got sad, I’d work on sketches. When sketches felt difficult, I’d try to write a Regular Show spec script (I’ve got a pretty solid premise if it hasn’t been done yet. I haven’t watched Regular Show in like two years). With this system, when I felt deflated in one area, it didn’t prevent me from working in another.

It’s important to remember that this improv thing will never be automatic. Every time you complete the cycle of doubt and self-loathing (*cue graphic) you come out stronger and more consistent. When you watch a performer who always seems to have good scenes, it’s probably a product of many frustrating cycles. Even the established performers at Dallas Comedy House experience ups and downs:

“When I find myself in a period of regression or stagnation, I try to shake things up by playing with new people, new formats, and new characters. I watch more improv and go to more Jams.” — Tommy Lee Brown

“It’s easy to overanalyze. I used to do it a lot. A LOT. But I really try to dust it off as quickly as I can now. We’re adults playing make-believe, so it’s silly to beat myself up. And on the same note, when I walk off stage feeling too baller and cocky, I remind myself of the same thing. Learn from the good. Learn from the bad. Keep walking.” — Ashley Bright

“When I struggle, it feels like I'm forcing myself into the show instead of trusting the process and letting the show come to me. When that happens, I'm always more confident, creative, and generally having more fun.” — Ben Pfeiffer

“I think we make [improv] hard. We catch a glimpse of its splendor here or there and start chasing it. We think we can comprehend it or ‘do it this way’ so we can feel that thing we felt again. That's when it gets hard for me. When I think I can outsmart improv and make moves that aren't already there.” — Kyle Austin

The bottom line: Choosing to continue strengthens your skill set and ultimately gives you confidence for the cycles to come.

“The biggest thing I've realized about these peaks and valleys is that they pass. Focus on yourself, not just your improv but your life outside of it. Read more, take a walk, travel. Get out of your head and into your life because that's the real inspiration for everything we do on stage.” — Sarah Wyatt

Danny Neely is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. He works part time at a bakery and another part of  the time as a freelance writer. You can see him perform as a member of Big Turtle, Clover, Coiffelganger, Empty Inside, and Warm Milk.

(Image: Alex Proimos/Creative Commons)

Here's Why You Should be a DCH Intern

DCH Interns Sarah Wyatt met her best friend through the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) internship program. Jason Hackett got a behind-the-scenes look as a DCH intern. Cesar Villa got a sweet, staff shirt.

There are approximately 30 interns each term working for DCH. Most of them are night interns, but some fill duties as bloggers, tech, and graphic artists. And since the club is made up of people who are supportive, creative, and ambitious, those are the types of interns it is looking for.

"Being an intern is more than just taking out trash and seating people," Wyatt said. "It's becoming a part of the community that can sometimes seem out of reach. You get to know your fellow students and performers quickly and more closely than if you just saw your two classes per term and ordered a few drinks from Ashley behind the bar. (Shout out Ashley! You killin it, gurl!)."

The internship program also gives you insight into how to smoothly run a comedy club's operations (that behind-the-scenes look).

"The most important aspect of all is that it gave me a sense of pride to be a part of DCH, a sense of stakes and ownership in the success of the Dallas comedy community itself," Hackett said. "As it grows, and my role within it changes, I still find myself feeling like that quiet intern I was for at least five terms, still in awe of the ephemeral magic that happens with frequency on those stages, and it makes me proud to have done my part to make that ship run smoothly."

Ashley Sarah

DCH prefers first-time interns to be going into Level 2, although exceptions have been made with a recommendation, usually from another improv community or DCH instructor or performer. Theoretically, too, you could intern for improv Levels 1 -5, Sketch Levels 1-3, Stand-up class, and then endless workshops.

"The internship program helped me do the one thing that classes can't teach, that has to come from your own motor: talking to people," Wyatt said. "I was very shy and introverted when I came to DCH. I was pretty shy and introverted during Level 1, too. It was being an intern that really made me come out of my shell. Having to talk to my comedy idols on a nightly basis was terrifying and thrilling, and I honestly can't say that I would have done it without being forced to as an intern."

Villa added that he was able to quickly fold into the DCH community as an intern.

"Performers I admired, teachers, and students ahead of me became friends," Villa said. "I went in with the mindset that no job is too small, and it didn't go unnoticed. I went from mopping the stage, sweeping the sidewalk, and restocking the beer fridge to now managing the intern program and techs."

Now is the time to consider being an intern. Not only do you receive tuition exchanged for your time, you get the inside track to an amazing community of supportive people. Term 6 applications are now open. Deadline to apply is Thursday, October 1, at 11:59 p.m.

"DCH is such a special place, and getting to be a part of showing that to people who come in, whether it's their first time or their millionth time is really amazing," said Andrea Urbina. "There is always something to do when you're interning. You get to know so many funny people and see what goes on behind the scenes each night. Interning at DCH has been such a fun and unique experience. I'm so glad I've gotten the opportunity to do it for the past three terms."

#ProudDCHIntern

Troupe Talk: Primary Colours

Primary Colours Fun fact for you from the Primary Colours interview editing “room”:

I’m editing this interview from the airport at the bar (because airports are for beer) drinking an IPA (because airports are for beer), and eating edamame. Edamame (for those that don’t know) is green. (…And airports are for beer.)

Interesting fact I learned interviewing Primary Colours about green: Yellow, red, and blue are the primary colors. And green. Because something about light.

Second fun fact for you from the Primary Colours interview editing “room”: I’m headed to my (unofficial) sweet home Chicago.

Interesting fact that relates to that, that I learned by interviewing Primary Colours: They are headed to Pittsburgh (soon) for the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival! And Ashley’s Grandma will be there!

Fun fact for you from the Primary Colours interview editing “room”: There is a really sweet looking Grandma sitting at a table nearby at the TGI Fridays

Totally unrelated fact that sort of has to do with my interview with Primary Colours: I really hope that is Ashley’s Grandma so I can rub it in all of their faces that I met her (and fed her a pierogi) first.

Friends, I happily present to you: Primary Colours!

Congrats on your acceptance to the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival! What are you most stoked about?

Ash: I'm stoked about us all [except Rob :(]  being on the same plane. Those poor other passengers. Also stoked about pierogies. And wedding soup. And hanging out with my grandma.

Tim: I’m stoked about meeting Ashley’s grandma and hand-feeding her a pierogi. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’ve read Pittsburgh is a pretty romantic city, so we’ll see what develops.

Sarah: I’m stoked about meeting Ashley’s grandma and holding her hand while gazing at the merging of the rivers. And going balls out with some of my best friends. And finally finding out what exactly Jerrell’s morning beauty routine is.

Jerrell: Thank you! I’m stoked about meeting Ashley’s grandma, all the food, and the actual plane ride. I loveeee plane rides. Or like, just the idea of plane rides. They make me feel accomplished.

Lindsay: I'm stoked about meeting Ashley's grandma and taking her to the observatory to gaze at the stars. And having a break from mom responsibilities. Unless someone needs a mom...

Rob: I’ve met one of Ashley’s grandma’s before, it was lovely. She snickered at dirty jokes. I’ve also heard that Pittsburgh is a city of romance, bridges, and silent H’s, so hopefully we’ll all get some of that. Sarah has a silent H, so that’s a neat coincidence.

Colten: I’m stoked about flying back all together with Ashley’s grandma. I love plane rides and grandmas.

Tell us about the form Primary Colours follows. What’s your style?

Ash: Form - the Harold. Style - Shenanigans.

Tim: I think Ashley said it all. However, I always think of our style as being pretty esoteric, as in, only really funny to us. I’m always a bit confused when people laugh at our shows, because I typically don’t expect people to find our ridiculous shit funny.

Sarah: I think Ashley and Tim said it all. Plus a lot of singing.

Lindsay: I think Ashley, Tim, and Sarah said it all. Plus a ton of support, no matter how crazy it gets.

Jerrell: It’s all been said, plus a lot of smiling and fart noises.

Rob: I think it’s all been covered except my favorite part of the show, which is when someone who’s never seen improv before leans over to the friend who brought them and says, “What’s happening?” loud enough for me to hear.

Colten: I think Harold had the best answer. He covered it all. It’s a Harold, that’s what we do. This is our style.

In Pittsburgh you’ll probably run into improvisers from other cities. What would you tell them is unique about the Dallas Comedy House?

Ash: I'd ask them if they've ever played hangers, but then I'd remember it no longer exists, so I'd mumble something about Tommy and tacos and amble away.

Tim: I’d tell them it’s an incredibly supportive and welcoming community, especially now that I’ve left.

Sarah: Ditto what Tim said. And we should bring back hangers.

Lindsay: I'll tell them that I still feel left out, because I never got to play hangers.

Jerrell: I would tell them all about hangers because it went off. And yeah, just how supportive our community is. It’s wonderful.

Rob: I’d probably corner Aubrey Plaza and spit some mad game for our coach, Tyler Via. I’m actually not going to Pittsburgh, but I can imagine it going something like this, “Hey, **head nod**” She’ll get the picture.

Colten: I’m going to make Tyler Via and Aubrey Plaza play hangers together, so he can explain to her that it was invented in Dallas.

Name something you love that’s the color of each of the three primary colors.

Ash: Well, PC East member Andre lectured us many times that green is a primary color of light (along with red and blue) and that red, yellow, and blue are primary colors of pigment. So, I just go with an overlapping four. But to answer your question: Blue - a nice, semi-cloudy night sky. Yellow - candied ginger. Red - a big, raw cut ruby I saw once and haven't forgotten. Green - dank memes.

Tim: Possibly the smartest, funniest person I’ve ever met pointed out that green is only a primary color in terms of light, and that pigment is different. So, I just want to be clear where I’m coming from and that I’m choosing the colors of fragmented light. But, to get to the point - blue - Amanda Austin’s eye shadow. Red - a scratch from a lil kitty cat. Green - dank memes.

Sarah: Dre-dre all day. Blue - a dark, blue suit that my dude wears that makes him look hella fine; Ashley’s light blue eyes; red - my DCH intern shirt; yellow - that one yellow shirt that Tim wears that is pretty much sheer; green - the tip of this onion that I let just grow outside my apartment for a few months, it was pretty scary but fascinating.

Lindsay: Blue - The New England Patriots uniforms. Yellow - The leaves in the fall in New England. Red - My first car, a Jetta that I drove until it fell apart 200,000 miles later. Green - A four-leaf clover.

Jerrell: Blue - The color of the Lost season 1 DVD set. Yellow - Pikachu. Red - Taylor Swift’s album. Green - Flubber.

Rob: Hi Andre, I hope you read this. Blue - Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber blade hue. Yellow - A type of fever. Red - the “what makes the red man red?” song from Peter Pan. “Why don’t you ask him, Howe?” lolz OK sorry. Green - “The Color of Money.”

Colten: Blue - the ocean. Yellow - Starburst. Red - record buttons. Green - (this goes out to Andre) spearmint flavored gum packages.

Primary Colours performs Friday, August 28, at the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival and regularly at the Dallas Comedy House.

Tori Oman is a Level Five student at DCH. She’s trained and performed with the Second City and iO in L.A. and Chicago. Favorite pastimes include being irrationally competitive at Monopoly, eating an apple in every country she’s traveled to, and being the sole person on this planet that thinks Necco Wafers are a delicious candy choice.