Chad Haught

Congratulations DCH Class of June 2016

Oh my wow! I can’t believe we’re finally here. We’re graduating guys. We’re graduating from THE world famous Dallas Comedy House (DCH)! Saying that still feels so surreal to me. I keep pinching myself to try and wake up from what has felt like the most fantastic and exhilarating dream, well a dream minus flying cats and an encounter with a shirtless Chris Pratt because at times I think there’s no way this has all been real. But, I’m not dreaming, I’ve indeed reached the end of the whirlwind journey that has been my improv education at DCH. Jimmy Fallon

If you would have told me a year ago that I’d not only be taking improv classes but also come to be part of some amazing troupes, performing in front of actual people, I’d have said, “Shut yo mouth fool, you’ve lost your damn mind!” Or more likely, I would've have stared at you with a skeptical look and quietly thought that in my head. At that time, I was incredibly shy and anxious (plagued by horrible stage fright), and I wanted nothing more than to simply be a writer who could fade into the background of life, content with letting anyone else read my words and soak up the limelight.

But as I sit here, in front of my computer screen today, trying to wrack my brain with what exactly to say to all you fellow DCH graduates, I know that I’m not that same scared person I was when I started this whole improv thing. I’ve come a long way. My once frozen feet have begun to thaw out and my feelings of dread and panic when facing an audience have started to substantially fade away. Hell, I’m now part of two sketch comedy productions, I’m performing with my Big Stupid Fun crew, and I’m continually adding new delicious and exciting items to my ever-growing comedy plate.

I never expected any of that to happen, though. The thing is, when you embark upon a new endeavor nobody has an idea what’s going to happen next. NOBODY. None of us. Not even Neil deGrasse Tyson who is a literal genius and knows the complete inner workings of the universe, dark matter, and why waffles are so insanely delicious. Therefore, all anyone can do in these situations is go in with a positive mindset, hope for the best, and see where the journey takes you. Ugh, that sounds so cheesy, but it’s true.

Along the way, however, you accumulate knowledge and new skills (or arrows for your improv quiver as Kam De Haan would phrase it) and you start to realize the things that matter most to you, that helped you reach your end goal, that inspire you to keep moving long after you’ve crossed that finish line. So, I thought I’d take this time to share the three concepts, or pieces of pseudo-wisdom, that have come to matter most to me as an improviser and human being.

You’ve probably heard people telling you time and time again to “do what you love” or “follow your passions,” but that’s crappy half-advice and rather cliché, so I’m not going to do that to you fine readers and fellow graduates. Maya Angelou—poet, civil rights activist, and overall kween—once wrote, “Pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” It’s fair to say that this may be better advice than simply, “Follow your passions, young Padawan, the future is yours.”

What Angelou’s quote suggests is that rather than “follow” your passion, take the time to “cultivate” your passion. Once you know what you’re passionate about it’s time to hone it, to water it, to nurture it, and to spend time learning as much as you possibly can about every facet of your craft. Whereas “following” implies something that results in an end, “cultivating” is a lifelong process. When cultivating plants, for instance, you don’t stop watering them or tilling the soil when you get a single bud. Nope, you just keep on watering and tilling, watering and tilling, even after the bud has blossomed, so over time, the whole garden can continue to flourish. In writing as in gardening, one dedicates a great deal to cultivation.

From a young age, I discovered my passion for writing. I was the weirdo elementary kid, constantly lost in a daydream, who carried a journal around and filled it with silly stories and whatever ridiculous other things popped into my head. On paper, I felt freest to express myself and I knew that whatever I did in life, I wanted it to involve writing in some form or another. I wanted to write and I wanted to make people laugh, simple as that.

I spent most of my time in graduate school studying the craft of storytelling and journalism, trying to wrap my mind around proper narrative structure and the use of figurative language and what it meant to expose universal truths through prose. All of those things are great to discover, I suppose, but as someone who was more interested in entertaining readers and writing funny things (praying desperately to have a Freaky Friday experience with Dave Barry or David Sedaris or Tina Fey or Jon Stewart my comedic literary gurus), I still felt incomplete as a writer. There was so much more out there to learn.

That’s when I started searching for sketch writing classes via the Internet and I came across DCH. I was so excited. Then my excitement turned into panic because I discovered that I had to take improv before I could set foot in the writer’s room. A terrifying prospect for a performance anxiety suffering individual. Initially, I scoffed at the idea of taking improv, thinking, “How could that possibly help my writing? These people don’t know what they’re talking about. This is just cray cray.” They weren’t cray cray, though. I was cray cray for thinking that they were cray cray.

Ten months and five levels of improv later, I’m still an incomplete writer, but an incomplete writer who has a new set of skills and new friends and new ways of thinking about storytelling. Improv not only significantly helped my confidence and allowed me to expand my creativity, but it’s also opened whole new doors of comedy wisdom and comedic approaches to writing. These are new doors that I will continue to open and voraciously consume all that’s behind in order to keep cultivating my passion.

But you see, a strange thing happens when you’re out, busy cultivating. You start to find yourself surrounded by an amazing group of individuals who share your passions and want to see you succeed in all your undertakings. These are the people who celebrate your distinct weirdness and want to learn from you as much as you do from them. The art and literary world call this wonderful phenomenon “finding your tribe,” which happens to be my second point.

In its simplest form a tribe consists of two parts: Tribal elders, those who hold and pass down their knowledge from years of experience, and the tribal juniors, those who learn from the tribal elders and bring with them fresh, innovative ideas to the tribal community. Eventually, the tribal juniors will learn and experience enough to become elders themselves, making room in the tribe for new members, resulting in a magnificent and cyclical process that inspires creativity and interconnectedness.   

DCH is a wonderful tribe, with elders and juniors constantly swapping knowledge and ideas. I am so very lucky to have found and now consider myself a part of that tribe. There’s never been a place where I’ve felt as unconditionally loved and accepted, and for that I can’t even find the right words to express the amount of gratitude I feel. It’s rare to find a tribe quite like the one at DCH, so I urge my fellow graduates and tribe-mates to cherish it, continue fueling it with positivity and encouragement, and remember that no matter how far you drift away from it your tribe will always be there with open arms to welcome you back.

I once read a Tumblr blog post that said, “You can’t do epic shit with basic people,” and that is so true. No one in this DCH tribe is basic. You’re all incredibly complex and passionate and wacky (shout out to the wackiest of them all, Danielle Seright) individuals who inspire and amaze me with your talents. Continue doing epic shit. Remember me when you’re famous.

Because the DCH tribe is so awesome and may become your home away from home, it’s also very easy to get sucked into spending all your time cultivating and dealing with tribal affairs, which isn’t a bad thing per se. But it’s important to remember that it’s also perfectly fine, even recommended, that you step back from the tribe every once in a while. Take a break and live your life. That’s my final piece of “wisdom,” fellow graduates.

Go out and do stuff. Ride a roller coaster, go bungee jumping, tell someone you love them, run butt naked through the street, climb a mountain, save a neighborhood from foreclosure by going on an adventure to find the hidden treasure of a one-eyed pirate (which coincidentally is also the plot to Goonies), whatever you do just do something. Live your life and experience amazing things...then come back to the tribe and tell us all about it so we can live vicariously through you.

That stuff that you experience away from the tribe is going to fuel your creativity even more and foster new ideas when you return. The more you go out and experience life, the better improviser, the better writer, and the better-rounded you you will become. In the words of the ever wise Rihanna, “Just live your life! Ay ay ay. No tellin’ where it'll take ya, just live your life.”

As I near the conclusion of this commencement post, I feel that the only thing left to do is thank the members of the tribe who helped get me to the end (of my improv journey, not the post, otherwise I’d be thanking caffeine and the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks). Truman Capote wrote that “anyone who gave you confidence you owe them a lot,” so with that said, I have a lot of thanking to do.

First, I have to thank all the teachers, TAs, and coaches who I’ve had the pleasure of learning from.

Sarah and Brent, thank you both for having the patience and kindness to get me through Level 1 improv and for not letting me run out the door on my first day. Because of you guys, I came back for more. Ashley and Scriven, both of you continue to inspire me, and I learned so so much from you two. Thank you for watering my seeds of excitement and showing me that even a quiet, gentle voice can make a loud impact in the right situation. Mike and Stephanie, thank you two for always coming to class ready to have fun and for teaching me what exactly a “Ewing” is. Without that knowledge, I would be nowhere.

Tommy and Jennifer, we cried together, we laughed together, and we certainly grew together. I think this was the level that I truly saw strides in my performing ability, and I thank you both for always being supportive and giving me the courage and push that I needed to come out and play more. Kyle and Allie, you are both so incredibly passionate about what you do and I think that’s a beautiful thing; don’t ever lose that spark. Thank you two for pushing me to make smarter improv choices and giving me a good dose of tough love at a time when I definitely needed it. I feel stronger and more confident than ever!

Amada Austin, thank you for seeing something in me and taking a chance by putting me on a Ewing team. I am eternally grateful for that experience and couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful group of humans to play with and call my improv fam. Maggie, my Big Stupid Fun coach, we’ve had a lot of big stupid fun moments together. So many good laughs. Thank you for showing all of us the power of laughter and positivity. Each practice, I’m energized and comforted by the positive energy you bring.  You are a gem, and I’m lucky I get to be coached by such a badass and supportive lady.

Second, I have to thank Chad Haught. C-Haught. C-Dog. The Chadster...wait, scratch that last one. No one should ever call you The Chadster, that just feels too weird. Chad, you answered my frantic email before I ever signed up for classes at DCH. I was worried about being surrounded by stuffy thespians and not having enough performing experience, but you put my mind at ease. You also laughed at what I wrote. Because of your kindness and your laughter, I signed up for Level 1. Without you, this blog post wouldn’t even exist right now.

Last but certainly not least, I especially want to thank all the homies I’ve gotten to play with since day one, fellow graduates or not. Whether you’re a Brew Ha-Ha-er, a Nood and Dump (reheated or original), or part of my Big Stupid Fun fam, I LOVE you all dearly! I would do just about anything for you. I probably wouldn’t kill for you, but if you needed someone to help you hide a body or play lookout while you’re up to nefarious activities, hit me up. I learned just as much from you guys, as I did from any teacher or coach. Thank you all for just bein your bad selves. *Virtual hugs for all of you!*

Alright, I’ll wrap it up. I can hear the orchestra warming up to play, which is the universal cue to step down from a soap box.

So fellow DCH graduates, again, may you continue to cultivate your passions, learn and grow with your tribe, and keep on experiencing life. Congratulations to all you guys, the DCH Class of June 2016.

We did it!

Legally Blonde

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.

Learning to Bulldoze

Ew, it’s group scenes. Group scenes are the absolute worst. OK, no, they're not actually the worst, that's a bit of an unfair exaggeration. I'm sorry group scenes, I didn't mean to hate on you. Let's try and start this post again. Group scenes are...challenging? Yeah, yeah, that sounds better, I'll go with that. Groups scenes are indeed challenging, especially if you're anything like me: quiet, introverted, and at times a little bit socially awkward. For those of us improvisers who fall into that category of human, we can sometimes lose our voices in the cacophony of the group scene. This happens to me a lot, not just in improv but also in group conversations in life. Frankly, it’s the lifelong struggle of being the overly polite, quiet kid. Yes, shocker, I was the quiet kid and now I am the quiet young adult, and in group scenes, I’m the quiet young adult improviser who tends to just hang back and is happy to let everyone else do all the talking.

Kevin Hart

For me, speaking up in a group scene often induces the same anxious feelings as trying to merge a car onto a busy highway. All the other cars are zooming by and it's crowded and chaotic, and for the unobtrusive quiet person it’s easier and a lot less painful to just wait for an opening than assert yourself in and accidentally cut someone off or worse, making a messy driving situation even messier (I also suffer from driving anxiety, in case you couldn’t tell. It’s fantastic.). When it comes to being assertive, I'm definitely on board the struggle bus. As a people pleaser and rather passive individual, I tend to hold back from speaking up a lot. A LOT. I hold back, even though I know it's probably not a good thing to do, in order to avoid any uncomfortable feelings or confrontation.

One particular instance, in which I went out of my way to avoid asserting myself, sticks out in my mind. I went to this Mexican restaurant that had just opened down the street from where I live. I had ordered a bowl of tortilla soup, thinking, "Soup should be good. Nobody can f*** up soup, right?" Wrong! So wrong. Unfortunately, to my surprise, you can indeed f*** up soup. I could only describe what was served to me as overly salted dishwater garnished with floating bits of stale Mission chips. Pretty gross.

When the waiter came to our table and asked us the standard "Is everything all right here?" question, I should have said something like, "No, everything is not all right, Mr. Waiter. This concoction tastes like the chef put the sweat and tears of his dying abuelita in a bowl, scooped up the three-week-old Tostitos crumbs off his stoner friend's couch, called it soup, and then thought, yeah that's good for human consumption." But I didn't say any of that. I didn't speak up. Instead, I sat there and suffered my sweaty, dishwater soup in silence. And that’s on me, folks.

polite

But now I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to change and grow and be a better human and fellow improviser.

Although my default setting is to sit back and listen to and absorb everything/everyone going on around me, content with not uttering a single word for a solid chunk of time, I’m working on pushing myself to speak up, or, as my teacher Kyle Austin phrases it, “bulldoze” my way into a group conversation. I’m now envisioning a little Kyle Austin/Jiminy Cricket character on my shoulder telling me, “Be the bulldozer, Lauren. Be the bulldozer. You can do it!”

Now by bulldozing I don’t mean suddenly giving myself the license to be rude and pushy, ignoring what others have to say and bullying my way in just to hear my own voice. Geez, let’s be real, people. Nobody likes a super-aggressive, attention-grabbing, conversation-stealing Biff Tannen of a human...unless of course you’re improvising a scene from Back to the Future, which could be the exception here. But what I mean by bulldozing is this: Allow myself the opportunity to contribute when I know that I have something worth saying.

spongebob

In other words, when you got something to say, don’t hold back. Go ahead and assert yo bad self. Your scene partners really do want to know what’s on your mind (at least that’s what my teachers and coaches keep telling me) so you don’t always have to politely wait your turn to say something. In fact, Dallas Comedy House OG, Chad Haught, will tell you that politeness and improv don’t often go hand in hand. The overly polite, quiet kid improviser, who is all too eager to let anyone and everyone else take the lead, doesn’t help drive a scene forward by hanging back and keeping her ideas to herself.

As the quiet kid, you're the observer and the analyzer. Your mind is constantly engaged in what's taking place around you, allowing you to view the scene from a different perspective than your more extroverted peers. This means that your contributions to the scene are indispensable, because no one else will have the same voice or the same views as you. You're one of a kind baby! As my homie Dr. Seuss puts it, "There is no one alive who is youer than you." And that is a pretty magnificent, cool thing to be.

So when it comes to group scenes, be respectful, be generous, but don’t worry about being polite. If you got something to say, just say it. (I know, totally easier said than done, btw.) Be the bulldozer. I think rapper A$AP Rocky said it best, “Wild for the night. F*** being polite. I’m going in.”

quiet people

Are you a quiet kid? Do you have any stories from being the quiet kid? Do you have any stories from being the NOT so quiet kid? Do you just maybe want to say hello and tell me what the worst soup you ever ate was? Then put it in the comments bellows, please and thank you! All thoughts, comments, questions, and tellings of worst soups ever eaten are welcome!

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.

Troupe Talk: Pavlov's Dogs

Pavlov's Dogs 1998 was a big year. Snoop Dog released his single, "Woof." Oprah Winfrey is found not guilty. (Way to go, O.) The FDA approves Viagra and Dallas Comedy House (DCH) veteran troupe, Pavlov's Dogs, was born. This week in Troupe Talk, we catch up with P-Dog's seven improv veterans.

Wow. Pavlov’s Dogs has been in existence since 1998. That’s almost 20 years ago! Describe who you were as a person back then so that we can be introduced to the late 90's P-Dog team.

Cameron: Well, I came on board a little after the group was founded. So I've only been around since 2002 (13 years). Back then I had no idea what I was doing, but we had a ton of fun performing together. Improv as a whole was much more "novel" and a lot less of it existed in Dallas, so that had its ups and downs. Emily: I think I was in this weird place of post-college, pre-rest of my life. As an improviser, I was still green but gaining experience. And since spouse, household responsibilities, and children didn't exist for me yet, I probably had more energy and was more available. Dale: The short answer is that I was probably drinking tons of Crystal Pepsi, adding to my compact disc collection and worrying about Y2K. The long answer is trying to get my advertising career going, continue to woo my then girlfriend Emily, and being humbled going from routinely performing for 750 people in college to five people at a defensive driving place in Hurst. Yeah. Chad: *Chad pulls up to interview in DeLorean. He perfectly parallel parks and the butterfly doors fly up - The Cars are blaring from the speakers...a heavier version of Chad steps out wearing a t-shirt with Monica Lewinsky holding a cigar and winking* Amy: I usually still worked my hair in a side ponytail, big bangs, leg warmers...a lot like me in the 80s...and me today. Todd: Angry. Danny: Back then I was 14 so it was all about being awkward. And doing well in French class. And girls. But mostly being awkward.

Once a month you guys feature a student from your home base, Dallas Comedy House. Where did that idea stem from?

Cameron: Not sure where it originated from, but we have been doing our standard end-of-the-month show for a while now and wanted to do something a little looser and more casual for our Wednesday shows. We thought that having a student perform would be mutually beneficial. We would get to know some of the newer improvisers a little better, and they would get a chance to perform with some older veterans that have been around the block. Emily: Do we do this? Wow, we're so nice. It must be one of the shows I don't attend on account of married improvisers not wanting to pay a sitter. Dale: In the spirit of improv, I think someone just mentioned the idea and we all supported it. To mix in a sports metaphor, it can be hard as a student to ʺget the ballʺ with some consistency when everyone else on stage is yelling ʺOoh, Ooh, pass it to me, I'm open!ʺ The nature of this spotlight show is that we're able to enjoy the art of passing the rock to a student who is driving the paint so they can get some of that boom-shacka-lacka. Chad: Since improv is all about making each other look great, we wanted to make a student feel like a star for a night. That's the goal. I remember as a young improviser that I looked up to veteran performers and wished I could have gotten a chance to play with them, so I loved the idea when Todd proposed it. Amy: Chad? Cameron? Todd? Group mind? Not sure, but I loved the idea, too! Because I'm not currently coaching at DCH or performing with other DCH groups, this is great exposure to new people who have joined the theater. I've really enjoyed getting to know these new talented individuals! Todd: We wanted to give people stage time who might not otherwise get the opportunity all that often...and due to the fees we charge the student to be on the same stage with us, it’s a good way to make money. Danny: One of the first things I remember from learning improv is that it's not about you, it's about everyone else. And if you go into it with the goal of supporting your group members the laughter becomes a byproduct of that philosophy. We wanted to feature a student and practice support at the same time. Win, win. Laugh.

While P-Dogs was born at Texas A&M and now calls the Dallas Comedy House home, many of you have trained and performed all over the country. What’s the improv world like in other places you’ve been?

Cameron: I lived in Chicago for six years between the years 2007 and 2012 and improv is everywhere there. I'd say the biggest difference between Chicago improv culture and Dallas improv culture really comes down to volume and history. Improv and sketch comedy have been around in Chicago for 50 years, and comedians from all over the country move there to hone their chops. Dallas' scene is still up and coming, but the community has grown by leaps and bounds. I think improv and comedy in general will only become more popular, and hopefully will see the numbers of performers in Dallas continue to grow. Emily: Performing on Mars was probably my favorite. They're so ripe for improv, and they totally embraced long form. Dale: There are definitely some cities where improv is more a known and respected art form. You get away with some forms and onstage moves in other hub cities that might not have the same reaction here. But, DFW is coming around. Places like Four Day in Ft. Worth and the DCH here in Dallas have done a great job cultivating a community of performers and audiences. It's worth noting, however, that people who hop on stage should recognize that they might be performing for people who have never seen a show, and this performance might be the deciding factor on whether or not they give improv a second chance. So be smart, have fun, and be professional. Chad: Community is a powerful word. Everywhere you go, egos get in the way for true community and I was to the point where I didn't think it could happen. It's not perfect in Dallas, but what has been established by the DCH founders is as close to perfect as I've ever seen. It'll always be a work in process, especially as things get bigger but I love our community. Amy: I've performed in front of a rough crowd at a cage match in L.A. and an indifferent crowd in N.Y., but both were great experiences. Todd: Good improv is universal, doesn't really matter where you experience it. Chicago and L.A. are teeming with people who are trying to make some type of performing (writing, acting, etc...) a major part of their careers. This leads to a higher volume of shows and venues and a larger community. However, larger does not mean better, because when it comes to people, there is no place like Texas. Danny: I remember doing a fun show in St. Louis that was one of the friendliest and most generous crowds I've performed for.

The world would be a better place if everyone followed the _____ rule in improv.

Cameron: Know each other, like each other. Emily: Well, ʺyes, andʺ, of course. Also, the rule of threes. It's a good lesson in moderation. Dale: Metric. Chad: Learn them rules, then learn what type of performer you are, then know your fellow players' strengths, then play within that. But mostly, hold a gun and a phone right. Amy: The world would be a better place if everyone followed the ʺListenʺ rule in improv. At work and in life, people want to talk...or at their best, wait their turn to talk. Few people in my life really listen. At DCH and with other improvisers, I feel we are able to give each other that gift out of habit. I LOVE that about this community. Todd: Bloom where you are planted. Danny: Support is key. It takes everyone working together to create the environment around you, and when everyone is on the same page with that it's magical to watch.

Pavlov's Dogs

Pavlov did an experiment on dogs to prove Classical Conditioning. What experiment and theory would YOU prove if you were super smart Russian physiologist rocking a sweet mustache/beard combo?

Cameron: I would set out to prove that mustaches aren't creepy, but are actually really cool and sexy. (I have a moustache.) Emily: I would prove my untested theory of how holding your breath for 17 seconds after someone sneezes will lower the likelihood of getting sick by 71 percent. Dale: I would focus on a military theory where Russia could plausibly invade the United States by paratrooping soldier and military vehicles into the greater Michigan area. And that a ragtag group of teenagers would in fact pose little to no threat. Chad: Growing the mustache part would be a big part of it. I'd love to have the ability to grow a sweet mustache. I'd totally trick my face into doing that. Amy: I guess I would research how women are able to use more of their brains than men. I would experiment by moving a subgroup of men to a deserted island with only one female to observe their behaviors. And for the sake of the research, let's just say the subgroup is single, intelligent men in their early- to mid-40s (with a sense of humor, of course)...and I guess I would have to be the female...you know...because I'm doing the research. Anyway, we could just set-up this environment and let the experiment run its course...for a decade or so. Todd: I would create a fart-scented vape flavor. I would then wait for someone to blow their Cinnabon/Milk Dud flavored vapor into my airspace and say something like, ʺWhy are you so freaked out, it’s just water vapor.ʺ Then, I would blow my fart flavor into their area. I would then retort with, ʺYou were saying?ʺ Is that a theory? Danny: I would do an experiment on cats and prove they really just don't give a s**t.

What’s your favorite thing about DCH’s new digs?

Cameron: Tommy Lee Brown Man Dip. Emily: Super cool box office. Wait...doors on stage. No...comfy, couchy green room... Dale: The men's room situation has been improved by 10 to sixth power. Oh, and the two stages. And the lights. The themed drinks are nice, too. The panhandlers on Elm seemed to be more hospitable, too! Chad: I love walking in the door and feeling the excitement/nervousness in the air from a bunch of people that find this stuff to be as fun as I do. Amy: The bar area! I love the set-up and that it's become a gathering place before and after shows with plenty of space for large groups to share a drink and/or riveting discussion. Todd: Old or new, there is no place like home. Danny: We are given the chance to MONKEY around on a great stage, to be KING for a day and use our NOODLE with a talented COMPANY of people. (I was trying to say something profound but hide my secret real answer in the words. Shhh.)

Pavlov's Dogs perform at the Dallas Comedy House on the last full weekend of every month and on select Wednesday nights (upcoming August 5 and August 12).

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.

Troupe Talk: Roadside Couch

aDSC_0578 Pop quiz. Choose a couch to learn more about your personality!

  • A “barely used” couch on Craigslist
  • A spanking new, modern couch from the oh-so-trendy C&B
  • The one in your buddie’s living room (aka your current place of residence)
  • The roadside couch…you know, the one on the side of the road

If you chose:

  • SILLY YOU. Don’t you read the news? #creepercentral
  • SILLY YOU. You paid too much #couldhavebeenbeermoney
  • SILLY YOU. Get a job. #Getajob
  • GENIUS! BRANIAC! YOU’RE SO SMART! Because Roadside Couch is actually a solidly hilarious squad of seven Dallas Comedy House veterans who just so happen to be this week’s Troupe Talk feature. #awesomesauce #evenawesomersaucestainsonthecouch

On your way here, you each picked up something on the roadside to bring me as a present! What did I get?

Kyle: A penny. A heads up penny. Amanda: Febreeze! Those couches are so gross. Nikki: A busty antique dress form. Maggie: A BOX FULL OF KITTENS! Chad: TORI! I have an old washer IN MY DRIVEWAY. Please come and take it. I have to move it around front for the trash people to get it, but it's SO HEAVY. Mike: A CD of Nickelback's No Fixed Address. No really. It's for you. Sarah: A plastic hanger.

How did Roadside Couch get together? How long have you been a thing?

Kyle: We started a while ago when a few us were sitting around saying, "Hey, let's do something..." Amanda: I'm not big into defining relationships, or whatever. But four years and three months. Nikki: Roadside started a while back. People moved away, and about two years ago the remaining members asked me and others if we would like to join in on the fun. Maggie: Probably a mythical creature came down from a cloud and anointed the original members...and then when people moved away and had babies, those members were like, "Oh, these other people are cool..." and that's how it got to where we are now. Chad: It was birthed during a golf game with Kyle and I in 2011. We also birthed a litter of kittens just off the fairway on hole 11. Mike: Oh, gosh. Years. I'm 44, so...10 years? Sarah: Roadside is an institution that knows no age. I joined in 2013, but it was already a mighty beast of 'prov power by then.

Let's do some superlatives, cause like, everyone liked high school (...?). Of Roadside Couch members who is:

Best Smile:

Nikki: Maggie. Kyle: Maggie. Amanda: Maggie. Even her stage scowl is more infectious than any of our normal smiles. Maggie: Kyle xoxoxo SMOOCHES BABE! Chad: Maggie - she does it the most. Mike: Maggie or Chad. They can fight over it with their smiles. Sarah: Maggie. She has two though. One regular, and one mischievous. I love both.

Best Dressed:

Nikki: Maggie. Kyle: Sarah/Nikki. Amanda: Chad. Two words: Denim shirt. Maggie: Nikki - when she wears those shoes that everybody hates but are actually super trendy and neat. Chad: Amanda - she's always asking if we can see her bra straps or if we can smell onion on her blouses. Mike: Amanda. Always has on deodorant. Sarah: Nikki or Amanda, those ladies be STYLIN'.

Best Athlete:

Nikki: Maggie. Kyle: (cough) Me. Amanda: Kyle. He can literally play any sport. It's so annyoning. He also throws Sarah around stage a lot. Maggie: Chad - playing a fisherman and a fish. Chad: Kyle - we should buy him a letter jacket. Mike: Kyle. The boy has some solid hamstrings. Or Nikki. The lady can jump. Sarah: Kyle. He's a basketball champ.

Clown:

Nikki: Maggie. Kyle: Chad. Amanda: Sarah. If clowns were supportive and fun and always the wild card. Oh wait. That's a clown for sure. Maggie: Sarah - she's silly. Chad: Mike or Sarah - Mike's mannerisms are the funniest thing to watch ever, but Sarah will bust out with a character or word that cause me to lose it offstage. Mike: Wyatt. She used to be in a circus, so that one is easy. Sarah: Chad Haught. Easy.

Class Drama Queen/King:

Nikki: Mike. Kyle: Amanda. Amanda: Mike because just getting him to hug you is the biggest production ever. And maybe Nikki, only because she loses her phone and keys and mind sometimes right before shows. Maggie: Amanda - because she's the queen. LONG LIVE THE QUEEN! Chad: That leaves Nikki and I. We're the oldest and have kids, too, so we're always making sure people have brushed their teeth and called their moms. Mike: Definitely me. I don't like people. Sarah: Mike. Or me. We're kind of the same person anyway.

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What's the comedic style of the Couch?

Kyle: A little Art Deco mixed with free standing pottery. Amanda: US Weekly. It changes every week, and we're terrible at following trends. Nikki: Free and easy. Maggie: Mike - because he loves for people to sit on him. Chad: We're idiots. I love playing with these people. We're all so different (outside of being a bunch of white people), so it's fun to just wind each other up and let the focus shift back and forth. Mike: Ever seen a little movie called The English Patient? Sarah: Fast and Furious.

Pick someone famous to come sit on the roadside couch with you guys, and tell them something important.

Kyle: Jordan Speith. You're a Dallas dude, we're Dallas dudes...let's be friends! Amanda: Justin Timberlake. I would tell him that everyone else will be leaving the couch shortly, and we'll perform our two-man show. A show where TWO BECOME ONE! Nikki: Living or dead? Living: Peter Dinklage, Dead: Rube Goldberg. I would regale them with stories of the Texas Revolution. Maggie: Probably President Obama, and I'd say something like, "Don't be nervous - improv isn't as hard as running the country I bet," and then he'd laugh and perform with us and afterwards he'd say, "Maggie - thank you for your encouragement." Chad: Hey Ariel the Mermaid - you're important to me. I can sing all of "Part of Your World." I think you're pretty, and your red hair is beautiful. I talked to my wife and she normally doesn't let me date, but she said she's cool with it if you wanted to grab a coffee or something sometime. Mike: -------------------------------------- Sarah: Andy Daly, I love you from the bottom of my big ol' heart, please be my friend?

See Roadside Couch perform at the Dallas Comedy House on July 3, July 17, August 8, and August 29.

Tori Oman is a Level Four 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.

Marching vs Dancing

The following was written by Chad Haught, DCH's training center director and overall swell guy.  Chad HaughtI have students ask me the question, "So am I supposed to follow the rules in a scene or not?" all the time, so I wanted to clarify a few things.

We instructors spend a lot of time contradicting each other. You'll take one workshop or class where you'll hear, "Don't ask questions," "Be specific," or "Stop saying no," then you'll take another workshop where you'll hear, "Screw the rules!" or "Don't restrict yourself!" Ahhh! On behalf of instructors everywhere, I'm sorry.

We all have the same goal in mind (for the most part). We all want you to dance. We want you to play in the moment without worrying about who is what status or how specific a location is we're in. The last thing improvisation needs to be is a march. A rule-guided, restrictive, specific, straight-lined, inside-of-a-box march. Unfortunately, it’s kind of how we have to teach this stuff.

I write this because I used to get so confused. In college, we self-taught ourselves improv games. Then we discovered a wonderful book, Truth in Comedy that opened a whole new world to us. We started taking trips to IO in Chicago to take workshops from the writers of this amazing book, and we successfully learned how to build a scene out of nothing by establishing what was necessary. But then I went to an improv festival and took a workshop from someone who basically said, "None of that matters!" and I was thrown for an absolute loop. I remember asking a guy in the class that I knew was a student at IO what he thought about this workshop, because it directly contradicted the teaching he (and I) learned. He jokingly said the instructor was crazy and mimed dousing the place in gasoline, saying we had to get out of there or we'd ruin our improvs. His spacework was amazing.

I write this because while this instructor contradicted everything I had been taught, he made sense. He was right.

So now what? Was he right, or were the others correct? Both. Learn how to march. I preach a lot to new students about making high percentage choices. Start that scene with a statement, not a question. Or add an action, (OH THAT’S BONUS!) Better yet, be doing something but don’t talk about what you’re doing, manage the relationship. That’s rich stuff! All I’m teaching is how to march. Boring. But SO necessary. Learn those rules. Know how to make the choice that will benefit everyone and that’s chalked full of information or motivation. Oh, but do it with an economy of words -- we don’t want to hear you blather on while your scene partner stands there staring at you wondering when they’ll get the opportunity to speak.

Now go back and look at that paragraph. How many things did I tell you to do. A lot. And who wants to follow a bunch of orders? Not me. I just want to play and have fun.

Then there’s the fact that even if you’re following all these rules and making all the high percentage choices it could still lack entertainment value. WHAT? Why? Because you’re marching. You’re following orders. You’re checking off a process list. Gross. If you’re not freeing yourself up to have fun, I don’t care how many boxes you’ve checked off, your audience doesn’t care.

Now what? Kill myself? NO!

Once you know how to march, you can successfully dance. And when you dance, this stuff is amazing. When you’re dancing, you can break those rules and still have a blast, you can have an argument with your scene partner and it will be hilarious. You can appear to walk thru the back of a car someone established earlier and your justification will bring down the house.

But Chad, how do I dance? Thanks for asking. Once you’ve learned all these rules, know how to successfully start a scene and providing the who, what, where is second nature, just allow yourself have have fun. Allow yourself. That’s something you have to do. How do you play that crazy character? I allowed myself to not care if I fail or make a fool out of myself. For me, this stuff went from a list of rules to (as Mick Napier once told me) “the least important thing I’ll ever do” -- as statement, that was both a travesty and the most freeing thing I ever learned.

The bottom line is you have to work. Cram all this knowledge in and go thru the repetitions. Read books on this stuff. Watch shows. Check out videos on the Internet. Be in love with improv. Time spent inhaling improv comedy is flipping switches in your brain that’s allowing all that marching we’ve taught you to flow thru your subconscious and make sense as you apply it on stage (dancing).

So the next time you hear an instructor say, “Learn these rules” or “Screw the rules!” just know that they’re both right. Learn to march so you can find the freedom to dance.