Dan Harmon

Let Me Introduce You to Myself

Danny Neely Hello there, I’m Danny Neely. I’ll be occupying this blog space for Term 3 at Dallas Comedy House (DCH). (What an attention-getting lead!) Oh the places we’ll go in the next eight weeks. We’ll explore the peaks and valleys of improv, and all the lands in between.

I’ve written a couple blogs for the DCH site before — one about interning and one about not trying to be original. If you liked those posts, then I’m flattered. If you didn’t, I don’t know why you got on board with this one. Perhaps you thought, “Third time’s a charm,” or maybe you’re a DCH blog completist. (If the second one is true, I’d love to interview you for this blog.) Whatever your reason for starting in on this gem, I thank you for reading. For this inaugural intern post, I want to give you a little background about myself to help inform where my interests and opinions come from in future blogs.

My introduction to improvised comedy (outside of Who’s Line) was as a member of the Kansas State University troupe my junior year of college. I loved it immediately. It became my gateway into stand-up and sketch. Everything was peer-led. We taught each other, gave each other notes, and teched shows for each other. It was fun but also stressful. When a 21-year-old who doesn’t know what he's doing critiques a 20-year-old who doesn’t know what he's doing, egos and feelings get involved quickly.

I didn’t know anything about the Dallas improv scene when I moved here in July — only that I would be a part of it. As I walked into my first Tuesday night Jam at DCH, I kept muttering the mantra, “Please not short form.” The immediate reception from fellow improvisers nullified any preconceptions I had. That’s been a theme throughout my experience. Before starting them, classes felt like a barrier to performing. I’m in Level 5 now, and I’ve enjoyed every single term.

I appreciate the structure at DCH. Even more than that, I appreciate the infrastructure at DCH. We’ve got a wealth of talented performers, teachers, coaches, and staff that have made my time here thus far amazing. Everyone is working on a project all the time. It inspires me and jostles me from my semi-frequent stints of lethargy. When improv bleeds into the rest of your life, that’s the sweet spot.

Improvising has unlocked a lot of doors for me mentally: Adapting in real time while holding on to what I believe in; positive thinking is always more constructive than negative thinking; giving up control as part of the creative process is liberating and fruitful.

While improv culture can be masturbatory (see previous two paragraphs), the people are genuinely nice. They’re also curious. My own curiosity and affinity for details led me to study journalism in college. That, combined with a love for storytelling, has shaped the way I approach comedy and writing about comedy. But hey, rather than telling you about my comedic makeup, why don’t I show it to you? (By telling you a list of my influences.)

Obviously, we’re influenced by everything around us all the time, but I tried to come up with the things and people that either shaped my taste when I was younger, wholly captured my attention at one point, or became the subject of my emulation.

Major influences on my comedic sensibility: My Dad, Matt Groening, my Aunt Joy, Weird Al, Dan Harmon, my friend Alex, The Fairly OddParents, Looney Toons, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, my friend Cameron, Mad Libs, Banjo-Kazooie, Paul F. Tompkins, The Office, Regular Show, Bo Burnham, my friend Josh.

Major influences on my storytelling sensibility: Ocean’s Eleven, James Bond movies, Bill Simmons, Pokemon, Deltora Quest, Dan Harmon, playoff baseball, Harry Potter, Gauntlet Legends, Mike Birbiglia, The Legend of Zelda, the animated Robin Hood, The Coen Brothers, Dungeons and Dragons, Mike Tirico, playing with LEGOs, Donkey Kong 64, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Modest Mouse.

In summation, I love cool guys and epics, video games where you collect stuff, parody, cartoons, and feeling sad sometimes. This is going to be a fun term. See you next week.

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.

What We're Loving: Comeback Stories, Little Lord Legs, Michael McDonald Deep Cuts, DCF14

DCH_what we're loving_3_14_14Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Julia Cotton speaks to the self-loathing narcissist in us all, Ashley Bright needs tiny legs, David Allison makes a That's My Bush reference, and Ryan Callahan shamelessly plugs his own work. 369Dan Harmon is the genius that introduced me to the love of my life, Donald Glover, by creating an awesome show called Community. Around Season 2, I found myself listening to every interview he did and then consuming everything he’d ever created. I could tell that he was a person who absolutely cared about humanity, honesty, harmony, and 'Harmon’. He was clearly a narcissist while simultaneously being very self loathing. It’s a personality combination that can lead one to often feel very isolated, often be misunderstood, and often get fired.

When he was fired from Community, I was heartbroken. I’d become so dependent on his voice that I felt a little more lonely and weirdly… rejected. It was like whoever fired him had also fired me.

Luckily, he began the Harmontown podcast. It is premised as a town hall meeting to plan the founding of a colony of like minded misfits. The question is ‘What do we need to form a functional society?’ The podcast features some improv, made up songs, and freestyle raps (that are clearly performed by a white dude in his 40s that is NOT named Eminem). There are many special guests (Bobcat Goldthwait, Robin Williams, Jon Oliver, Mitchell Hurwitz, frequently Kumail Nanjiani). Around episode 6, it was decided that each show would culminate with a game of Dungeons and Dragons (see Community S2:14). In that episode we are introduced to Spencer Crittenden - an audience member randomly chosen to be Dungeon Master.

Harmontown went on the road and was filmed. It documents Dan’s journey which ultimately leads him right back into the arms of his lost love (Community season 5!). It also chronicles him and his girlfriend going through relationship woes and eventually becoming engaged. Harmon suggests that perhaps the most interesting story is that of Dungeon Master Spencer as he takes an unexpected journey into celebrity.

The documentary really highlights Dan Harmon’s effect on the people who call ourselves “Harmenians”. What we have in common is this feeling of never quite “fitting in” and often feeling misunderstood and rejected. Dan Harmon has shown us how to take those feelings, and fuse them into creativity.

You can check out the trailer here. - Julia Cotton

Nigel-Lindsay-as-Shrek-and-Nigel-Harman-as-Lord-Farquaad-in-Shrek-The-Musical.-Photo-by-Brinkhoff-MögenburgI've had one of those go-go-go weeks, where I didn't make adequate media absorption time for myself. I did watch the True Detective finale, but so did everyone else and their dog. Dogs love Rust Cohle. I watched some more Sopranos, but I dabbled on that topic last week. I did have a Gilmore Girls watching evening with Mr. Terry Catlett. No, I won't be sharing the joys of Stars Hollow with you. In fact, I'm going to use this forum to ask you to share something with me. Let me explain. You may not know this, but TC (Terry Catlett for some of this entry) is a big fan of musicals. After watching Rory move into her dorm at Yale, we watched Shrek on Broadway on Netflix. I can't lie; I didn't really dig it, although there were some very inspiring stage setups. Here's what I did love: TC was absolutely tickled by Lord Farquaad's tiny legs. I had a giggle fit just watching him have a giggle fit. I've tried searching for more big bodies with tiny leg gags, and I've come up with nothing except for some unfortunate real-life body disfigurement. I saw some stuff I can't unsee. So, first, I'm asking for any videos of a similar tiny leg gag so that we can all continue giggling. Be careful on your search; I'm telling you there is stuff out there that will burn onto your eyes. Second, and more importantly, can someone help me make some tiny legs for Terry? I can provide materials and I'll do the legwork (pun!), but I need some help figuring out how to make them functional with bending knees. I should note that I cannot sew. I'm not sure if that's important. - Ashley Bright south-park-the-movie-back-cover-98981I love alliteration! In celebration of that fact, I’m creating “Movie Soundtrack March” to showcase great comedy soundtracks that go underappreciated. The only rule for my weekly pick is that the soundtrack has to mostly be comprised of original music.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone are geniuses. You know that. The problem is that they’ve created so many amazing things (South Park, Team America: World Police, Cannibal, Orgazmo, BASEketball, Book of Mormon) people tend to lose track of things. Heck, just by attempting to create a list of their work, I’m sure that I’ll get critiqued because I forgot something random, like That’s my Bush. It happens when two people create such a consistent collection. Because of that, I’m going to highlight my favorite piece that they did, a soundtrack that they don’t get nearly enough respect for; South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

The movie was the first time that South Park began to receive acclaim as something more than a show that gets by on the shock value of kids not acting like kids and the quality of each musical number was a big reason. For starters, you’ve got “La Resistance” and “Up There,” which are fantastic parodies of “Do you hear the people sing?” (Les Miserables) and “Part of your world” (Little Mermaid) respectively. Next, check out Big Gay Al’s one man show stopper “I’m super” and be reminded that people used to shop at Mervyn’s (And reference it in song!). Still not convinced? Well let me remind you that MICHAEL MCDONALD CREATED AN ORIGINAL SONG FOR THE ALBUM. Midway through the track, he just starts advertising his friend Keith’s car detailing business. Yes, not every track on the album is great, but there are so many gems that it is well worth revisiting. - David Allison

14517_10152631209974056_1575422524_nI'm loving many things the week: The Daniel Bryan angle on RAW Monday, learning that Night Hawk is a non-fictional producer of Salisbury steaks, watching my girlfriend watch Game of Thrones, (What!), but most of all I'm loving the anticipation for The Dallas Comedy Festival. This is my first festival and my first experience with the heightened intensity, the crackling energy in the air, the camaraderie as the DCH team hustles together to get ready. I'd call it the Super Bowl of Comedy, but that would probably get me sued, so I'll call it the SuperWrestlemaniaFinalsCup in Memory of David Von Erich of Comedy to be safe. Man, it really feels like the SuperWrestlemaniaFinalsCup in Memory of David Von Eric of COmedy around here this week! There's so much going on.

The Dallas Observer wrote about out "pretty killer" lineup, (quotes means you aren't bragging,) while the Dallas Voice was struck by the strong bonds formed at DCH.

Jason Hensel and I had the opportunity to speak with some of the talented men and women who will be performing at the festival. If you're a comedy nerd you'll appreciate the many discussions on craft and technique. If you're not a comedy nerd you are clearly in the wrong place and horribly confused. Take a deep breath and back away from your computer.

Comedy nerds, get to know some folks a little better:

- Executive Branch - Saffy Herndon - Gramt Redmond - Christian Hughes - Rob Christemsem - ZOOM! - Susan Messing - And more to come next week!

By the way, I'm still loving Rick Ross. Guys, it might be serious. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: Comedy Legends, Angry Neurotics, Grammy Mistakes, Low Production Values

What We're LovingEach Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Nick Scott praises a comedy legend, Sarah Wyatt celebrates anxiety, David Allison has a problem with the Grammys, and Ryan Callahan revisits an old obsession.

 

Albert+Brooks+Drive+Premiere+2011+Toronto+KM80ZsXRt5plMost of you youngsters probably know Albert Brooks from one of three things: the voice of the title character's dad in Finding Nemo, Paul Rudd's father in This Is Forty, or as the mob boss who soothes Bryan Cranston while murdering him in Drive. Originally I was just going to write about his latest novel, 2030: The True Story of What Happens to America, but I realized this wasn't enough. He has done too much great work that is almost completely overlooked by the current generation of comedians and comedy nerds. Brooks got his start as a stand-up comedian, deftly playing on audience expectations of what they were normally used to seeing from a stand-up set. His "completely improvised joke" bit using audience suggestions is one of my favorite bits of all time. He was hired to make short films for the early years of Saturday Night Live (all of which are worth watching) before moving on to become a filmmaker himself. The first film he wrote and directed, Reel Life, displayed one of his greatest skills: the ability to see trends in society and predict where they will go. Reel Life predicts exactly what television would become in the age of the reality show decades ahead of time. His next film, Modern Romance, is one of my favorite movies about relationships. Lost in America, a movie which has Brooks playing a man who along with his wife attempts to drop out of society and drive across America in an RV, is in my top 10 favorite movies. He's even recently embraced the modern age, as his Twitter account, @AlbertBrooks, is consistently funny. Throw in some great acting performances in Broadcast News, a small part in Taxi Driver, and his voice work as Hank Scorpio on The Simpsons and you've got an incredible body of work that deserves to be more widely appreciated. RUNNER UP PICK: For Colored Girl Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Not Enuf by Ntozake Shange. - Nick Scott

MV5BMTUwMjkxMTI5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTU0NDAwNA@@._V1_SY1200_CR85,0,630,1200_Marc Maron is on one. The polarizing comic is having the most success of his career at an age when most comedians are making terrible romantic comedies or sad stand stand up specials that make you wish they'd stop. Instead, Marc Maron is filming season two of his IFC show, Maron and killing it on his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. The show follows the troubled and contemplative Marc as he deals with fictionalized situations in his day to day life involving love, addictions, and recording his podcast. On his podcast, Marc interviews comedians, musicians, actors, anyone about the story of their life in a compelling and honest way that you don't normally hear. I learn a life lesson every time I listen to it and so recommend that you subscribe. Many of his famous friends that have appeared on his podcast are featured on Maron. People like Dave Foley and Dennis Leary fuel Marc’s anxiety and neurosis to a frenzied, hilarious peak. This show and this man make me laugh and give me hope that my life won’t end up as pathetic and spinstery as I sometimes imagine it. I often struggle with some of the same thoughts and issues that Marc does on the show. Sometimes it feels like he’s reading my mind. It’s messed up. I love it. I’m not sure if my current obsession with Marc Maron stems from wanting to be with him or wanting to be him. We both have huge hipster glasses, own multiple cats, and find it incredibly difficult to stop making the same mistakes over and over again. I’d like to think he’s reading this right now, thinking about sending me an email but then never following through. Because that’s what I would do if I were him. - Sarah Wyatt

tiglivemockup9-1.jpgThis past week, the Grammy’s made a gigantic mistake.  No, I’m not talking about this mistake.  I’m instead speaking of awarding best comedy album to Kathy Griffin instead of Tig Notaro.  Now, this isn’t going to turn into a piling on of Kathy Griffin, I think she’s underrated in the comedy community and tends to be marginalized as more of a reality star than a great stand up.  She’s very good at what she does.  But Tig Notaro’s album Live one of the most important comedy albums to come out in some time, is in a different league. If you’re not familiar with the legend of this album, it comes from a set she did at Largo in LA on August 3, 2012.  Tig was given the news that she had cancer (Among many other pieces of horrible news) about ten days beforehand and this was her first time going up after hearing the news.  After the show, Louis CK said “[Tig’s] was one of the truly great, masterful stand up sets.”  It was so good that CK released the album days later using his gigantic comedic social network and giving 80% of the gross dollars to Tig/Cancer Research.  This album alone cemented that the success Louis CK experienced wasn’t just a fad.  It also set in stone the idea that the public wanted honesty from their comedians, not just bits.  One thing I love about Live is listening to her apologize over and over again for just not being able to do routines like a bee passing her on the 405.  That’s not to say the set isn’t funny, it’s consistently hilarious. The biggest reason you need to check out this album though is because of the way Tig opened herself up for this show.  Even if you’ve listened to it before, it’s worth revisiting just to show how badly the Grammy’s screwed up.  Live is  streaming on music services like Spotify and Slacker, or you can just buy it for like $5 and support cancer research. - David Allison

The_new_Channel_101_LA_LogoA recent discussion about the improved quality of Community since the return of Dan Harmon led to a discussion of the talents of Dan Harmon which led to a discussion of some of his earlier, pre-Community work which led to a discussion of Channel 101 which led to me going down the Channel 101 rabbit hole, binge-watching old shows until 5 in the morning. For those who don’t know, Channel 101 was a TV-station-on-the-web created by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab in 2003 as a place where writers and directors could bring their work directly to the audience without the interference of TV executives. New pilots, which had to be five minutes or less, were screened each month for a live audience. The top five shows were picked up for another episode and the rest were cancelled, their creators encouraged to submit again. The shows that resulted are some of the funniest, most original, comedy pieces I have ever seen. From the Harmon created Computerman, in which a drop of blood turns a desktop computer into an inquisitive, helpful, kung-fu fighting man-computer played by Jack Black, to The ‘Bu, a pastiche of The Hills from The Lonely Island in their pre-SNL days, to my personal favorite, Yacht Rock, which features the fictionalized exploits of Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, and friends, each show abounds with an exuberance, an obvious love of comedy, so often lacking from bigger-budget, made-by-committee efforts. In the mid-00’s, these shows were my obsession. The creators and performers clearly had a blast making these shows, and that enthusiasm comes right through the screen. Do yourself a favor, set aside twenty minutes and dive in. The Wastelander. House of Cosbys. Kicked in the Nuts. You won’t be disappointed. - Ryan Callahan