Danny Neely

Plaid To Meet You: Danny Neely

Plaid To Meet You is a new way to introduce the community to our performers. I will be choosing performers whose plaid patterns catch my eye. This week's plaid performer is Danny Neely, whose red, white, and blue plaid shirt caught my attention. Danny NeelyDanny, great shirt. Who are you wearing this evening? This is a Docker’s shirt.

Well, it’s a great shirt. What made you decide to go with that shirt this evening? I think it matches well with my tie and cardigan.

It really does. Which troupes are you a member of? I am in Warm Milk, Coiffelganger, Empty Inside, Big Turtle, Clover, and Sauce Age.

When could we catch you performing next? Thursday, September 29, 9 p.m. with Big Turtle; Friday, September 30, 8 p.m. with Empty Inside and 11 p.m. with Coiffelganger; and Saturday, October 1, 11 p.m. with Warm Milk.

What attracted you to improv, and what keeps you performing? Improv inspires a way of thinking that you don’t readily find institutionally, or in day-to-day interactions. It’s liberating, and sure, the attention is nice. I love the culture surrounding improv. It’s supportive and dorky and welcoming.

Finally, what is one piece of advice you would give to all performers? Always poop before your shows.

Collin Brown is a graduate of the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) Improv program. You can catch him around DCH any given night.

Troupe Talk: Warm Milk

Warm Milk Before we warm things and get all milky up in this blog, I’m contractually obligated to say that this week’s Troupe Talk is sponsored by both Budweiser* and the upcoming film Milkeries 2, starring the incomparable Tom Truise. Milkeries 2: Too Warm Too Milky will be milkin’ up a theater near you this summer!

OK, now that the obligatory sponsor shout-outs and film plugs are done with, we can jump right into this week’s talk with the coolest, or I should probably say “warmest,” milksters at Dallas Comedy House (DCH). Warm Milk (Sallie Bowen, Collin Brown, Sarah Falke, Payton Elizabeth Forrest, Danny Neely, John Spriggs, and Joshua Zuar) is the perfect mix of lactose-fueled fun and friendship, pure uninhibited creative play, and a humbling respect and adoration for their beloved Milk King (Ravi Kiran) and Milk Queen (Sarah Wyatt). This is a group of improvisers that regularly throws convention to the wind, completely unafraid to embrace the bizarro and surreal, which often results in shows featuring things like an insane Evenflow power jam, some kitty marriage/support, and possibly an appearance by Clemaine, a seemingly shady man with nothing but a duffle bag full of antacids and a dream to one day get to Memphis. Their amazing ability to fearlessly unleash their inner weirdos together stems first and foremost from the legitimate love they share for each other, their coach, and their craft. Warm Milk is without a doubt rich in calcium and comradery, and they wholeheartedly enjoy spreading their Warm Milk love to everyone around them. These guys truly embody the spirit of acceptance and community that serves as a pillar of improv comedy. I was incredibly honored to be asked to officiate their troupe group wedding, and then I was even more honored to be given the opportunity to warm-up alongside them in pure buck wild, milk fashion.  They are so welcoming and open, and their zany shows reflect just that. At the end of the day, the love is real, the milk is warm, and the improv bits are definitely on point.

As a side note: Danny Neely could not make it to this week’s Troupe Talk because he was off doing Big Turtle-y things. However, Warm Milk believes he was present in spirit, and therefore his spirit answers will be included below.

Let’s start this interview with your warmest, milkiest origin story. Maybe each of you can add a sentence to the story or something fun like that. Basically, how did you guys all get together?

John: Once upon a time...we...wait, I’ll do a complete sentence. Uh, once upon a time...no f*** that. OK, once upon a time we uh...we all met at...a...restaurant...

Sarah: OK, here’s the real story...

Sallie: We did actually meet at a restaurant.

Collin: We all ran into each other at an Applebee’s and were like “Whoa...

Payton: ...Warm Milk!” and that was it.

Collin: Then we all had Dr Pepper’s and were like, “Do you guys wanna take this on the road?”

Payton: It was originally Danny, Collin, me, Joshua, and another girl, and we started out a block party.

John: Whoa, there was another girl?! Oh no, what happened to her?

Payton: It went OK. We didn’t really talk about it for a while, but then we brought it back up, and Danny had Sarah come in. Then they had someone else come in, but he didn’t work out.

Sallie: Oh, that’s cool.

John: I never got in.

Payton: Then we got John, and I think we got Sallie last.

Joshua: For a long time, I think it was just trying to get people to show up, and eventually this was the group that just frequently showed up after a while.

Payton: Although, John didn’t show up for the first month.

Sarah: And we waited for John.

John: Sorry, I didn’t know we were practicing! OK, serious answer here, I was working. Boring.

Collin: Exactly what we’re looking for in this is boring answers.

John: Oh, OK then.

Collin: Basically, Danny and I were interns and we were like, “Let’s get all our favorite people together!” And we did it...over the course of like nine months.

Spirit Danny:  Yes.

Sarah: This is Sarah speaking. I was in the troupe for two weeks before I even knew I was in the troupe, because Danny doesn’t tell me things.

Payton: Oh yeah! Danny didn’t tell Sarah at all that she was even in this!

Spirit Danny: My b.

Warm Milk

Do you guys remember your first practice together?

Sarah: The first practice that I was at, it was just me, Payton, and Collin, and I had only met them once before, and we didn’t have a coach.

John: How did that make you feel?

Sarah: Uh, it was a little awkward.

Payton: Super awkward because we didn’t know what to do.

Sarah: I just remember a dentist scene that went on for too long, where Collin drank my vomit...like put a straw down my throat and drank my vomit.

Collin: Classic me!

Payton: Yeah, we did two-person scenes over and over, and it was real weird. Then we went out to eat.

Sarah: Yeah, we went out to eat. That was nice.

John: Oh, so that’s where the restaurant comes in! See, it all circles back.

Spirit Danny: Indeed it does, John. Indeed it does.

Where did the name “Warm Milk” come from?

Sallie and Payton and Sarah and Spirit Danny: Ooooh!

John: Can I answer this?

Sallie: Oh yeah.

John: It came from you [Payton] or Collin...

Payton: It was Collin, yeah.

Collin: I think it was Sallie.

John: ...and it was a placeholder name...

Sallie: Yeah, we were like, “We’ll save this for now.”

John: And somebody, not gonna say who, didn’t like it because...

Sarah: Nuh uh, it was my name. I came up with it.

John: You came up with it?! What?!

Sarah: I came up with it.

John: Oh, I guess you did come up with it. Of course.

Sarah: ...No, actually I don’t know. [Warm Milk laughs] I felt responsible for it because I went along with it at first.

John: Boring but true answer, it was a placeholder name, because we thought it sounded gross.

Payton: Yeah, we thought it was a little gross and we’d figure something better out...but then it just started getting too gross, and I liked it.

Sarah: Then she got real milky.

John: Yeah, the Hoover Dam that held all that grossness back broke, and we just unleashed it.

Sallie: We bathed in it.

Payton: Oh yeah, everyone creamed all day.

John: There was definitely a full day of creaming.

Payton: Oh, absolutely.

Spirit Danny: Can confirm. Was there for the creaming.

Joshua: And we’ve all had thin layers of froth ever since.

John: My fingers kind of look like they’re just covered in a thin layer of froth.

Payton: Milk just comes out of my pores some days. I don’t know if that’s normal.

Sallie: I started peeing milk.

John: What flavor?

Sallie: Chocolate.

Payton: Can I come over when you’re peeing one day because I love chocolate milk!

Sallie: Oh, I’ll just start bottling it.

John: Please do. Please bottle it up. Be thoughtful.

Joshua: We’d like to take this time to say that we are now formally changing our name to Sallie’s Milk Piss.

Warm Milk

What is your comedy style? What could one expect to see at a typical Warm Milk show...aside from a complimentary bottle of Sallie’s chocolate milk pee?

Sallie: Experimental!

ALL: Dayumm!

John: Fun!

ALL: Dayumm!

Sarah: F***in’ weird as shit!

ALL: Dayumm!

Sallie: Breakin all the rules!

ALL: Dayumm!

Payton: Rock ’n’ roll!

ALL: Dayumm!

Spirit Danny: Dayumm!

Collin: I guess we decided not to do a format.

Sarah: Yeah, there’s a lot of “yes and.” No format.

Joshua: Lots of support.

Sarah: Definitely group mind.

Sallie: A lot of sweat. We run around the parking lot before shows.

John: Unless it’s in the dead of winter, and probably even then, I think we’ll still sweat. You will always see us sweaty.

Sarah: Expect to see a lot of sweat.

Sallie: And dancing.

Payton: Oh yeah! For sure! Too much dancing!

John: FYI, on the record, we all took Amanda’s dance class.

Payton: And that’s why we dance so much.

Sarah: And so good.

Collin: And that’s what you can expect to see.

John: Moves learned in Amanda’s dance class.

Spirit Danny: Agreed.

What are your favorite things about performing with your fellow milk buds?

Collin: They’re super supportive.

Sallie: Yeah, everybody just jumps on board, no matter what.

John: Well, I don’t.

Sallie: OK, except for John.

Payton: Yeah, he’s never on board.

John: I was at the beginning, but then I was like I just do not agree with anything that we’re doing.

Payton: You got milked a little too hard.

John: I got milked dry, and when all the milk left my body, my love and support did too. No, but this is true, another boring but true answer: We all like each other A LOT, and I think that definitely influences our format (or lack of format) and just how we play with each other.

Sarah: Well, one of my favorite practices was when Joshua played piano for us.

Sallie: Joshua here can play the piano beautifully and make up songs on the spot.

Joshua: We did an improvised talk show.

Sarah: Ya know, I spent the weekend with my family recently. And I like my family, but when I’m around you guys, I am so much more comfortable.

John: You can just be yourself? You feel like you can just be yourself?

Sarah: Yeah, I’m weird as hell, and it’s totally fine. And everybody jumps on board with it, and I love that. It’s really nice.

John: I love when you’re like, “I gotta go home and sleep because I have work in the morning, I’m sorry.” And like you’ll say you’re sorry, but like it’s fine, it’s cool. I’m like, “That’s a girl who is responsible...”

Sallie: “...But knows how to party also.”

Payton: She knows her specific bedtimes.

Sallie: And she don’t give a f***!

Joshua: I like when Sarah goes, “I’ve had enough of your bullshit and I don’t want to listen to you talk another word.” I appreciate it, it makes me feel good about myself.

Sallie: She says it like it is.

Payton: I like when Sarah bitch slaps me a little bit.  I just appreciate that. She slaps me, and I’m like, “Oh, I get it. I get it.”

John: I like when Sarah will pinch the lobes of my ears until they’re like red and numb and hot like lava.

Sallie: I like when Sarah follows me out to my car, and then she’ll trip me. I’ll look up and I won’t realize it’s her until I turn around, and she rips off my glasses and spits right into my eye.

Collin: I like getting messages from Sarah when I wake up like, “I hate you. You’re honestly my least favorite person I’ve ever met. I can’t believe your parents kept you.”

Sallie: I know, right?

John: And your [Collin] shirt looks like it’s Calvin’s uncle’s from Calvin and Hobbes.

Payton: [To John] Oh, OK there Sarah.

Joshua: [To John] Calm down, Sarah.

Sarah: Thanks, guys!

Spirit Danny: You're welcome.

Collin: Practices just feel like I’m hangin out...with my buds.

Payton: Yeah, buds and stuff. Ya know, we like drinkin Buds.

Collin: This interview was sponsored by Budweiser actually.

John: Can you put that down, because if we don’t put that down in the article, we will get sued. They’ll sue the milk out of us.

Warm Milk

Real talk. Would you consider marrying the milk buds in this troupe?

John: This is true, if any one of these people proposed to me right now, I would marry them...any one of them...any single person... or all of them together.

Sallie: You mean that?

John: I do mean that.

[Sallie gets up, spins around three times, and goes down on one knee.]

Payton: Oh my god!

Collin: Oh, this is happening!

Sallie: John, I first saw you at a Jam like a year ago, or maybe more, and you were wearing a Hawaiian shirt...

John: Is this when you had short hair?

Sallie: Yeah, I had short hair [starting to cry]...

Sarah: You can do it.

Payton: Wait, wait, wait!

[Payton gets up, spins around three times, and goes down on one knee.]

John: Oh my god!

Payton: Sallie, I first met you about a year ago. I didn’t even know you were living in Denton yet, but I live in Denton too, and...

John: Hold on, just a second!

[John gets up, spins around so many times, and goes down on one knee.]

Payton: Oh my god! So many spins.

Sallie: Oh my god, so many.

John: Sorry, I lost count. OK, Payton,  we did student lotto together...

Payton: We did!

John: ...and we played brother and sister...

Payton: We did!

John: ...and we danced at prom, and I felt so uncomfortable. I was sweating so much.

Payton: I hated every minute of it! [crying] I’m not sure if this is a proposal anymore or not...

[Sarah gets up, spins even more times than John, and goes down on one knee.]

Sallie: Oh my god, Sarah!

John: Sarah!

Sallie: Do you want my ring?

Sarah: Guys, I say yes to all of you.

Payton: Aww, Sarah!

Joshua: So, Collin, do you wanna get married?

Sallie: Lauren, I’d like to invite you to save the date.

Sarah: Tonight at eight.

John: Actually, can you [Lauren] officiate the wedding? Is that possible?

Sarah: If we all aren’t married by the end of the show, I will quit.

John: If it doesn’t end in marriage, then why I am even doing this?

Spirit Danny: Yeah!

What’s it liked to be coached by your very own dairy mama, Sarah Wyatt?

Payton: She’s the Milk Queen.

John: She is the Milk Goddess.

Sallie: I just want to say, she’s the reason we say, “F*** it, let’s get weird!” She taught us that way. One time, she came to practice prepared with a murder mystery. She had characters prepared for us and everything. My name was Bruce Waggins, and I was an oil millionaire...and then I wanted to cry because that’s what I’ve always wanted to be.

John: That was beautiful.

Payton: That was the best practice. That was so good.

Joshua: Oh man, I wish I was there.

Payton: You were the dead person we were trying to figure out...

Sallie: Yeah, you got murdered.

Joshua: Thanks, guys.

John: Here’s the thing I wanna say about Sarah Wyatt...I forgot what the original question was...

Collin: It was, “What do you have to say about Sarah Wyatt?”

John: Oh good. Well, first of all, she did marry all of us, but also, she has so much fun and passion and is the most supportive. She commits harder than anybody, and she’s so focused. And I hope for anybody who sees our show that they walk away and say, “Oh yeah, that’s a Sarah Wyatt troupe.”

Sallie: She coaches a whole bunch of different groups and she’s so good at knowing exactly how to hone in on what’s needed for each of them. So, for us , she knew to break down walls and just do weird things. F*** a format!

Joshua: Not a lot of other coaches do this, too, but she is the first person to come up to us after a show and go, “That was incredible guys!” So she’s always there for us.

Sarah: Every show.

Payton: She comes to all our shows.

Collin: And she’s helped us book shows at other places, too.

Sallie: So encouraging.

Joshua: I don’t ever want another coach.

Sallie: She’s an angel.

John: She’s a Dairy Queen.

Payton: She’s our Dairy Queen.

Spirit Danny: Ditto.

Sallie: We should also mention that Ravi Kiran is our Milk King.

Oh, perfect! We’ll end this Troupe Talk with a collective, heartfelt message/shout-out to the Milk King himself.

ALL: Dear Milk King, we love you so much, and your milk is refreshing. Thanks for all the milkeries!

John: Milkeries starring Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise tries to assassinate Adolf Hitler in Milkeries...Tom Cruise tries to milk a Hitler dry. Milkeries.

Payton: That was beautiful.

Spirit Danny: Agreed.

Catch Warm Milk do their milk thang at their upcoming performance at DCH on July 20.

*Budweiser did not actually sponsor this Troupe Talk. However, if any Budweiser reps are reading this, feel free to reach out with a sponsorship. We’ll take it.

Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate and a Sketch 3 student. 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.

(Images two through four: Ravi Kiran)

Out of Improv School and Into the Improv Real World

DCH Graduation I’ve always enjoyed my own graduations. Dressing up and performing in what amounts to an extended touchdown dance before a party, how could I not? Graduating from the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) actually felt shockingly similar to graduating from college — where I first started performing improv. I got to see my friends and I felt proud; ultimately, it was a mile marker that I plan on leaving in the rear view.

I did not discover my passion for improv at DCH. I did not “give this comedy thing a try” over the past 10 months. I took classes at DCH because I wanted to perform at DCH. I already knew that this mattered to me.

The improv program was like a philosophy credit: I had to have it to get to the thing I actually wanted, which, like after college, is now abstract.

At the onset of my freshman year, I took the course curriculum for a food science degree and built a spreadsheet with it. I blocked out all of the classes I would take each term based on their availability. I organized my entire college course load three weeks into my first semester. Every time I finished finals, I could cross off another subset of classes. Checking boxes taps into a primal part of my brain; it's the part that’s supposed to get me stoked for red meat.

I had to have everything organized so that I could efficiently graduate school and then… Well, then I moved here, without a job, or even a plan really. I do a lot of odds-and-ends freelance work. I love it, but it’s a vastly different prospect than the full-time, salaried positions my engineering friends landed six months before graduation.

If I met myself from 10 years ago, he’d probably ask, “What are you doing, man? I’m putting in all of this work on the front end so you can putz around!?” And I’d be like, “Graphic tees are dumb.”

Your interests and motivations change over time. The mile markers — like a graduation — help you keep track of who you were and who you’ve become. I’m not dismissing my DCH graduation as unimportant, but just like my other graduations, the people involved make the memory valuable.

My class was amazing. You couldn’t have arranged a better group of individuals, even with a spreadsheet. Everyone cared about everyone else, and we were all happy to share a space for three hours, every week, for ten months. I will always remember going through classes with those people. Even after I started practicing and performing, class was often the highlight of my improv week. I’m happy to now have a free Monday night, but I can already feel the quasar collapsing in on itself and the black hole beginning to form.

After college, I learned that sometimes the next step is ambiguous. Once you’ve beaten the story mode, you’re just kind of left to wander the map, looking for extra heart pieces or a bigger quiver.

I’ll enjoy the memory of graduating from DCH. I’ll always have it as a personal timestamp, but it’s not a finish line. There is no finish line for this stuff. You don’t get a monthly check once you retire. You have to find a motivation beyond completing the course curriculum.

For me, that motivation is to get better. I want to be a can’t-miss performer in every medium. That's a lofty goal, and an ambiguous one, but it suits the next stage of my improv life. I'm out of school and into the real world.

Again.

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: Mary Margaret Hundley/Facebook)

The Implications of Impactful Improv

Clearance Shelf During my first five months performing improv, I did mostly short form. We would play “Sit, Stand, Lean” or “Genres” before the big kids gave long form a rip. Those 25-minute sets were over the heads of us rookies — a Kabbalah-esque art, infusing mysticism, religion, and wisdom. They were also mostly crap. I mean everything we did was. Flashes of brilliance would appear and fade with equal velocity. No one could claim to be an expert (or even a veteran), so we all just worked through it.

The first time I remember seeing great improv from someone my age was at that year’s College Improv Tournament regional in Kansas City. A team from the University of Missouri called “The Best, Best Friends” put on an amazing preliminary performance about star-crossed lovers and the JV lacrosse team. That set felt different. No one rushed to find a game in every scene or grasped for a callback later in the run. The three performers epitomized patience, letting the entire show come to them.

A few months later I went to an improv festival hosted by a group called “K.A.R.L. Improv” from Washington University in St. Louis. The campus looked like how I’d imagine an Oxford, England, section of Disney World might — beauty bordering on artifice. Its manicured courtyards and pristine brick buildings were nothing like the unkempt limestone you’d find at Kansas State. The only thing more memorable than the setting was the improv.

Friday night, performers from nine-or-so different schools were jumbled up to form new teams. We spent all Saturday with an improviser from Chicago as our coach, building group mind and developing a format. We’d take breaks for workshops and pizza. It was an improv bender.

My team’s format was unlike anything I had done before. Two improvisers would start with a duologue and then play a source scene with those characters. That scene would run for six or seven minutes and be played as real as possible. Then we’d drop into a montage inspired by the opener. During rehearsal, we did source scenes about cancer diagnoses, losing your home, and returning from war. I had never done improv that felt so untethered to humor and audience expectations. It was like unlocking a new level in a videogame.

That night, all of the teams did 20-minute sets. We had an awesome show. Everyone at the festival played free because there was nothing at stake. The chemistry spilled over the edge of the stage and into the audience. We formed one big group mind. A half-full, 300-seat theater sounded like a sellout. The biggest, weirdest choices were met with the most raucous laughter and applause from the crowd. For more than two hours we sopped up and shared the energy — performers passing it to audience members and vice versa. A couple rows ahead of me, some kids were sopping up a flask of whiskey as well. The after party that ensued is one of my favorite non-memories of all time.

During the six-hour, hungover drive home the next day, my peers and I raved about how much fun the entire experience had been. I looked at improv differently. It wasn’t just a foot race to funny. You could explore heavy subject matter, and pay off some big bets late in a show.

To me, that is improv’s defining quality as a medium of comedy. All comedy is contrived. Stand-ups get to be honest and conversational while addressing the audience directly. Sketches have the benefit of rehearsals, props, and refined timing. Improv tends to get a free pass because we’re making it up, so the audience is understanding, and it doesn’t always have to be good or funny all the time.

I would argue that instead of allowing that to be an excuse, you should treat it as an asset. Stand-up should always be funny. That’s the conceit of the medium. Improv should always be impactful. We use idiosyncrasies and relationship traits to generate humor, so our medium has the potential to be both the most and least honest of all comedy.

After St. Louis, I started to resent the “comedy” label associated with improv. It cheapened the product in my mind. I wasn’t trying to be funny on stage, I was trying to be real. Ultimately, an absolutist adoption of that attitude is a little pretentious and supposes that improv is a much more serious pursuit than reality would support. BUT, it’s something to keep in mind, especially if you feel like you aren’t funny enough or you don’t do big characters. Entertaining an audience is equivalent to holding its attention. Laughter isn’t the only device that fulfills that mission.

There’s more than one way to have a good improv show. That’s special. Take advantage.

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: Jason Hensel)

If You Want to be a Comic, Be a Philosopher

George Carlin If you read the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) blog, it’s probably safe to assume that you’re into this stuff. You look forward to every practice, class, and performance with giddy anticipation. If you could, you’d probably even do this for a living. Most of us are smart enough to know that comedy as a full-time career isn’t the highest percentage choice.

And it’s not as though had we known at age 16 that we would develop a passion for comedy we could have been taking the right standardized tests and applying to universities. Improv and stand-up classes at places like DCH are the closest things we have to a technical school for comedians. Only experience can truly make you better at an art form.

However, academia is not entirely secular for members of our religion. Comedians tend to punch up at institutions — and higher education is one of the most pompous — but any field of study that challenges you to be a better thinker will ultimately bolster the quality of your comedy.

When I was in my fifth and final year of college, I took a philosophy course because I had to. A friend endorsed the Intro to Social and Political Philosophy class taught by a particularly engaging teacher. Pre-college instruction, philosophy seemed to me like a convoluted world of high diction and pedantic pontificating. I still kind of feel that way after taking the course, but the nuggets panned by my professor were eye-opening. I’ll spare you my hot takes on John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hobbes, but analyzing the works of these writers changed the way I looked at the world. Verbosity notwithstanding, it also improved my writing.

Comedy and curiosity go hand-in-hand. Observing the world around you and asking “why?” is the root of many comedic premises, but it also helps you evaluate your own behavior. In class, we would build rational cases for why philosophers’ arguments were or were not strong. I realized over the course of the semester that while we may agree with an idea about the way things should be, we often work counter to that end. That’s comedy in a nutshell: Calling attention to, or even trying to rationalize, irrational behavior.

No matter your medium, as a comedian, you comment on the human condition. Because most comedians acknowledge the grandiose difficulty involved in trying to surmise the meaning of existence, they are self-aware. This makes comedians more accessible than, if not more reliable than, philosophers.

Look at the stand-ups who were able to achieve both critical and commercial success. Comedians like Pryor, Carlin, and more recently, Louis C.K., are essentially contemporary philosophers. They use punchlines instead of a works-cited page, so we enjoy listening to their albums more than trying to dissect a Jean-Jacques Rousseau essay.

Sometimes when writing this blog, I feel like I’m talking at, or even condescending to, my audience. If I didn’t come across to you that way before, now that I bring this up perhaps my writing will be forever artificially inseminated with the tone I was seeking to avoid. The neuroses that would cause me to stop and include this paragraph are the same neuroses that allow me to practice comedy. I’m insecure. I place too much value in others’ esteem of myself and the end products/reception of my work, rather than the quality of said work. But I believe that acknowledging flaws improves your self-awareness and makes you a better comedian.

Philosophers try to rationalize the workings of the world and their place within it. Audiences respond to honesty. There’s nothing more honest than someone just trying to figure things out.

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: Thought Catalog/Creative Commons)

Knowledge is Power

The More You Know Improv is the exploration of the unknown. In its most magical form, shows look like acts of God — preordained explosions of kinetic energy being directed at a single target. Performers’ improv mana comes from a variety of sources: good chemistry, an interesting format, loads of energy. However, one of the richest resources you have at your disposal lies within. I’m not referring to the heart, but rather its calculating counterpart.

Improvisors are terrified of being trapped in their heads, and that leads many of us to become afraid of our own brains. But you see, your mind is Dragon-type: it’s super effective against Dragon-type. By choosing to harness your own brain, you can avoid improv’s most common pitfalls.

House of Cards is at its best when the characters wield the power of knowledge against one another. One character is leveraging intel against another’s congressional clout that they earned by doing a favor three episodes earlier. The characters have confidence, and they make strong moves because of it.

Improvisors deal with infinite possibilities at the top of a scene. You’ll often hear the phrase “choose to know” coming from teachers and coaches. I endorse that phrase, but I want to take it a step further: “Choose to know that you know.” Or if you need something less contrived: “Choose to know the shit out of it.”

When you play the game “expert circle,” it’s your job to field an array of questions on a particular topic. You are freed from the burden of the unknown and you get to take on the persona of a trusted source. But you’re an expert on the topic. Don’t just swat uncomfortable questions away with short, defensive answers; share your knowledge. Your expert brain knows secrets about the topic. You get excited when you get to educate other people. Maybe you’re even a little condescending about how much you know.

Knowledge is complicit with agreement. Any time you choose knowledge, you support your scene partner, and finding your collective way through a scene becomes easier. A few weeks ago, Kyle Austin told our Level 5 improv class, “There’s no reason to ever be surprised in an improv scene.” When you choose to know, the scene can move beyond an explanation or a slow group decision as to what is going on.

What makes Ocean’s Eleven awesome? (Too tough of a question; too many answers, I know.) Certainly one of the reasons is that the characters pulling the heist know what they’re doing. They’re experts in their given fields. While each character has his quirks, each is a valuable team member.

Competency porn is fun to watch. For comedic purposes, we often choose to be bad at our profession in improv scenes. Wouldn’t it be funny if this mechanic couldn’t fix cars? Yeah, I guess, because I would usually expect a mechanic to know something about cars. But wouldn’t it be funnier if the mechanic could fix cars so well that the vehicles ran better than when they were new on the lot? What are the implications of that choice?

English teachers will tell you to eliminate phrases like “I think” or “In my opinion” when writing essays. Your writing reads better when you make an assertion. Statements that come with caveats usually become inherently weaker.

Treat your improv like writing. Have confidence that your spontaneous choices are as good as carefully selected words penned on a page. Knowledge fuels confidence and vice versa. Choose to know (the shit out of it).

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.