David Allison

Jason: A Campy Musical

Jason A Campy Musical(Fade in. A cool October evening in Deep Ellum, at the Dallas Comedy House's Training Center. A nervous young woman clutches her phone and a notepad, shifting in a rickety wheelie chair. Three men sit opposite her, equally nervous and shifty-eyed. Every creak of the building is exaggerated in the silence before the Jason: A Campy Musical interview.) Me: Could you guys talk a little bit so I can see where to put the mic?

Jason: Yes. Colten's man-spreading.

Colten: I have stopped man-spreading because now I'm self-conscious about it.

Daniel: Um, you're still man-spreading a bit.

Colten: Really?

Me: OK, there we go. You might just need to talk a little bit louder...

Colten: (Very quietly) I can do that.

Me: So, with me, I have Jason Hackett, Colten Winburn, and Daniel Matthews.

(David Allison could not be there, so I've inserted his responses where appropriate.)

Daniel: Just to clarify, Colten is spelled with an “E-N,” not an “O-N.” It's a common mistake.

Jason: And his middle name is “Man-Spread.” Just let the record indicate that the man lives up to the name.

Me: If possible, I'll draw a picture. (It was possible. See below. I felt bad that only Colten had a nickname so I took the liberty of giving one to everybody.)

Jason Musical

Me: First of all, congratulations. Opening night was awesome, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Would you guys like to start off talking about the show's inception, how you started getting everything together?

(Everyone looks at Daniel.)

Daniel: Uh...oh boy. Well, I got the idea last September, and it did not start out as me saying, “I want to write a musical.” It started out because there was nothing good on the radio during a drive, so I turned it off and started trying to make up lyrics to a song.

Me: Like you do.

Daniel: Haha, yeah, like you do. Colten and I work on improvising songs together from time to time, and we had been doing that, so I just started making up words. And, I got the line, “You can't make a horse drink when you lead him to water / You can't hand me a knife and expect me to slaughter.” And I really liked that line and thought, “What the hell kind of a song would that fit into?” And so, it was kind of just like, yeah, Jason Voorhees, if he didn't want to kill for some reason. And then, I talked with Colten, and we made it into a full song, got with David, learned our parts, separated the music out, and did a Block Party last October.

Jason: Which I hosted.

(Block Party, by the way, is a great little running program at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH), which is now hosted by Sallie Bowen. If you have 10 minutes worth of a show idea, submit to Block Party. It might even be picked for a longer running show. Anything goes!)

Daniel: We liked it so much that we did an encore performance of it on Halloween.

Colten: Was that after my thing?

Daniel: Yes, actually, it was part of Colten's Stage Fright sketch show last Halloween. And then, Amanda Austin said, “If you can make that into a full show, you can do it next year.” And it was just like, “Oh yeah. We're gonna do a musical...This is a very storied history. This is going on Twitter, right?

Me: Yes. I'll upload it piece by piece.

Daniel: Then David and I started working in earnest – I want to say in April or May. We started by watching the first three movies in the series, because honestly, I had never seen any one of them all the way through.

Me: Really?

Daniel: Really. I don't have a particular affinity for the franchise or the character. It all started because of, “Yeah, he might sing that line about the horse.” I also watched Jason Takes Manhattan because it had a ridiculous title.

Me: Doesn't he go to space at some point?

Daniel: Yes. That's Jason X. It's the 10th movie in the franchise and takes place 200 years in the future when a group of scientists decide to re-animate DNA, and it turns out to be Jason Voorhees.

(Colten laughs.)

Me: My brain hurts. So does my heart...Once you started writing seriously, was there a process to determine who would be suited for this musical? Did you just think of people you knew around DCH?

Daniel: The casting choices didn't come until much later in the process. We had the script almost finalized, and – well. The script was in a good place.

Jason: I mean, is it finalized yet?

Daniel: No. It's a living document. We had it in a good place, though, and Colten and I diddled out a few songs.

Colten: Most of the songs were diddled out.

Daniel: It's an industry term. Rogers and Hammerstein were proficient diddlers. But anyway – we didn't really have anyone in mind other than David and myself. We were going to play the main characters because we deserved it.

Me: Haha, fair enough.

Daniel: We just sat down and hammered out who we wanted to see. Who we knew around the club that might fit into each type of role. And David introduced the idea where – it was very important to him to include some of the performers who might not have as much experience. He didn't just want all the old dogs on stage, which I think is a wonderful choice because that's – we got Houston Hardaway, Darcy Armstrong, Emily Gee, those graduates – we wanted people who would be very excited to be in the show.

(There's a sudden jingling at the door. A face gazes in, stained with blood and wild-eyed – oh. Wait. It's just Wes Davis and the Saturday night intern crew, coming in clutch to clean the Training Center. Thanks ya'll! Don't worry, Daniel was nice and let them in.)

Jason: Around this time, they brought me into the process. Before this point, I wasn't involved at all. Hey Daniel, do you want to talk about bringing me into the process?

Daniel: I've talked enough. Let's hear your perspective.

Jason: Well – they asked me. That was my perspective. They asked if I wanted to direct it. I've never directed anything before. I was also unsure whether they knew that I very publicly dislike musicals, and of course, they were aware, and that did not seem to be an issue for them. So I was like, “I've never directed anything, I'll definitely give this a shot.” They brought me into the process. We started figuring out who to bring in for various roles. We auditioned people – that was the first time I'd ever been on that side of an audition table, so all in all it's been very interesting.

Me: Do you still dislike musicals?

Jason: Yes. I like this one. But you will not find me watching any musicals.

Jason Musical

Me: People don't usually think of horror and comedy together, so how did you work to combine the two?

Daniel: Oh yes they do. Scary Movie?

Jason: Yeah! I'd say they have a history. For me at least, I think there's a lot of similarity in the reactions people have. Laughter and fear are pretty closely tied in that they are uncontrollable experiences. I'll laugh if I've been startled.

Colten: (gazing off into the distance) All comedy is derived from fear.

(The lights flicker. Wes Davis drops his mop.)

Jason: Not to dismiss your initial premise.

Me: Oh no, I asked that question so you would say that. I already agree -

Daniel: Is this just a game to you?

Jason: Are you the Jigsaw in this...Saw...interview? I don't know where that bit was going.

Daniel: Well yeah. If you look at being scared and laughing, they both have this element of surprise to them, where laughter comes from the unexpected, and so does being startled. Both have a build up of tension and a release, a catharsis. But then, in terms of doing comedy from horror, it works so well because horror takes itself so seriously. If you've ever tried to parody something that's already funny, you can't because [the humor] is already there. But with horror, when everything is played so dramatically -

Me: Oh it's very pompous.

Daniel: Very pompous – but there's no intentional humor in the standard horror film. If you go back and watch the Friday the 13th  movies, they're pretty funny now because they're...campy, badum-ts. Joke. See title of show. But they're absurd just because they're bad.

Me: This is a very prop-heavy show. Were there any memorable workarounds, things you had to MacGyver to work right?

Colten: That's more David.

Jason: Yeah, David took charge of making all of those. When I read the script, particularly the [redacted] that gets pulled apart...well. I don't want to reveal anything. Oooh, wait, can this be redacted?

Me: The whole thing? Sure.

Daniel: Also, redact the part where I say [redacted].

Jason: I read that, and I thought, “Well, we'll have to get a whole [redacted],” but the next time we came in, “Oh...David did it.” I was very impressed.

David's response after the fact: "I just find props so fun to build. One of my favorite writing drills is, 'What can't we do on stage?' and then talking through how we can pull it off. Prop construction was really satisfying, and I'm very proud of how they turned out."

Me: Colten. You're very quiet. This next question's just for you...

Colten: Yay!

Jason: I'll take this one.

Daniel: Let me just say...

(All laugh.)

Me: When Daniel and David came to you with song ideas – what was the process there?

Colten: Daniel covered the lyric side. He'd come to me with song lyrics, sometimes melodies, usually both – and a lot of times, I'd say, “What do you want that melody to be?” And he'd sing it, and I'd try to pick it out, put chords to it, flesh it out...We'd brainstorm, once over Skype. Like, “'Flee' is a good word. How can we work it in?”...So yeah, very collaboratively with Daniel.

Daniel: One of the things that – I'm gonna compliment you right now, Colten -

Colten: Um, redacted.

Daniel: One of the things that Colten is so good at...If I didn't know the melody but knew the feeling I needed, I could explain that [feeling] to him in these weird terms... "I want it to be sad in a folksy way, like if Peter, Paul, and Mary wrote a dirge.” And Colten goes, “Hm...How's this?” and played exactly what I needed. That happened so many times...three seconds. And it was perfect.

Colten: Aw. Thanks!

Me: Dang! That was beautiful. Do y'all have a favorite memory from practicing?

Colten: I don't know...first time seeing Houston do his hosting song was really memorable.

Jason: Oh yeah! From the moment he came in, it was amazing.

Daniel: He did a great job of understanding that character and putting his on spin on it.

Jason: Mine would be my only contribution to the script, which would be Darcy's guitar solos. When I actually saw it in action, I was like, “Yeah. I made the right choice. I'm glad I added that.” That was the only thing I added out of whole cloth.

Me: I especially liked it because it gave a whole corniness to the whole thing...like a 90s sitcom.

Jason: Now that you say that, I want to add [redacted]...oh. Um, redact that.

Me: The whole thing?

Daniel: Yes. Let's just start over.

Colten: Second to that would be me playing "Ghostbusters" before the show. And then they asked me to play it again and again...

David's response after the fact: "Damn it, I was gonna say the first time Houston did the song! Um, maybe the time that the water pole fell out during a really emotional scene. The loud "THUD" juxtaposed against a tender moment in the middle of a stressed rehearsal was just so funny."

Me: Awesome. If there is a train going from Kansas City to Dallas at 60 miles per hour, who really killed Jason Voorhees?

Jason:...Those seem...unrelated.

Daniel: I want to hear what Colten says.

Jason: Yeah.

Colten: Hm...that throws everything off that I knew about Jason.

Daniel: Yeah, it only works if you're leaving from Dallas to Kansas.

Me: OK, then let's say that. What's your theory?

(Jason giggles.)

Jason: Is it a train or the band train?

Daniel: Oooh! How fast is it and/or they traveling?

All: Sixty miles an hour.

Colten: That's pretty slow for a train.

Daniel: I don't know... I mean, technically, the lake killed him.

Colten: But he's not dead.

Daniel: Yeah, so...nothing's killed him, though the lake did it temporarily...water.

Colten: The lake.

Me: Water or the lake?

Colten: The train.

Jason: Train water.

Me: That works. I'll accept that.

Daniel: That bit didn't go well. Redact it.

Colten: Just include my part about the band Train.

Me: Will do. Also, I think that's it...

Daniel: That's it?

Me: Unless you'd like to answer my other standard sketch question.

Jason: What is it?

Me: If this group was a vegetable, what would it be?

Colten: A pumpkin.

Daniel: 'Cause it's spooky.

(Jason laughs.)

Me: OooOOoohh! SpOOooky!

Colten: It's well carved.

Me: Is that a machete joke?

Colten: Um...yeah. Halloween, machete, it's anything you want it to be.

Daniel: It's a really gourd cast.

Me: Oh, [redacted] you.

Daniel: That can stay in.

Jason: Uh...pumpkins. They're not vegetables, are they?

Me: Oh, no. They're fruit. They have seeds.

Daniel: What's the most pumpkin-y fruit?

Colten: An eggplant!

(Why does everyone always want to be an eggplant? I'll never understand.)

Me: Oh, the FCC was already an eggplant. I apologize.

Colten: A carved eggplant?

Me: Doesn't count.

Jason: Um...Spaghetti squash.

Daniel: 'Cause it looks like brains?

Jason: Yeah, yeah!

Daniel: We're confident in our answer.

All: Spaghetti squash.

David's response after the fact: "That works for me because I love spaghetti squash and I love this show!"

(Fade out. A machete speared through a rubber chicken fades in. The credits roll:

Jason: A Campy Musical involves the talents of David Allison, Darcy Armstrong, Joseph Delgado, Emily Gee, Jason Hackett, Houston Hardaway, Daniel Matthews, Tyler Simpson, and the musical talents of Colten Winburn. The show is teched by Doug Caravella. If you'd like to see the show, it's running every Friday for the rest of October at the world famous Dallas Comedy House. Get your tickets while they're hot!)

A final comment from David: "[The cast and crew] were all a dream to work with. Seriously. Educated performers that have a detailed eye and are willing to speak up. And their work ethics!" 

(I'm sure they were, David. I'm sure they were.)

Jason Musical

Emily Baudot is a DCH graduate and sketch student. When she isn’t at the theater, she’s drinking at one of the bars down the street and trying to justify ordering dessert for dinner.  Or, she’s on her computer pretending she’s a banished orc maiden, whichever one sounds healthier to you. If her crippling addiction to sugar and caffeine doesn’t kill her, she can be seen on stage with the soon to be world famous Wild Strawberry and the already-Internet famous Wiki-Tikki-Tabby (just kidding, they do go online a lot though). She’s also a Pisces because that means something.

(Poster: Houston Hardaway. Drawings: Emily Baudot. Photo: Jason Hensel)

The Improvised Horror Movie

The American horror movie. What cinematic legacy can claim special effects mastery, emotional poignancy, and raw camp in the same breath? Scary movies have done so much good for cinema that it’s sickening. And now that we’re in the season (oh goodness HALLOWEEN I’m excited are you excited I love Halloween like no lie it’s my favorite holiday and I’ve been planning my costume for MONTHS) – Ahem. Sorry about that. As I was saying, now that we’re in season – eeek – the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) has started a month-long series of holiday-appropriate shows. As is tradition, it opened the first weekend of October with a premier of the Improvised Horror Movie. Though the show stands as a tribute to the horror genre, it also exists in memorial to Del Close, creator of the format, and Jason Chin, former director at iO Chicago who perfected the show. DCH runs the Improvised Horror Movie through the month of October as a dedication to their work. Improvised Horror MovieJust like its parent genre, the Improvised Horror Movie takes a couple different forms – forms, mind you, not scripts, because then it wouldn’t be improv, duh. Each form spins off of a particular type of horror movie. The version I had the pleasure of viewing was based off of one of my favorites: the "Slasher," wherein innocent, dumb kids fall prey to a psycho killing machine. Now that’s what I call comedy! Hooray!

The way the shindig worked in practice seemed pretty simple: At the top of the show, the audience assigned each cast member a role, all inspired by classic horror tropes. There’s a jock, a nerd, a goth, a stoner, a popular chick, and the surviving girl who will, in the end, determine who the killer is. (Spoiler alert, most of the archetypical characters die in a spectacularly funny fashion.)

Even though the roles are pre-determined and assigned at the beginning of the show, this doesn’t make things easier for the players. If anything, this is crazy hard. “Here’s a point of view, now understand it, adopt it as your own, and think up stuff to say from that point of view on the fly in front of strangers. Oh, and by the end of the show most of you have to have died and you have to be funny in the meantime.” Like, what even!?! That’s hard enough for me to do on a good day.

“Emily, you’re dumb. Those roles are pretty much stereotypes, and aren’t those at the antithesis of what good character work should be?”

Um, first, how dare you, I’m hella smart. Second, no. Just because the role’s been given to you, there’s still tons of flexibility as to what constitutes that role. Sporty jocks don’t have to be bullies, and the brainiac doesn't have to be socially awkward. For instance, the stoner in the last show (played by David Allison) was far away from being dumb and slow – instead, he was an energetic conspiracy theorist who suspected who the murderer was the whole time. (He felt the perpetrator was George W. Bush, but whether he was right or not is hardly the point here.) The popular girl (played by Maggie Rieth Austin) was ditzy, peppy, and fun – not a sexualized antithesis to the surviving girl the character is usually reduced to. Thinking with that kind of originality takes skill and quick thinking that isn’t often matched.

“Well, OK, fine, so the characters are diverse despite being typified. You still can’t bridge the gap between cinema and stage acting!”

Au contraire! You forget that critical element of improv – scene painting! It’s a heavy and, in this case, a critical show component. We already know what will happen at the end of our “movie” – the audience sticks around for the journey to that conclusion. Performers primarily conduct scene painting through a series of different “camera angles,” wherein they call out cinematic direction you’d normally only read in a script. These camera angles double as edits and is what give the audience a cinematic effect, if an imaginary one. Cast members are given close-ups, split-screens, and even aerial shots that they have to make work and incorporate seamlessly into the ongoing scene. Half of the fun lies in players giving each other impossible views to pull off. (Have you ever seen a dead man fly in circles around two women standing horizontally? Well, I did! You might see it, too, if you buy a ticket). It’s a brain and body workout, to be sure, not to mention the lighting and sound tricks that the techs execute on the fly. (Props to Raye Maddox - you done good, kiddo.)

Boy. What a ride. In short, this show is a keeper. It’s one of those shows at DCH that’s a must see. You won’t get spooked, but you’ll certainly laugh, and any student or fan of improv will also get a great lesson by simply watching the cast. Oh, before I forget – that cast includes David Allison, Amanda Austin, Sallie Bowen, Noa Gavin, Jason Hackett, Tabitha Parker, Ben Pfeiffer, Maggie Rieth Austin, and Nick Scott. The whole shebang is tech'ed by Jua Holt (Raye Maddox was the technical director for the show I saw). They all deserve a big ol’ basket of treats minus tricks, allergens, and razors. For tickets, please visit www.dallascomedyhouse.com.

Emily Baudot is a DCH graduate and sketch student. When she isn’t at the theater, she’s drinking at one of the bars down the street and trying to justify ordering dessert for dinner.  Or, she’s on her computer pretending she’s a banished orc maiden, whichever one sounds healthier to you. If her crippling addiction to sugar and caffeine doesn’t kill her, she can be seen on stage with the soon to be world famous Wild Strawberry and the already-Internet famous Wiki-Tikki-Tabby (just kidding, they do go online a lot though). She’s also a Pisces because that means something.

Meet David Allison, DCH's New Theater Director

David AllisonFrom student to performer to teacher, David Allison has been a stalwart of the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) community since 2010. Now he's ready to contribute even more as he recently accepted the position of DCH's first ever theater director. His official start date is July 18; however, I was able to snag a quick campfire conversation with him on a Maldives beach to learn more about his thoughts on his new job. What drove you to apply for the theater director position?

David Allison: It's my dream job. It's exciting to be able to put 40 hours a week into the place that I love. I take my work very seriously, and I'm passionate about anything I do.

What are your top priorities for the job?

DA: The first priority is to learn the business and everything that makes this theater function. We've grown so much over the last couple of years, so to maintain that is important. In order to do that, I need to understand fully what lead to that growth and where we are right now.

My second priority is to be a resource for people to come to. People may have ideas that could potentially help the theater, and I can be there for any questions or concerns. I'm here to help.

How do other theaters across the country inspire you?

DA: I'm a gym rat when it comes to this sort of thing. I think it's important for anyone who creates in any capacity to be as aware of as many different things as you possibly can. I look at other theaters' shows and think, "Why isn't that addressed here in Dallas?" Now that I have a title behind me, I think that'll empower me to approach people and say, "This is a cool show, how are you doing it?" I look forward to forging new relationships with other theaters.

I also like just getting out and seeing shows. I've made it a priority to take the money I make from coaching and teaching and set some aside so I can take a yearly trip to see shows and be aware of what's working at other places. For example, I've gone to Chicago and this year I went to UCB in Los Angeles. Just to see the passion of those communities is inspiring.

David Allison hosting

What are positive qualities you look for in assessing acts?

DA: The show-watching committee will continue to view shows so it's not as if only my opinion of groups will be considered. With that said, when I'm watching acts, I look to see if they're having fun, if there is basic agreement among the players, and consistency, both within a show and show-to-show.

What kind of role will you have in partnerships with other area theaters?

DA: I think the biggest thing is communication and networking. It's something that Amanda [Austin, DCH owner] has made significant inroads in over the years. I want to put up good content, and if there's something that we can do to help another theater or get assistance from another theater, that would be fantastic.

Finally, what's your lowball bribe to get on the schedule?

DA: It's very low. Go with whatever you like. Surprise me.

DCH Reimagined: Canine Edition

A few weeks ago I wrote a post, in which I reimagined a few Dallas Comedy House (DCH) troupes as iconic professional wrestlers. People seemed to enjoy it. Why? I have no idea. But, as a result of that overwhelming support for the piece, I’m bringing the idea back.   So, as requested by you the people, notably David Allison via Facebook comments, in this week’s reimagining we’ll uncover which type of dog some of our favorite DCH troupes embody. Brace yourselves for some pawsitively, doggone, puppy-filled improv fun.  

All right, let’s do this thing!

GoldenRetrieverThe ’95 Bulls = Golden Retriever

People-friendly and full of fun, the six gents that comprise The '95 Bulls are a lot like a precious litter of Golden Retriever pups. Waggy-tailed and easily excited, they're always down to play and offer unwavering support for each other's ideas. Not opposed to chasing tennis balls, these guys are silly and always bring high energy to each performance. To top it off, with a basketball reference as a troupe name, it's only fitting that these guys are represented by the dog that played the beloved Air Bud. Slam dunks for The '95 Bulls. Slam dunks for Golden Retrievers.

corgiSummer Girls = Corgi

If there’s a dog you’d want to hang out on the beach and get drunk with, hands down it’d be a Corgi. And,  if there’s a DCH troupe that you’d also want to have the same drunken, summer experience with, then you can bet your sweet ass it’d be Summer Girls. Like Corgis, they too have cute butts and big smiles. Summer Girls are tenacious and loveable and look cool AF in a boss Hawaiian shirt (see pic for equal Corgi proof). Fiesty and cut, Corgis be down to party and Summer Girls be down to ‘prov.

ShihTzuPrimary Colours = Shih Tzu

Primary Colours is the Shih Tzu of DCH. Before you start shitting on the Shih Tzu, let me just say that these cuddly guys are some the silliest and weirdest dogs around. Their faces alone are enough to make you want to laugh. And, the faces that make up Primary Colours all make me laugh loads with their bold stage choices and willingness to get weird together. Shih Tzus appear to be the cute puppy-spawn of an Ewok and a Mogwai, making them trustworthy and friendly and downright nuts if fed after midnight! It is believed that the same description can be applied to Primary Colours.   

Boston TerrierSamurai Drunk = Boston Terrier

Boston Terriers have two settings: “dapper as f***” and “off the wall insanity.” Coincidentally, Samurai Drunk also shares those modes of operation. If you want high energy, fast pacing, lots of side support, and seemingly zero chill, then Samurai Drunk is the troupe for you. Like the Boston Terrier, the gentlemen of Samurai Drunk are frisky, intelligent, and generally overall entertaining. Fun fact, the Boston Terrier was Helen Keller’s dog of choice. So in my mind, Samurai Drunk would be Helen Keller’s troupe of choice, too.

Caucasian ShepherdPavlov’s Dogs = Caucasian Shepherd Dog

Caucasian Shepherd Dog are also known as “The-Biggest-Freakin-Dog-To-Ever-Exist-Ever-Actually-That’s-Not-A-Dog-That’s-A-Bear-Disguised-As-A-Dog.” Let’s just say, Caucasian Shepherd Dogs are some big-ass dogs. These Russian pups are probs the same canines that the real Pavolv rang his bell for and prayed that they wouldn’t eat his face off after depriving them of food during his classical conditioning experiments. Pavlov’s Dogs are also the big dogs at DCH, comprised of several improv OGs. Just as the Caucasian Shepherd Dog displays natural dominance and leadership, Pavolv’s Dogs have been leading the DCH pack since 1998. Though mighty in size, these Dogs are ultimately a bunch of fun, gentle giants.

catClover = Cat

Not even a dog. It’s a cat. Have you seen a Clover show? For those that may not be familiar, Clover is a group of former Ewing-ites and now one of the newest troupes at DCH. These guys are also the embodiment of everything kitty and cat-like. Like cats, Clover is made up of 10 percent fluffy cuteness, 20 percent distraction by shiny objects or string, 30 percent playful energy, and 40 percent too cool to give a what. You do you, Clover. You guys are purrrfection.

Feel free to post your suggestions for other DCH troupe reimagining in the comments below!

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.

Avoid the Originality Trap

impro book For me, one of improvisation’s major appeals is the infinite number of possibilities permitted by the medium. In any given show, you can be a time traveler, a dinosaur, or a laser cannon. In fact, you can be all three in the same show. The absence of boundaries should be liberating. In our everyday lives, we are just a few things. In improv land, we can be anything.

And yet, many of us tend to block our own imaginations. We get caught up in the rules, our scene partner, and all too often, “being original.” Because we can be anything, we feel we must be everything. We shut out good ideas—quick ideas—in favor of more inventive or interesting choices. Often times the best choice of action is actually a reaction.

In his book Impro, Keith Johnstone notes the importance of accepting your own ideas:

An artist who is inspired is being obvious. He’s not making any decisions, he’s not weighing one idea against another. He’s accepting his first thoughts (88).

As a beginning improviser, you’re advised to avoid asking questions in scenes. Questions place the burden of creation on your partner, and it’s a heavy burden. Initiations are tough. There’s so much groundwork to lay and asking a question of your partner is essentially shirking your responsibility. However, if faced with an inquiry, you have a simple solution:

What’s for supper?’ a bad improviser will desperately try to think up something original. Whatever he says he’ll be too slow. He’ll finally drag up some idea like ‘fried mermaid’. If he’d just said ‘fish’ the audience would have been delighted. No two people are exactly alike, and the more obvious an improviser is, the more himself he appears. If he wants to impress us with his originality, then he’ll search out ideas that are actually commoner and less interesting (Johnstone, 88).

Obviously, sometimes your scene partner will ask you a loaded question, teeing you up for an answer. But at the top of the scene, with infinite choices available to you, it’s more important that you choose (confidently), rather than what you choose.

Too often we put pressure on ourselves to be funny or original or creative. We judge our own ideas harshly when they don’t live up to the lofty, ambiguous standards we’ve set. Johnstone argues that simply having an idea is enough.

People trying to be original always arrive at the same boring old answers. Ask people to give you an original idea and see the chaos it throws them into. If they said the first thing that came into their head, there’d be no problem (88).

The new Star Wars film shattered nearly every box office record (1) in the books, and it was essentially a retelling of the franchise’s original installment. You may take issue with Hollywood’s extensive recycling program, but it works.

By no means am I arguing that it’s cool to rip off old material. Throwing out classic Saturday Night Live characters and lines from 1980s comedies in your improv scenes is weak and unnecessary. You have a wealth of personal experience and perspective to pull from. That’s enough.

In his book Improvise., Mick Napier offers plenty of advice to performers looking to shed the burden of creation. To paraphrase a collection of concepts, he advises that when the lights come up on the stage, you do something. Anything. Once you’ve chosen to act, you can decide how to proceed. Moving with confidence allows you to mitigate the minutiae of naming the unnamed or wading through an ambiguous setting.

That doesn’t pertain strictly to your own ideas or moves either. An easy-but-underutilized way to “yes, and” is to get even more excited about your scene partner’s idea than they do. Oh, we’re about to do a scene as knights? F*** yeah! I’m gonna be the knightiest knight ever.

David Allison is a pro at this kind of move. He acts confidently in any idea at the top of the scene, not just his own. David is like an inspiring high school guidance counselor for each choice you make. You think your idea is just another C+ student roaming the halls, but David shows you all of its potential. I asked him about his approach at the top of the scene.

Often times, beginning improvisers are far too choosy. They watch experienced players on stage get laughs and they think that it's because the veteran is coming up with amazing ideas. That simply isn't true. With stage time, you realize that there isn't a perfect source. Every jumping off point is equal, so just take the first one! The heightening and exploration is where the real fun is, not the source idea.

And that’s part of the point: Improv isn’t a family vacation, it’s a road trip. The destination doesn’t matter nearly as much as the journey. Free yourself from the shackles of being creative, funny, and original. Just act and listen.

Hyperlinks:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_box_office_records_set_by_Star_Wars:_The_Force_Awakens

Citations:

Johnstone, Keith. Impro. London: Methuen, 1981. 88. Print.

Napier, Mick. Improvise: Scene From the Inside Out. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004. Print.

Danny Neely is currently a Level 4 student at DCH. He works part time at a bakery and another part of  the time as a freelance writer. You can see him at the theater as one-fifth of the troupe Coiffelganger or as one-oneth of the Wednesday night house manager.

(Image: Dirks Hirnableiter)

Troupe Talk: Coiffelganger

Coiffelganger There are two qualities that make for a great improv troupe: A fanatical commitment to support one’s teammates and a robust sense of play. Add in prodigious amounts of comfortability with each other, great heads of hair, and the title of “King of the Mountain,” and you’ve got yourself Coiffelganger. Coiffelganger (Scriven Bernard, Danny Neely, Patrick Hennessy, Cody Hofmockel, and Connor Posey) is full of big coifs and even bigger personalities. When it comes to successful improv, these five will tell you that it’s all about the comradery, the fun, and making those moments where everything seems to magically click on stage...also some pre-show got-your-front dick taps help, too.

Congrats on your reign as King of the Mountain, Coiffelganger! First, how did you guys get together?

Connor: Firstly, thank you. Secondly, I don't quite recall how this group came to be. I was walking around Deep Ellum one lovely evening, when all of the sudden I felt a blunt object hit the back of my head. I awoke in the back of an unmarked van in a vat of Billy Jealousy Hair Styling Putty flanked by Danny, Scriven, Patrick and Cody. We scheduled our first practice then and there. Cody: Um...we met...here... Danny: OK, I’ll take the reins then. I think we all met at the jams mostly. That’s how we got to know each other certainly. The first time I met Scriven was at a jam. And I was in a scene with Pat, and he fake slapped me. Then I told him to real slap me after that scene. Cody: I just feel most comfortable talking to people who look like me. Patrick: I met Scriven, the first time, walking down the street outside of DCH, and I think we both started talking about energy drinks. That was just like a passing meeting, though. But later on, a Level 1 student confused me and Scriven for each other, and I just went with it. That’s actually the origin of our name. Scriven: Our hairstyles always got confused for each other, and we always joked about it. So, we picked other people with similar hairstyles and we all had fun playing together. Danny: I did have a similar hairstyle, but I think I just got a pity invite because I wasn’t in any troupes at the time. Cody: Dany was totally a pity move. We felt bad for him, seeing him struggle as a new person. He’s definitely our weakest member. Scriven: But, he’s also our richest. Patrick: In friendship.

Could you briefly describe how one could achieve the "coif" look?

Connor: Frankly, I think I have the seediest hairstyle in the group, so I'm not the best person to give coif advice. I put product in my hair, and then I hang my head out the window on the way to work. Bam. Scriven: Easy, I just stand behind a unicorn and let it shit rainbows in my hair. And just poof, done! Danny: I wash my hair every day. Sometimes, I’ll just let my natural grease build up over the course of a day. Cody: I’d have to disagree with Danny on that because I don’t think one day is enough to let your natural greases build up. I’m actually fond of the no-poo movement. Sometimes, I’ll just wash with conditioner in order to keep my hair’s natural oils, and then I can just basically use my hands for the coif. I’m a pretty greasy guy. Patrick: I’m not...I think mine always looks better on the second day. Because it gets kind of roughed up a little bit and then you kind of hand shape it back into place. Cody: How do I achieve the coif? I would say with my hands.

Coiffelganger

Tell us a little about Coiffelganger’s performance style. What form do you follow?

Connor: What the hell is a form? But no, seriously, we don't have a set form. Our recently adopted coach, the brilliant David Allison, told us that for a show as loosely structured as ours, we should think of it as having three beats over the course of the show. I thought that was apt advice. So something like a montage with three beats and lots of call-backs and world-building and such. Danny: We don’t have a format, but we definitely have a style. We’re like the Golden State Warriors of improv. Cody: Fun. Very up tempo, and we have a lot of energy. Danny is like Draymond Green because he’s always like throwing out the assist and can play any part. Scriven: I’m like a sports reference because not everyone gets me. Patrick: We come out strong and we don’t let it drop, from beginning to end. It’s just like in your face. We also like to f*ck with each other. We take pimping each other out to the next level. Scriven: I think our high career point is going to be when we accidentally kill one another on stage and everyone just goes with it. And then we chop the body up together and burn it. Cody: Basically we go hard every night til someone dies. No blood, no fun! Patrick: I would like to say while we’re on the note of “no blood, no fun!” that whenever I was doing my Igor character the other night, I was actually hitting my head on the floor and punching myself. Cody: So, I think if you had to describe our style in a single sentence it would be: Actually hitting our head on the floor.

Since Coiffelganger is equal parts hair and improv, what hair-do does each of your troupe mates embody and why?

Cody: I would say Scriven is someone’s hair right after they stick their finger in an electrical socket. Connor: Scriven is whatever hairstyle Christopher Lloyd has because he has a penchant for playing characters with insane ideas and dubious motivations. Cody is the long, flowing mane of Kenny G because of his emotional range. He can keep a straight face for days. Patrick: Cody is the baby doll of the group, and whenever I think of baby doll hair, I think of the pigtails on that doll, that when you cut it, it goes back into the head and then you can pull it back out and cut it again. Cody: What the f*ck?! Patrick: Have you not seen that doll before? Cody: I mean no. Patrick: So, Cody is retractable pigtails on a doll. Scriven: Because he’s also plastic and lives in a box. Connor: Danny is the bowl cut because he has this lovely, quintessentially American voice that summons images of Tom Sawyer painting a fence, or that Leave It to Beaver kid trying to understand divorce. Patrick: Danny would be Clark Kent hair. Cody: Or slicked back like a greaser because he’s so damn cool all the time. Danny: I also robbed a convenience store with an unloaded gun and got shot by the cops. Ponyboy went to the church, and it caught on fire, and Johnny died. Connor: Patrick is an afro, because he makes crazy, bold choices on stage, and takes scenes in fun, unpredictable directions. Cody: I would say Patrick is like half-shaved on one side and half long. Patrick: So, Skrillex? Cody: Because he can be like...f*ckin’ two-faced. No, because I think Patrick can be straight or wild and crazy depending on what side you’re getting. Scriven: He’s grounded and absurd. Cody: Just like Skrillex. Scriven: Connor is a rat tail. Danny: He’s kinda dirty but he reminds you of your childhood. Patrick: Whenever I first met Connor, he just came off as this burly, grouchy mountain-man type person. Cody: I think Connor would be chest hair. Scriven: Just bald with a lot of chest hair. Patrick: A rat tail made out of chest hair.

Coiffelganger

What qualities does it take for a troupe to be crowned King of the Mountain?

Scriven: Hair. Patrick: Hair. Danny: Hair. Cody: Good hair. Fun. Scriven: Inviting everyone on Facebook. Connor: Depends. Sometimes the winner is whoever brings the most friends to the show. But, like any other show, the troupe who has the most fun on stage is going to be the most fun to watch. So if you're not having fun...rethink your life. When you get off stage, you can go back to being miserable. 

Kings of Coiffelganger, it's time to pull out your improvised/pantomimed royal proclamations and tell us one of your kingly decrees.

King Danny: Play without fear and all your dreams will come true. King Patrick: Hereforth and henceforth everyone shall commit 110 percent to everything they do in every scene at Dallas Comedy House. King Cody: There’s nothing five white men can’t do. Wait, no, scratch that from the record, please. ...I like, play without fear. I’ll just jump on that. Also, free nachos for the entire kingdom! King Scriven: Prithee sir, respond thyself honestly. King Connor: When in doubt, open a scene by staring at your scene partners’ perfectly maintained, delicious hair. 

Lauren Levine is currently a Level 3 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.