Jason Hensel

Upcoming Comedy Books and Books by and About Funny People

A lot of books were released the last couple of years by comedians such as Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, and other authors not named Amy. These books excited a reading public, specifically a public interested in comedy and humorous writing. In that spirit, here are some upcoming 2017 releases – by comedians and humorists – to put on your Amazon wish list. (Quoted descriptions are from Amazon.) Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo: A Novel by George Saunders – February 14 "George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul."

 

Cheech is Not My Real NameCheech Is Not My Real Name: ...But Don't Call Me Chong by Cheech Marin – March 14 "This insightful memoir delves into how Cheech dodged the draft, formed one of the most successful comedy duos of all time, became the face of the recreational drug movement with the film Up in Smoke, forged a successful solo career with roles in The Lion King and, more recently, Jane the Virgin, and became the owner of the most renowned collection of Chicano art in the world."

 

Thank You for Coming to HattiesburgThank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian's Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest Cities in the World by Todd Barry – March 14 "Thank You For Coming to Hattiesburg is part tour diary, part travel guide, and part memoir. Follow me on my journey of small clubs, and the occasional big amphitheater. Watch me make a promoter clean the dressing room toilet in Connecticut, see me stare at beached turtles in Maui, and see how I react when Lars from Metallica shows up to see me at a rec center in Northern California."

 

LettermanLetterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman – April 11 "In a career spanning more than 30 years, David Letterman redefined the modern talk show with an ironic comic style that transcended traditional television. While he remains one of the most famous stars in America, he is a remote, even reclusive, figure whose career is widely misunderstood. In Letterman, Jason Zinoman, the first comedy critic in the history of the New York Times, mixes groundbreaking reporting with unprecedented access and probing critical analysis to explain the unique entertainer’s titanic legacy."

Last Man StandingLast Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy by James Curtis – May 1 "Here, for the first time, is the whole story of Mort Sahl, America’s iconoclastic father of modern stand-up comedy. Written with Sahl’s full cooperation and the participation of many of his friends and contemporaries, it delves deeply into the influences that shaped him, the heady times in which he soared, and the depths to which he fell during the turbulent 60s when he took on the Warren Commission and nearly paid for it with his livelihood."

 

Are You AnybodyAre You Anybody: A Memoir by Jeffrey Tambor – May 9 "Are You Anybody is Tambor's chance to discuss his creative process and immense accomplishments from a life lived onscreen. Drawing from his formative childhood years, in which he describes himself as a fat Hungarian-Jewish kid with a lisp and a depressive father to how he drew inspiration from his life to create ... characters, Tambor's memoir is funny, insightful, and uplifting, touching on comedy and the enduring chutzpah required to make it through life."

 

US AbsurdityThe United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History by Dave Anthony, Gareth Reynolds, and Patton Oswalt (Foreword)– May 9 "From the creators of the comedy/history podcast The Dollop, The United States of Absurdity presents short, informative, and hilarious stories of the most outlandish (but true) people, events, and more from United States history. Comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds cover the weird stories you didn't learn in history class, such as 10-Cent Beer Night, the Jackson Cheese, and the Kentucky Meat Shower, accompanied by full-page illustrations that bring each historical 'milestone' to life in full-color."

Giant of the SenateAl Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken – May 30 "[This] book is about an unlikely campaign that had an even more improbable ending: the closest outcome in history and an unprecedented eight-month recount saga, which is pretty funny in retrospect. It's a book about what happens when the nation's foremost progressive satirist gets a chance to serve in the United States Senate and, defying the low expectations of the pundit class, actually turns out to be good at it."

 

Theft by FindingTheft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2016) by David Sedaris – May 30 "Anyone who has attended a live Sedaris event knows that his diary readings are often among the most joyful parts of the evening. But never before have they been available in print. Now, in Theft by Finding, Sedaris brings us his favorite entries. From deeply poignant to laugh-out-loud funny, these selections reveal with new intimacy a man longtime readers only think they know."

 

Best American EmailsThe Best American Emails: Re: A Collection of the Finest Party Planning Threads, Accidental Reply Alls, and Pharma Spams by Amanda Meadows – June 6 "A collection of the greatest writing in the American literary canon: email correspondences. From the eerily foreboding chain letters forwarded from your aunt to the slyly persuasive emails of Russian black market pharmacists, we scoured your inbox for this satire of literary collections and flagged these threads as timeless gems."

 

The Girl in the ShowThe Girl in the Show: Three Generations of Comedy, Culture, and Feminism by Anna Fields – August 8 "The Girl in the Show provides an in-depth exploration of how comedy and feminism have grown hand in hand to give women a stronger voice in the ongoing fight for equality. From I Love Lucy to SNL to today’s rising cable and web-series stars, Anna Fields’ entertaining retrospective combines amusing and honest personal narratives with the historical, political, and cultural contexts of the feminist movement."

Not Quite a GeniusNot Quite a Genius by Nate Dern – August 8 "From the senior writer at Funny or Die and former artistic director at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, a collection of absurdist, hilarious stories and essays on relationships, technology, and contemporary society. Anyone who’s ever scrunched their eyes at WiFi Terms & Conditions, listened to the reasons that led a vegetarian to give up meat, or looked on in horror at the evolving audacity of reality TV will appreciate Dern’s wicked and funny take on modern life."

 

The ImprovThe Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club that Revolutionized Stand-Up by Budd Friedman – September 5 "The Improv is an oral history of the most important comedy club in America, emceed by Budd Friedman himself, and featuring in-depth interviews with some of the most important names in comedy — including Jay Leno, Michael Keaton, Bill Maher, Larry David, Larry Miller, Jeff Garland, Jerry Stiller, Kevin Nealon, Gilbert Gottfried, Joe Piscopo, Tim Reid, Will Shriner, Roseanne Barr, Judd Apatow, Robert Klein, Richard Lewis, Leslie Moonves, Howie Mandel, Bill Engvall, Lily Tomlin, Rick Newman, Norman Lear, Billy Crystal, Alan Zweibel, Dick Cavett, Fred Willard, Jimmie Walker, David Steinberg, and many more!"

The Improv HandbookThe Improv Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Improvising in Comedy, Theatre, and Beyond (2nd edition) by Tom Salinsky - October 19 "First published in 2008, this second edition features a new foreword by comedian Mike McShane, as well as new exercises on endings, managing blind offers, and master-servant games, plus new and expanded interviews with Keith Johnstone, Neil Mullarkey, Jeffrey Sweet, and Paul Rogan."

 

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program. He manages the DCH blog and performs with .f.a.c.e., the ’95 Bulls, and Bound Together.

Pumping Up the Improv Jam

The Jam It’s Tuesday night and there are eight improvisers on stage at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) pretending to throw up because someone brought a bad casserole to the housewarming party. Each person who walks on stage is introducing some new gross bodily function and it’s kind of a peak Jam moment - funny, weird, and everyone’s in on the joke.

I’ve been going to the improv Jam since my Level 1 class when Danielle Seright invited me. Of course, it took me several weeks to actually get the courage to go with her, then I spent a few months interning Tuesday nights. Now I co-host the Jam with Jason Hensel and Patrick Hennessy, so I’ve seen it from all sides.

I love the Jam. I love its weirdness. I feel like it gives you a chance to really test yourself, to see if you can play with beginners and also get experience playing with people who have been doing it a lot longer than you have. My student card got picked to do a set with Primary Colours when I was in Level 3, and I was so nervous I introduced them incorrectly and then didn’t go out in a single scene. We can’t be heroes all the time, which is maybe the point of the Jam.

If you’re unfamiliar, Jason, Patrick, and I give a few announcements, explain the rules, and lead a quick warm-up before breaking everyone up into groups for the night. Anyone and everyone can participate, but we usually have some people just there to soak up some free laughs. We start at 8 p.m., but people wander in and out throughout the night. Some people participate in one round, and some help us close it out.

I think the Jam is important at all levels, so I asked three improvisers with different Jam experiences to answer some questions.  

***

What's your name?

KS: Kaspars (occasionally using covers as Kevin, Karl & John).

JH: Jason Russell Hackett

TH: My given name is Tia Marie Hedge, but I go by a few nicknames: Sweet T, Tuba, Tina, T, SBT. All are accepted and still accepting new ones.

What's your improv experience?

KS: Just graduated Level 3 here at DCH. Never tried improv before!

JH: I started taking classes while they were still being offered in Denton in January 2013. Prior to that, my comedy experience was limited to some mediocre stand-up sets and some now embarrassing blogs that could probably be easily located through a Google search if one was so inclined.

TH: My improv journey did not begin until April 2016 when I signed up for classes at DCH. I actually had no idea what improv was until late 2015, in October, when an old friend introduced me to it. Prior to that, I have not had any other sort of theater or comedic experiences. I'm a baby in the scene.

When did you start coming to the Jam?

KS: May 2016

JH: I started coming to the Jam while I was still in Level 1 because I was super gung-ho about improv and wanted to get on stage as soon as possible. My first attempts were… not good. But those humbling experiences were so vital because it made the moments when I made the right moves and was rewarded with laughter a clear indication that the classes were working, and that I was one step closer to becoming like the performers that intimidated me every time they graced the stage.

The JamTH: I started watching Jams back in October when I got introduced to improv. I didn't start going up at Jams though until the week after I started my Level 1 class because I was terrified to be on stage. But after my first Jam, I fell in love with it. I immediately started going every week.

What does the Jam mean to you?

KS: Hmm, I keep coming and staying late, always late for work the next day. It’s fun. It’s challenging! Always different people and perspectives. I think I enjoy doing improv. Also, I’m from abroad, which makes it a great way to meet new people and hear local references. Jokes are tough to get at times. Not a Jam goes by that I learn something new and weird.

JH: The Jam is one of the most important components of the improv educational experience. Classes are where you learn the techniques needed to be a good improviser, but the Jam is the laboratory where you get to experiment with those techniques in front of a live audience. For a brand new improviser, I think it's essential to go at least once before your first showcase because it's the perfect way to get past the nerves of simply being on stage without wasting the precious few minutes of your showcase doing so. For the more experienced improviser, I think it's just as important. The Jam is somewhere you can help the new improvisers by leading through example. Having those experts interspersed through the rounds gives the newer improvisers an anchor and can be as instructive as actual class time. Additionally, there have been times when I've been down on myself as an improviser, and the Jam has been key to shaking those feelings away. I can go there, play with people I've never even met before, focus on the basics of improv that I've been neglecting, and try out new techniques I haven't had the courage to try elsewhere. Anyway, that's a very long-winded way of saying it's important for everyone.

TH: The Jam to me is a great way to expand your play styles and knowledge of improv. It forces you to learn how to play with a variety of different players, seasoned and beginners. It's a great place to practice things you want to work on getting better at or to go to have a fun time. Other than improv stuff, Jams were the way I connected with most of my friends that I have now.

Favorite Jam memory?

The JamKS: I remember “find the killer” game a while ago, where the group marked the dead person laying on the floor using “numbered cubes with antenna (?!)” from the tables and conducted a murder investigation! Awesome!

JH: I have two. The first is from when I just started, and I ended up hanging out until the last rounds of the night, where the only people left were myself and the experienced people who intimidated me. Also, we were all drunk. I remember this one scene where everyone was on stage and the scene was this orgy photoshoot, and I was standing behind Ashley Bright, who was bent over a chair, for what felt like an eternity, saying nothing but watching the scene grow around me. I could feel the scene coming (heh) to its natural conclusion, and decided to ask the question I'd been keeping in my pocket the whole time… “Hey, can I pull out?” I made those intimidating improvisers laugh, and I think I've been chasing that feeling ever since. The second has been watching my girlfriend, Veronica, begin her own improv journey and to see her at the Jam, full of nerves and excitement, creating her own friendships with her fellow Level 1s. Although this has also had the effect of making me feel old as hell, improv-wise.

TH: Besides the numerous amount of absurd and hilarious scenes I was able to be a part of, my favorite Jam memory was a certain Tuesday night after class. I was in Level 2 at the time with a new class I had just joined that term. We were all basically forced by our teacher, Sarah Adams, to go to the Jam together. Also, I've never seen any of my new classmates at a Jam before. So it was a little exciting for me to see them do their first Jam. My favorite part of that night was seeing all of them laughing and smiling on stage and having the time of their lives up there. They didn't care who was watching. They were just playing with their friends!

Advice for anyone nervous to Jam?

KS: I did hear “Just get out there!” many times, and while it’s very true and one should have it under your sleeve at all times, I found that having just a slightest tip can make a huge difference especially for folks like me who are not natural "go-getters"... and usually brain drains to alarming levels (probably blood runs down all the way to butt!) once getting anywhere near the stage. So, once I saw this YouTube video… (long laugh). So here it goes: “Just get out there.. AND try (when appropriate) matching (doing the same as) your counterpart (preferably twice as hard).” The few times I tried, it reduced some of the fear and got me into silly and fun scenes (at least for me), with some initial idea and an illusion that you know something. And, of course, extra trouble if others pick up on the fact that you are “up for shit!” (long evil laugh). Obviously, Jams are a ton of fun, and the hosts are always there for you!*

JH: I'm sure everyone is going to say “just do it” in some form or another, and I agree. But that's easy to say and hard to do. I would say, go to the Jam at first just to watch. You don't even have to get up there, just observe what's going on. But, since you've come all that way, you may as well get up and do the warm-up and get assigned a number. If you want to bail after that, no pressure. But since you have a number, you may as well get up on stage and at least watch from the sides. Just feel what it's like to be on stage in front of a crowd, and realize that it's not as scary as you thought. And since you're up there on the sides, you may as well at least try to walk out at the beginning of one of the scenes, even if you don't have anything to say. You can pretend to be an inanimate object, and just stay in the background. But since you're out there in the scene, you may as well give it your all and use the skills you've learned in class to make the scene as good as you can. And then get off stage, walk straight to the bar, and buy yourself a drink. You've earned it.

TH: My advice for anyone who is nervous about going to a Jam: Don't be. I was, and I regret that. It held me back from growing as an improviser. Most people are scared about screwing up or saying something stupid on stage. Well, THAT'S WHAT THE JAM IS FOR! It's where you get to screw up and learn from it. You get to be the silliest or weirdest you can be, and the people standing on stage with you are going to be just as silly or weird as you. (And they might possibly turn into your best friend.) The Jams are a place to have fun, and that's exactly what it is, fun! I smell butts. I fart 24/7 (This is was Shahyan's answers. Also accurate.).

***

So there you have it. You’re fully prepared to spend the night at the DCH Jam, or just watch, or maybe you aren’t prepared at all and that’s kind of the point.

*Kaspars, please, you’re embarrassing me.

The Jam

Darcy Armstrong is a graduate of the Dallas Comedy House Improv program and a Sketch Writing student. She writes for feminist comedy website superglooze.com, walks her dog frequently, drinks chardonnay at the DCH bar, and performs with Glistlefoot.

(Photos: Jason Hensel and Darcy Armstrong)

Humor on the Brain: Puns

I have a huge interest in brain science. I also have a huge interest in humor. I'm going to put those two together for a new series on this blog. It will explore the inner workings of what your brain is doing when it's creating or processing comedy. Maggie Austin

Let's start this series with everyone's favorite (or despised) comedic device: Puns. University of Windsor researchers recently published a study in Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition explaining how your right and left brain hemispheres work together when you hear a pun.

Study participants viewed a pun on one side of their visual fields so they would be processed first by the corresponding hemisphere (e.g., right eye = left hemisphere). They analyzed reaction time to find out the dominant hemisphere.

“The left hemisphere is the linguistic hemisphere, so it's the one that processes most of the language aspects of the pun, with the right hemisphere kicking in a bit later” Lori Buchanan, a psychology professor and co-author of the study, told Scientific American.

The teamwork of both hemispheres is what helps us understand jokes.

"Puns, as a form of word play, complete humor's basic formula: expectation plus incongruity equals laughter," Roni Jacobson reported for Scientific American.

Words can have multiple meanings, and it's the left hemisphere's job to interpret them in specific ways. It's the right hemisphere's job to help us understand other meanings for the words and then "get" the joke (often met with a groan).

While puns are funny (yes, yes they are), there can be a darker side to them: They could be the sign of a damaged brain. And for your brain, that's no laughing matter.

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program. He manages the DCH blog and performs with .f.a.c.e., the ’95 Bulls, and Bound Together.

Observations From a Professional Watcher

audience I have searched for many ways over the years to find a creative outlet in my life. At some points, it was exercise. There was a time when it was drinking and staying out too late. I spent many a Saturday morning searching for the perfect garage sale. And there was a small 18-month period I decided that reading books was the way to go. I can’t tell you what any of these hobbies got me. I am sure somewhere in my mind I sense that running sucks and not to spend $10 on a broken record player that I can someday fix and to realize that I will never finish a book series (Why make a trilogy? Just tell the damn story in 180 pages and move on).

The one thing I have uncovered in my life that I thoroughly enjoy is watching improv. Being in an audience. Being in a room with people who all have a different sense of taste in the funny. Grabbing a drink and sitting back for an hour to escape the world and watch some make-em-ups. After an hour, thinking about each moment that made me laugh. Not the out-loud belly laughs, but the, “I didn’t know I would think that was funny laughs.” Improv watching has become my joy and happiness.  

But I have been wondering lately, what does being a fan of watching improv get you? Do you gain confidence? Self-esteem? Ability to think on your feet and always say, “Yes and”? The answer to those questions is "no." But what improv does provide an audience member like me is something so much more valuable. The ability to be in the most awkward situations in this world and find calmness, patience, and humor, which makes life that much more interesting.

A situation happened to me not too long ago. I walked into a place of business. A ton of commotion was taking place with customers coming in and out. I saw a man sitting in a chair off to the side and didn’t think anything of it. I walked to the counter and was promptly asked by an employee, “How can I help you?” Without thinking, I stated what I wanted. At that moment, the gentleman who was sitting in the chair started off on his tirade: “I can’t believe I have not been helped.” “Have you not seen me sitting here for 10 minutes?” “I guess customer service is lost in this place,” and on and on and on. He promptly stood up, grabbed his cowboy hat, and slung the door open to get in his 1987 Chevrolet truck, which was parked six feet in front of the door to the business.

Typically in the pre-improv professional watcher phase of my life, this situation would have mortified me. I would have backed into a corner and hid. Felt it was all my fault. Decided that I didn’t need to be at this business and decide to slink out the back door. But no, that is not what watching a 27-minute set has taught me. Enjoy the moment is what I kept thinking in my head. Enjoy the fact that a simple misunderstanding has caused a gentleman, who was comfortable sitting in his chair, turn on a dime at the thought that someone cut in front of him in line. Find humor in his tone, cowboy hat, and the closeness of his parking space. Enjoy the reality that this situation does not happen every day and will not happen again. All made up on the spot, as the host would say.  

Ghost Watcher is a regular, DCH audience member.

(Image: Jason Hensel)

DCF2016: Adam Burke

It’s almost that time again! Obviously, the most wonderful time of the year, Dallas Comedy Festival (DCF) kicks off on Tuesday, March 22. To help you put together your festival schedule, we want to make sure you get to know as many of the fabulous out-of-town acts as possible that will be dropping into Dallas Comedy House. Adam Burke

Let's first get this settled: Yes, I'm friends with Adam. Known him for a while now. More than decade known him. But you know what? I've never seen his stand-up in person. That's a knowing shame. (OK, I'll stop with all the "knows.")

Adam didn't start performing stand-up until he moved to Chicago after he wrote an article about comedy for a local magazine. After that, it was nothing but a slingshot to the stars with appearances on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, Doug Loves Movies, and The Bob & Tom Show...heck, you can read Adam's bio on his website, where you can also watch videos and download his album. In the meantime, let's get to know (sorry) him a little bit more.

You're from the U.K. How does being from another country influence the type of comedy you perform in the U.S.?

I think it's different for everybody, obviously. I guess there's this idea that you notice things that are so ingrained in the native culture of the country that you've moved to that the locals kind of take them for granted. I have a story that might be a little different from other people's. I actually have tended to downplay that but I'm addressing it more onstage. Some people demand that you talk about it. My accent is pretty muddled but there have definitely been instances where I didn't address it and people have yelled out, "Where the hell are you from?" Some people say my style is different but I don't know if that's true.

How did you get involved with Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!?

They tape the bulk of their shows in downtown Chicago, so I guess it's convenient for them to have a local. There was a local guy, a very funny man named Brian Babylon, and he moved on to L.A. so they were looking for a replacement. Some of the producers (including the house producer, Tyler Greene) had seen me skulking around stages in Chicago and I guess they thought I'd be a good fit. What's crazy is: in the early days of my doing comedy, I didn't have a lot of goals for myself but the one thing I thought I might be OK at is that, so, so far so good.

Please visit the Dallas Comedy Festival blog to learn more about Adam Burke and to purchase tickets.

Jason Hensel is a DCH graduate who regularly performs in the troupes The '95 Bulls, .f.a.c.e., and the DCH Book Club. He also has perfect kneecaps. 

Bulls in Heels

Bulls Show Dallas Comedy House troupe The 1995 Chicago Bulls will walk on stage tonight in high heels. The troupe is asking for show attendees to donate clothes and money, which will be given to Genesis Women's Shelter & Support.

The reason for the high heels, though, is based on Walk a Mile In Her Shoes, an event and organization that asks men to walk one mile in women's high heel shoes in order to raise awareness of violence against women. But the Bulls aren't stopping with high heels. They're donning dresses, wigs, and makeup, too.

"We were backstage before a show (we opened for Atlantic Pacific Billy), and there were heels backstage," troupe member Jua Holt said. "We laughed at the idea of Cesar [Villa] in heels, and the size he'd need to buy. And we 'yes, and' into a Block Party in heels to a full show in drag for charity."

And if you're wondering, Cesar wears a size 17.

Come out tonight to help raise money and donate clothes for a great cause. Funny Scenez starts the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.