Julia Cotton

Sketch Speak: FCC, the Stylish and Beautiful, presents: The Wrong Party

The Wrong PartyThis past Saturday, I had the pleasure of watching The Wrong Party, a sketch production written and directed by the FCC. The FCC is an all-minority sketch group made of Dallas Comedy House (DCH) regulars: Julia Cotton, Jerrell CurryPaulos Feerow, and Jade Smith. For those not in the know, the sketch production primarily focuses on issues of race and status. And guys? It’s one of the best sketch shows I’ve seen come out of DCH. The writing is strong and true, their performances were genuine, and the entire piece was a roller coaster of emotions. They candidly address horrible truths about our culture with grace and, incredibly, hilarity. They look their audience in the face and talk about what it’s like being at “The Wrong Party.” (See what I did there?) Reader, if you care about modern comedy, if you care about writing, you must see this show. It is non-negotiable. Go buy your ticket now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Good. Your country thanks you.

The good people of the FCC hung around after their stellar performance to answer some of my questions:

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Julia: All right, let’s do it!

All: Yeah!

Julia: Thank you for doing this, by the way.

Me: Oh, well thank you guys for letting me talk to you.

Julia: Yes. You’re allowed.

All laugh.

Me: Can you tell me a little bit about what FCC is?

Jade: It’s just kind of something we came up with. The way we wrote the show is, we met for – how many months?

All: Like four.

Julia: Yeah, they all talked about it, and then I showed up on one of the random days that you, where you just show up at DCH, and they said, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing a show! You should come do it too.” And I said, “Fine, I’m not doing anything, like raising my children. I’ll hang out with you guys once a week. So yeah."

Jerrell: We’d been kicking it around for a long, long time before we even – I actually think we almost had the same idea separately, like, “Oh yeah, we should do this.” And then – haha – maybe like a year and a half before we spoke to each other about it.

Julia: We’re all in very separate circles.

All: Yeah, yeah.

Me: Cool – since you all, sort of, came to the same idea – was it inspired by particular events you all experienced? I’m sure it was different from all of you.

Paulos: I’m not going to try to speak for everybody, but I’ve seen them play in improv or sketch, and they would make smart moves when race was brought up, or when being a woman was brought up. You know – smart moves that weren’t just the obvious joke. I wanted to write for them, or at least do something with it.

Julia: Yeah, at first it was very much “Let’s do something.”

All: Yeah. Yeah.

Paulos: The more that we wrote – and really, the more that we hung out, the more ideas we had that were really fleshed out.

Jade: I think the reason it happened is that we were experiencing a lot of the same things in our comedy careers. And not just here, but in general, from beginning to now, a lot of us were having the same experiences, and together we were able to flesh out some really fun ideas.

Jerrell: It’s been, like, the most cathartic five months.

All: Yeah! It has.

Me: I can imagine, yeah.

Jerrell: It was just, “Oh. I need this.”

Julia: I mean, on the real, we were able to say a lot of things out loud to each other that we’ve been thinking for a long time, but we needed the group to be able to let it loose. Being able to do that and put those things that we let loose into something as awesome as it is on stage – I think we all feel really good about that.

All: Yes, agreed.

Me: That’s really cool – and I was actually about to ask you – the links, the “behind the scenes” parts, did those come out of real conversations?

All: Yes.

Julia: Very real.

Jerrell: A lot of those were verbatim, how the conversation went.

Julia: Especially the Cosby one.

All: Oh yeah!

Julia: Cause I tried a very horrible Cosby impression, and then we all went, one after the other.

Me (to Jerrell): I have to say, that part was somehow so fun, and your commitment to that was amazing.

Julia: I mean, that’s pretty much Jerrell’s role. It’s always silly, but we’ll be on one page about something, and then Jerrell will just take it somewhere completely far away.

Paulos: Yeah, he’ll just…(Whooshing noise)

Jerrell: You know, I did that impression, and I’ve never actually seen an episode of The Cosby Show.

Me: That’s so great…I’m sure that each of you brings something different to the table. If Jerrell takes it to a new and different place, is that true for each of you?

Jade: That’s a good question.

Jerrell: That’s a really good question.

Paulos: Nods.

Julia: I can say that Jade, to me – this is the second time we’ve written something together, and even back to that first time, she’s so smart. Like, she’s like a whiz kid if we were a family.

Jade: So I’m like, Tahj Mowry?

Julia: (Laughs) Yeah, ‘cause that first day when we were working on the Disney roast, she came in with a stack of jokes already ready. But she didn’t just rely on that. Quick-witted. Her brain works so fast, and it’s always funny. So that’s who I say Jade would be.

Jade: Heeyyy. OK, OK, all right.

Julia: Killed it. Killed it.

Paulos: Well, if we’re speaking for people…

All laugh.

Paulos: I think Julia is – I’ve never seen somebody hear an idea and just get the logistics of it down. And then know to just – “Let’s heighten it here, or let’s take things in this direction.” She’s really good at punching up your thing. And also, the “Hey Mr. DJ” sketch is probably my favorite, and I don’t think we even messed with that. It was good from the first time. She was able to help us get everything tight and better.

Jade: I would say that, ah, Paulos over here…

All: Oh shit! Ooooh!

Paulos: I’m the foreign one!

All laugh.

Julia: He’s not of this world.

Jade: Paulos has such a strong idea of what’s funny, and what comedy is. He’s able to pull it out of anything. Ideas that I would never have thought of in a million years, and we’ll do them on stage and [redacted] kill. And I just – oh. I don’t think I can say ‘[redacted]’.

Me: I mean, the last interview I did, they said [redacted] like eight times.

Julia: Oh! So that was the redacted thing!

Jade: (Laughs) Yeah, and so the last thing – Paulos has a really strong idea of how the audience will take something. I think it’s his stand-up background.

Julia: Yeah!

Jade: Sometimes I’m like, “How the [redacted] do you know that? HOW DO YOU KNOW?”...And, uh, that’s us.

Paulos: We are all beautiful.

Jerrell: (Singing) You are beautifu-ul…

Julia: We are all very attractive. Make sure that’s written in there.

Me: (Salutes) Yes ma’am.

Jerrell: Title the article that way, too.

((Done and done!))

Me: I have to commend you guys. I feel like you did a very wonderful job of presenting some particularly sensitive issues on stage, but still maintaining this…somehow, you managed to make it fun. And I don’t know how you pulled it off, and I just watched you do it.

Julia: I think that’s because everything we talk about on stage is very real to us. We just happen to have a really good time with each other, and, thankfully, we’re able to make sure that translates – it just comes off on stage, because the whole time, we’re having fun.

All agree.

Paulos: The first couple of meetups that we had, I was like, “I don’t know if they’re gonna think I’m funny – “

Jerrell: Yeah, exactly.

Paulos: But then, it stopped being about being funny. We literally were just having fun. I feel like we wasted a month just talking.

Jerrell: This thing was really written in the last two-to-three weeks.

Julia: And it may have been just us sitting around, but that was so important, though. Because we don’t hang out every day, we’re all in different circles. So the first two-and-a-half, three months was us having deep conversations. And we were able to translate that into all of our sketches, I think.

Paulos: Yeah, for sure.

Me: Awesome guys – I have one last question. This comes standard. If your group was a vegetable, what would it be?

Julia: Oh, it’s gotta be like, a big-ass eggplant. Right?

Jade: Yeah, yeah…like an emoji.

Jerrell: Giant, giant eggplants.

Julia: The girthiest of eggplants.

Jerrell: None of that Whole Foods [redacted]. We’re Trader Joe’s.

Julia: Maybe even like, a Kroger one that’s been injected with a bunch of –

Jade: This is the eggplant that ate the other eggplants.

Jerrell: Boom. Yeah.

Julia: What’s that movie with the big plant?

Me: Little Shop of Horrors?

Julia: Yeah! Yes!

Jerrell: (Laughing) “That movie with the big plant…”

Julia: Yeah, like at the end of the movie, the plant’s like “Feed me, Seymour!” and the eggplant’s like, “[Redacted] you. Imma eat you.”

Jade: And Rick Moranis is still in it.

Jerrell: I thought you were going to say Rick Ross.

Me: I want to see that.

We hear a knocking.

Christie Wallace: Hey, Jerrell. Do you remember we have a show?

Jerrell: Oh! Yes, I’m coming!

Me: And I think that ends it.

All laugh.

Aren’t they lovely? I thought so.

And ya’ll know, I can’t leave anything alone without my two cents, so as a farewell note: Comics have such an interesting place in performance art. They can brighten a room, they can make an audience laugh, or cry, or gasp. They can speak honestly about things that hurt, and things that should change but can’t. I think every comic wants to be that kind of performer, the kind that can make a group nod, “So true, so true.” The kind of comic that can do it well, though – that’s something rare. It is easy to bandwagon or rant, but the comedian that can show you her perspective, and even convince you of her side, they are precious not only to fans but to an entire culture. I genuinely believe that FCC has four of them.

(I asked them what FCC stands for…Paulos said Fight Club Clips. Jade says [redacted] Calvin Coolidge. So the consensus is that they’re working on it.)

Emily Baudot is a Level Five improv 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.

JFK, Sugar Ray, and the Sixth Floored

Our latest Level 3 Sketch class work hard to produce a stellar show, and it's evident they succeeded with Sixth Floored. Performer Jonda Robinson and assistant director Julia Cotton fill us in about the revue and how sketch writing can help make you better improviser. How did the group land on the theme of the show? What is the through-line in each scene connecting with the overall Dallas/Kennedy title?

Jonda: Because this is the first sketch show at the new Dallas Comedy House (DCH), we thought it would be nice to try to write some things that were inspired by Dallas. Nick Scott (our director) asked us to bring in pitches that involved the city, and almost all of them had to do with the Kennedy assassination in some way. This made us think about how that event is still such a big deal for the city, and Dallas has never really moved on from it. In our scenes, we saw this related theme of characters being stuck in situations, unsure of how to move forward, and that became that thread that runs through the show.

Julia: Nick and I had them go around the table and just tell what was going on in their lives. In everyone's response there was some mention of not knowing what was coming next in their lives. Everyone seemed to hint at the need to move on to the next thing, but not quite being sure what that next thing was or even if moving on would be the right thing to do. So that's something underlining the show, for sure: staying stuck in a situation or moving on from it. JFK came along because I think we had them bring historical pitches and Dallas centric pitches in the same week. There was some grim holocaust stuff, some grim 9/11 stuff, but I think mostly JFK stuff came through the pipe that week, and we ended up running with that. There was a joke about the JFK assassination being the thing Dallas is most known for and there's like this weird sense of pride about it. The title Sixth Floored, though, is also a reference to the band Sugar Ray, which is another prominent element in the show (their second studio album was titled Floored).

Sixth Floored

How does working together as a sketch group differ from working together as improv troupe?

Jonda: When you are onstage as an improv troupe, you don’t have time to overthink—you just have time to react, and once a scene is finished, you’ll never do it again. In sketch, you get to take your basic idea, write it, and rewrite it until it’s something you really like. Sketch involves a lot of bouncing ideas off of each other and, as a group, picking the ones that work best. The collaboration is different, because you get to actually explain the reasoning for your choices and hear other ideas to see which is best before putting anything up for the audience.

Julia: You're getting to explore each other's ideas further, which is great on a lot of levels. Not only does that mean you're digging into the sketch and what can make it great and better and finding different directions it can go, but you're also digging into each other more. In improv, you make things up on the spot and scenes and moments pass so fast and you forget about them so quickly. With sketch, obviously you're planning things, so you can ask someone, "How did you get to that thought," which prompts a lot of conversations in and out of that writer’s room. Being able to bounce ideas back and forth, you end up getting a deeper look into each other's psyche. I like that, because there’s the opportunity for writing specific things about the people you’re working with.

Sixth Floored

How does writing influence your improv skills?

Jonda: Writing sketch has helped me become more aware of just how important the basics are in an improv scene. When you write something, you know that you need to get the set-up of the scene out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Without this foundation, the audience is left missing out. Writing sketch has also forced me to take the time to analyze the game of a scene and figure out how to best heighten it, which in turn has made it a little easier to recognize the game when I’m in the heat-of-the-moment of an improv scene.

Julia: I think both skill sets go hand in hand. I signed up for improv with the intention of getting into sketch writing. Doing improv makes you focus on things like “who, what, where” and “relationships” and “finding the fun” and “burning the leaves.” When you go into writing a sketch, all of those improv “rules” are so vital in giving you places to take a scene and finding out which one of those places is most interesting to explore and make a sketch out of. I feel like going back to improv after writing, you end up finding those interesting places faster.

What kind of work goes into putting on a sketch show?

Jonda: The work is basically four phases:

  1. Pitch a million ideas and pick the few that you like and have the most potential.
  2. Write, perform, rewrite, perform, rewrite again, rewrite some more, etc., until you have your sketches where you want them.
  3. Memorize your scripts and rehearse to get your performance down.
  4. Spend the entire run of your show having lots of fun with your group, because you’ve got it all down and are excited to show an audience what you’ve created.

Julia: Each week, everyone meets together in a “writer’s room” environment. The first couple of meetings everyone pitches ideas based on whatever’s happening (in their life, in the world, etc.), or maybe a prompt or theme is thrown out there (“pitch something about Dallas,” “pitch something about a particular historical event,” “pitch something about sports”). We go through all of the pitches, pick the ones that jump out enough for everyone, talk about them for a bit, and then improvise them. If something is working as an improvised scene, someone is assigned to take it and write it out. When there are enough scenes that kind of lean toward a similar theme, we get a few more pitches specifically for that theme and go through that same process with them. The directors take them all and come up with a preliminary show order and after that, it’s much like doing a theater production: Everyone needs to get "off book." Usually there’s some rewriting. There are ALWAYS sketches that get cut. There are revisions to the show order. There’s a prop list. There’s blocking/staging. There’s sound and lighting. There are rehearsals. There are tears. And then there’s a show!

Sixth Floored

Which skills does one need to be a good sketch performer?

Jonda: To be successful as a sketch performer, one needs the dedication to memorize lines and the willingness to try to play scenes in different ways, even if it pushes you out of your comfort zone. To use a term from my days playing team sports, you’ve got to be “coachable” and willing to listen to your director and fellow performers to make the performance the best it can be.

Julia: Having an improv background is definitely helpful, not only for writing but for the nature of live theater (because who knows what will happen that one time when someone forgets to bring the birthday cake prop on stage!). Also, all improv fundamentals are relevant in putting on a sketch show: support, react, use the environment, make eye contact, etc.

Confidence. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, it comes across in your performance, so the audience won’t believe it either.

Thick skin is important. Not only are there ALWAYS sketches that get cut, not all pitches get the reaction you’re hoping for. That doesn’t mean you can’t write them and prove everyone wrong! But also, writing them doesn’t always prove everyone wrong… :)

Patience with yourself, your cast mates, your directors, your tech people, and those people building a brand-new theater for you to perform in. Sketches don’t always come together the way we expect them to come together in our heads. You may write something for a long time and it end up making no sense to you or anyone else. There are always technical challenges. There are sometimes new theaters being built in the middle of trying to put together a show, and you don’t have a stage to rehearse on for a while. Trust that all will come together as it should.

Also, night vision is good if you have that, because sometimes it gets dark on that stage.

Sixth Floored

Are there any scenes left on the cutting room floor that you wish could have been performed? If so, which ones?

Jonda: I don’t want to give away too much information about those top-secret scenes, as we might want to pull them out at some point, but the one that comes to mind was entitled “Peanut Butter Slap” and involved Ashley in the role of an office janitor who violently interrogated us all because someone was slathering peanut butter all over the workplace. Sometimes those sketches that never make it to the stage are the most fun because you’re trying hard to make some crazy premise work, and along the way inside jokes are created within your group.

Julia: SO MANY!!!

Katie had a really good idea that no one really latched on to that I was kind of in to. Something about a woman that talked to people that kept leaving or dying, but someone else would come in and be there for her to keep talking to. Then I saw an episode of Louie later this season where he did EXACTLY THAT! It was a good idea. Louis C.K. thought so.

Also, there was a "Middle Aged Mutant Lawyer Turtles" thing that never quite came together.

Jason Hackett had one that I really loved, but I do believe he’s still going to perform it somewhere, so I don’t want to ruin it. Stay tuned for that.

Plus, who knows what we can add back throughout the run of the show...

Speaking of the show, you can catch Sixth Floored May 21, May 28, and June 4 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for advance purchase

Sixth Floored was written by and stars Ashley Bright, Jessica Dorrell, Jason Hackett, Jon Patrick, Katie Pedroza, Jonda Robinson, and Cesar Villa. It is directed by Nick Scott and assistant directed by Julia Cotton. 

Sixth Floored

What We're Loving: Happy 238th Birthday, America!

Each week, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week we're changing it up. We asked some of our blog contributors to share what they love about The Fourth of July. Here's what they had to say:  59429_10There’s not a lot of space to be genuine on a comedy theater’s blog. But this week, I’m going to skip all of that other bull shit because it’s July 4th and America, much like the Wu-Tang Clan, ain’t nothin’ to f*** with. Every Fourth of July, I go out of my way to watch Ray Charles’ rendition of “America the Beautiful” taken from The Dick Cavett Show. I love this video because it perfectly showcases the timeless voice of Mr. Charles. I love this video because of the unique verse that Ray sings for the first half of the performance. I love this video because it reminds me of The Sandlot. The simple, understated beauty of this performance can’t be topped and if I see you this weekend, we should share some earbuds and give it a listen. - David Allison

enhanced-buzz-20909-1349299472-15I love that, on July 4th, baseball is on TV all day long!!! I can watch gigantic Thomas Jefferson and George Washington mascots have a foot race in DC by morning, see the Cubs choke and lose another one at lunch, and spy Jackie and Kelso kissing at a Dodgers game in the evening. It makes me feel so American. Turning our presidents into comical figures, embracing lovable losers, and drooling over celebrities canoodling is just so us, isn’t it? And, I get to enjoy it all while wearing my red, white, and blue Texas Rangers jersey. God bless America! God bless America’s pastime! - Glenn Smith urlI remember when what I loved about July 4th was the release of Will Smith movies.  That’s right -  I even spent money on Wild Wild West.  I was 17.  I had worked my first job, earned my own money, and made sure I got the day off to spend some of that money on watching the Fresh Prince battle a dude with half a body (but a whole of racism) on a giant mechanical spider in the Old West. I’ve grown up since then and now, the thing I love about July 4th is holiday pay.  I will get paid double time working this Friday!  I will spend some of that money on getting to the Oklahoma City Improv Festival to perform with my troupe...because Dairy Based is something I love year round. - Julia Cotton

Screenshot_2014-07-02-13-24-37-1Freedom, Family, Fireworks, and Food - These are the ingredients to a great 4th of July. I could write a book about the things that make the holiday great. For now I will focus on the single most important thing I’m lovin’ this holiday weekend: THE GREAT AMERICAN SLAMDOG. It’s a food as versatile and diverse as this great nation. For those uninitiated, The Great American Slamdog is a traditional Hot Dog – made the way you like it – wrapped in a great big slice of pizza. I can’t think of anything more American. Get one! It’s what America wants you to do! - Tommy Lee Brown

idesofmarchThe fourth of July has never been a super important holiday for me. I mean, it's no May 6th (George Clooney's birthday), but I do enjoy it. I like the fireworks, the music, having a day off and actually spending it with friends and family instead of in a four hour marathon nap after watching the third season of 30 Rock for the 1776th time. My favorite fourth memory is probably from last year. I live close to Fair Park so I drove to a car wash parking lot that had a clear view of the fireworks, turned on some music and sat on the hood of my car and soaked it all in. It was a really nice moment in a really nice country. I mean, we're no George Clooney. - Sarah Wyatt

TallChickenBurgerI do my best to eat low-carb, low-calorie foods. It's how I maintain my svelte figure and teenage energy. And one of my newest food discoveries is the Original Brat Hans Jalapeno and Sharp Cheddar Chicken Burger. Let me run down some key highlights: No antibiotics, no added hormones, no preservatives, no MSG, no nitrates/nitrites added, gluten free, soy free, 150 calories/serving, and 1 gram of carbs. You can find these heavenly patties two to a package at Whole Foods. So, if you're looking for something healthier to cook on the grill this holiday, try these. The mixture of jalapeno and melted cheddar will have you thinking, "This is what America tastes like." - Jason Hensel

declaration_big_enhancedMost people don't know this, but I carry a copy of The Declaration of Independence with me everywhere I go. In my computer bag, right next to my passport, surrounded by pens, The Declaration sits, sharing the same little book with The Constitution. Every once in a while, when I need to be inspired, or reminded of how good we have it in this country, I open the book and read the start of the second paragraph: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Equality for all. A concept so important they had to out it down in writing. Sure, it wasn't actually true in 1776, and it remains untrue today, but progress moves slowly in our Great Experiment. It is only a matter of time until we achieve the full promise of our Founders. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: Mertz Jigs, Trash-Talking Puppets, Incidental Comedy, Book Shelf Documentation

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Ashley Bright needs your help, Julia Cotton sets the hoop on fire, Tim Brewer leaves his preconceptions behind, and Ryan Callahan corrects a false assumption.  i-love-lucy-logoMy entry this week is a bit of a selfish plea for help, but I'll get to that the end. Because they say the end is typically the best place to put a call to action. And by they, I mean high school English teachers.

Years ago, I was with a really good friend of mine in a hotel room. I don't recall the context or location and that's unimportant. What is important is that we were watching I Love Lucy.

I am a huge fan of I Love Lucy. I grew up watching it on Nick at Night and I'd watch it early in the morning before I went to school. I even enjoyed the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, when the whole gang moved out to Connecticut. Of course, I was a huge fan of Lucy herself. But I am and was a huge Fred Mertz fan. I loved Fred's sass. I loved his switch between childlike giddiness to old man grump. And let's not forget that William Frawley had the voice of an angel.

Let's jump back to the night in the hotel room. I cannot for the life of me remember the episode that was playing. But Fred had a hat. He tipped his hat and did a jig. It was one of the best jigs I've ever witnessed. That 15 or so second scene has replayed repeatedly in my mind since that night.

But I haven't been able to re-watch it because I do not know what episode it's on. I suppose the diligent thing for me to do is to watch every single episode in order. Maybe I will do that.

But for now, I'm putting out a call to action: if you are ever watching I Love Lucy and Fred Mertz is standing near a fireplace, tips a bowler hat, and does a very funny jig, please note the episode and immediately let me know. Thank you. - Ashley Bright

timthumbSo, the Spurs won the NBA Championship this year...and I don’t care. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more indifferent about an NBA season than this year. Perhaps this is just another sign of me getting old. I remember when I first fell in love with the NBA, though. It was around the time I fell in love with real boys (by “real” boys, I mean my older brother’s friends) who loved basketball. That time was the mid 90s. That was the best era of the NBA for me for many reasons: Hip hop became super influential (all the way down to the uniforms); My home town Rockets got to win a couple of championships while Jordan played baseball; NBA Jam allowed you to break the glass goals, set the nets on fire, and put Robert Horry and The Fresh Prince on the same team; Jordan made a triumphant return leading the Bulls to three-peat championships...and also Space Jam.

One of the best products of the NBA in the mid 90s, though...was Lil’ Penny.

Lil Penny was Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway’s loud mouthed, wise cracking puppet side-kick voiced by one of the greatest stand ups during the mid 90s, Chris Rock fresh off of the success of his Bring the Pain HBO special .

Watching the YouTube replays of these commercials made me remember when I cared about the NBA and would actually tune in every season. I’ve only been disappointed by it more and more each year. Turned out “real” boys were still just boys. My kids play video games that are way more complicated and less fun than NBA Jam. Basketball goals aren’t even made of glass anymore. Will Smith makes movies like After Earth. And, NBA players try to manufacture three-peats by negotiating trades to get themselves on teams with other high profile players. It’s cool, though. It has left room for me to be more and more excited by comedy each year. While the Spurs were blowing out the Miami Heat in the finals this year, Chris Rock announced his next comedy tour, Black Plague, will begin later this fall. - Julia Cotton

Screen-Shot-2014-05-01-at-12.36.22-PMI am obsessed with ridiculous, offensive rap. I am also a comedy geek. That being the case, I cannot stop listening to Riff Raff’s debut album, Neon Icon. Riff Raff can be very confusing for many people - Is he a rapper? Certainly. Is he a comedian? Perhaps incidentally so. Regardless, with Riff Raff, it’s best to leave your preconceived notions aside.

If this article is your introduction to Riff Raff, AKA Jody High Roller, AKA Rap Game James Franco, you are either one of those fancy “adult” types, or have a particular aversion to Youtube. I highly suggest cutting your teeth on my favorite song of his - “Bird On a Wire” featuring another "underground" favorite, Action Bronson.

Riff Raff grew to fame circa 2007 starring on shows such as MTV’s From G’s to Gents, and being associated with Andy Milonakis and Aziz Ansari. These days, however, Riff Raff is probably most famous for being the most enigmatic, polarizing figure in music. Everything about him has the ability to make people turn away in disgust or become entranced and fascinated. His hair is often in corn rows (he’s white), his facial hair is almost always cut in the tackiest pattern imaginable, his voice makes most cringe upon an initial listen and he has an affinity for enormous Flava-Flav style chains that feature everything from a jewel encrusted Slimer from Ghostbusters to Tony the Tiger. His track titles only compound the confusion, divisiveness, and hilarity (see: “Versace Python”, “Kokayne”). Even his real, legal name, Horst Christian Simco, is unbelievable.

Riff Raff is often dismissed by most people as a joke, and has been accused of parodying rap culture as a whole. But what I love about him, is that even if he is a parody, he’s so unapologetically so. From a comedic perspective, what makes him great is that even if you wanted to make fun of him, you’d have to outdo him in ridiculousness, which is simply not something that can be done. A lot of people say they “can’t tell if he’s serious or not”, but fans of Riff Raff know that it’s exactly his blurring of so many lines which makes him magnetic. It’s best to appreciate Riff Raff in a state of suspended disbelief and just bob your head and laugh. - Tim Brewer

20121118-095356Do you ever have something in your life, something that you make part of your daily routine, something that is so ingrained in your life that you assume it is familiar to everyone else and you don’t have to bother talking about it because doing so would be redundant, akin to talking about how the day is brighter than the night or how we’re always breathing oxygen? For me, Biblioklept.org is that kind of thing. I assume everyone knows about it. It only occurred to me today that you might not.

Biblioklept is an art and literature blog created and curated by Edwin Turner. The site features curated short stories, poems, pieces of art, daily pictures or paintings of people reading, videos (sometimes whole movies), as well as original, non-fiction pieces. The curated work, most of which is new to me, offers endless inspiration throughout the day. A visit to Biblioklept and a scroll down the page feels like a visit to a quirky museum that I have all to myself. The original pieces appeal to the book lover in me. The “Books Acquired” feature, in which Turner writes about his recent purchases, always features some cool new book that I’ve never heard of but now need. His “Riffs,” basically stream of consciousness reviews of books, usually written as he’s working his way through them, offer idiosyncratic and personal takes on well-known and obscure literature. My favorite recurring feature of all was Turners fifty-three part book shelf series, which featured photographs off all the book shelf sections in his home, each accompanied by a short essay.

If you’re a fan of books, or words, or ideas, or art, you’ll probably find something on Biblioklept to enjoy. If you’re like me (and I pretty much assume you all are), you’ll find yourself visiting the site three or four times a day, dipping in whenever you need a break from all the noise and junk on the internet. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: Airplane Safety, Independent Women, Pratfalls in Prose, Pratfalls Repeated

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison fears for the sanity of flight attendants, Julia Cotton goes to the movies, and Ashley Bright & Ryan Callahan share a love for pratfalls. Earworm alert! This week, I just can’t get the latest hit single from Virgin America Airlines out of my head. You know Virgin from their past successes such as: flying airplanes, landing airplanes, and failed music stores. Now they’re back and better than ever with their hit “Safety Video.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg&feature=kp

“Safety Video” is a five minute long song created to get you outta your seat and dance! Strike that, they made it to tell you how to buckle your safety belt. That’s right, every flight you take on Virgin America Airlines now begins with a big budget music video directed by Step Up 2: The Streets’ Jon Chu. I could spend the rest of my life talking about how ridiculous the entire production is, but instead I’ve simply boiled it down to the three most fascinating things:

  • The oxygen mask rap
    • This segment is delivered by a little girl who had never been on camera or rapped (Please see bullet point three if you don’t believe me). Also, if the cabin loses pressure, that’s a pretty dark scenario wherein you have two minutes, max, to figure out the oxygen masks or you will pass out. That’s a bleak reality for a rapping kid to spit at you.
  • They missed stuff
    • You can use your seat as a flotation device. An important fact that is inexplicably skipped over. Then again, they didn’t have time for it because they had to spend a full minute showcasing another singing child who reminds you that smoking on planes is still illegal. I know that no one under the age of forty remembers a world where smoking on a plane was allowed, but we better make sure everyone is aware by dedicating 20% of the run time to it.
  • The making of video
    • It’s 6:12 and fascinating. The work that went into this boggles the mind.

I appreciate what Virgin America is trying to do, it’s a nice idea. Instead of forcing the crew to begrudgingly deliver a safety presentation, again, they’re creating something more consistent and memorable. That’s cool. But, I genuinely worry about the mental stability of Virgin's employees. Yeah, something like this is really cute and refreshing the first time, but a year from now? They’re going to go searching for the air marshal to put them out of their misery before the plane leaves the gates. - David Allison

MV5BMjAwMzAzMzExOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTcwMDA5MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_My little girl is the girliest of girls. She loves to dress up. Loves her nails painted. She says “so cu-ute” much more than I’m comfortable with. And all of the pink! SO MUCH PINK!!! She loves the fellas, too, and understands that a batted eye and a bowed head or look of confusion will yield her whatever she wants (which so far has merely been more pink things). Lazy feminism would have me believe that my daughter was going down a horrible path that would result in a life submissive weakness. Then we went to go see Maleficent, and I realized that my daughter had never seen Sleeping Beauty.

In fact, my daughter knows very little about the plots to most princess themed movies made before she was born. Therefore, she is not so familiar with ideas that more recent movies have seemed to set out to dispel: a lady is utterly hopeless and helpless and Prince Charming is the only one who can save her as he is the bearer of true love. Oh, and true love is INSTANT. Cinderella literally just danced with dude, left a shoe, he sends out a massive search and then... marriage. That carriage ride at the end of the movie was really more like the last scene of The Graduate. Lately, movies have begun with that ‘true love’ scenario in the first few minutes and then almost immediately call out the absurdity of falling in love with the first handsome man that comes around (see Frozen and Enchanted). The movies also offer that romantic love is not always the truest. In Maleficent, young handsome Prince Phillip does not bare the kiss to wake Sleeping Beauty and actually, he is barely even a part of the story. There are more solid journey stories with female heroines learning lessons that have less to do with finding happiness with a boy and more to do with finding strength and purpose within yourself (also see Brave and Tangled).

My daughter may wear a lot of pink dresses, but her legs underneath are full of scrapes and scars from climbing trees and hanging from monkey bars that she was once afraid of. She is indeed the girliest of girls. - Julia Cotton

9780241951590I haven't read the book in at least three years, but for the past week or so, I have repeatedly thought of a scene from A Confederacy of Dunces. Overall, the book is pretty darn funny, but there is one scene in particular that I remember making me heartily laugh out loud. If you're unfamiliar with the novel, it centers around a portly ass of a man named Ignatius J. Reilly. He works with a senile, old woman who always calls him Gloria. Because she thinks he is a woman named Gloria. In the scene that I've been thinking about, Ignatius falls down. Being the ass that he is, he makes a big production about being hurt. He doesn't want anyone to touch him in case his back is broken. Finally, the senile gal sees him and runs to help "Gloria." She insists on helping, but ends up falling down on top of Ignatius/Gloria.

I'm not doing the scene justice, but the first time I read it, I know that I laughed out loud. I may have clapped. Not a roaring applause, but one solid, happy clap of my hands. I do that when I really enjoy something. Sometimes I say "weee!" in my head when I'm really enjoying something. But I rarely say it out loud. Anyways, this book is quite funny. Particularly, this pratfall-ridden scene. - Ashley Bright

The deadline for DCH internships came and went this week. As part of the application, potential interns must name their favorite television show of all time, and explain why. The application states that this section might be a deal breaker, should the an applicant chose poorly. Each term, I name the same show: Mr. Show with Bob and David. Each term, I give the same two reasons: 1) Mr. Show is the sharpest, craziest, most absurd, best structured, and most influential comedy show of my lifetime. 2) Mr. Show created the single greatest sketch in tv history, "The Story of the Story of the Story of Everest" AKA "The Thimble Sketch." I can remember watching this sketch for the first time in college, literally doubled over with laughter, tears streaming down my face. I remember watching this sketch when I bought the Mr. Show dvds, and laughing so hard that my roommate lost control laughing at me. This kind of infectious comedy, that can reduce two grown men to rocking, snorting, crying, quivering mounds is the apex of comedy. It is what we all hope to accomplish. If you haven't seen the sketch, I suggest you take a gander. You do like things that are the best, right?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyrM7GxyzGg&feature=kp

Someday I'm going to live blog this sketch and annotate it second by second. I could write 500 words alone on Bobe Odenkirk's line reading of "Three times!" But for now I'll leave you with this fun fact: The live crowd HATED that sketch. The crew needed about twenty minutes to reset the thimbles between takes and the crowd had to sit there and wait, only to see them knocked down again. And again. And again. And again. And again. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: Returning Shows, Food in New Places, The Joys of Womanhood, The Dickens of Detroit

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison makes bold predictions, Ashley Bright admits her bias, Julia Cotton feels like a natural woman, and Ryan Callahan works on his greatest goal in life. vibe-new-orange-is-the-new-black-season-2-shots

Time is crazy y’all! I am writing this in a world where season two of Orange is the New Black has not been released. But, dear friend, you are currently reading this article in a world where season two of Orange is the New Black is available on Netflix. Like right now! Currently, I’m watching another episode of it as you take in our picks for the week, but I already know everything that’s going to happen this season. How? Past tv tropes. Shows tend to follow patterns, so it’s easy to hazard a few guesses. Maybe ten? Yeah, I’ll go with ten. Here are ten things that will happen this season on Orange is the New Black:

1) New friends will be introduced, probably with an inspirational speech, a loud argument or intimidating silence. 2) We will learn more about old friends. Don’t worry, their past transgression(s) will be justified. 3) A character that was once trusted will no longer be able to be trusted 4) Said characters breach of trust will be explained in an intimate conversation, probably at the edge of a bed, a stroll in the yard, or in an arbitrary church. 5) People will totally do it. Like, woah, doin’ it. 6) Someone will attempt to murder someone else, a move that will change EVERYTHING 7) The murderee will survive, thus negating the potential change and keeping things as they were. 8) The recovery of the murderee will be slow at first and then within a week, he/she will back to 100%. 9) I will participate in about fifteen conversations with people who watch the show, the thesis of each will be “Yeah, that security guard is played by Lauren Lapkus, she’s a really great improviser, they should use her more.” 10) Prison will continue to take some getting used to.

Orange is the New Black is a consistently fun show to watch, even if it is a bit formulaic. So hurry up and finish reading what the lovely ladies, and lovely Ryan, are recommending this week so we can talk about this show over the weekend. - David Allison

595e5a2f-c809-48bc-9441-bf1680134724_800I may be biased because I'm a Tony Bourdain fan, (See? I called him Tony instead of Anthony. Fanship confirmed.) but I've really been enjoying his CNN show Parts Unknown, which you can find on Netflix. If you've watched his No Reservations then you pretty much know what to expect because Parts Unknown is not much different. It's Tony hanging out with people, eating food, and exploring cool places. He's going to a bit more dangerous places like Libya, the Congo, or Jerusalem. In the Libya episode, he visits the ruins of Qaddafi's palace and the danger was palpable. The rebels running that area were not fans of Westerners scooting around with video cameras. But even among the danger, he is graciously welcomed to share a meal. In Myanmar, he talks with people who openly share their feelings on the state of their nation; people who had spent many years in prison for talking about their government. He goes to the Gaza Strip and eats with both Jewish folk and Palestinians. He eats at a restaurant run by a Jewish woman and her Palestinian husband. She is the only Jewish person in her community. Amid the tension and seemingly unsolvable issues, people are just people. They just want to be happy, let their kids be happy, and be free to travel to whatever territory they want.

One of my favorite scenes was while he was eating with a table of elderly ex-pats who had been living in Tangier since the 50s and 60s, when beatniks, writers, musicians, and artists flocked to the city. He asked them, "who at this table smokes hashish?" and most, if not all, of them raised their hands. You have to see it to really appreciate it, but it was a table of Judy Dench and Ian McKellan lookalikes. I just found it cute that they all raised their hand to that question. But to be fair, I bet both Judy Dench and Sir Ian McKellan probably throw down on some hashish themselves.

This show is great for learning about history, culture, and even current events. But the thing I most enjoy is just watching human beings be human beings. Most of us are prettydamn cool. - Ashley Bright

A lady never kisses and tells.  But, a real woman forsakes being a lady in the name of good comedic storytelling ...and sisterhood.

9780810989023_p0_v1_s260x420Growing up a “lady” in a fairly conservative household, conversations of dealing with the opposite sex were very limited.  Many of my friends grew up the same way, so we seldom even talked about boys amongst each other.  This left us to fend for ourselves, rather ill equipped, into the wild of men that inhabit the world outside of our shielded upbringings.  Needless to say, we each have had some horror stories dealing with the men types… stories that none of us would ever tell each other, until I listened to this one interview with Allison Brie.  I forget which one...maybe a Nerdist podcast??  They were going on about how Brie often plays characters that seem so wholesome and refined (see Community and Mad Men), but then they came across a rather graphic tale that she contributed to the book Worst Laid Plans about a very awkward sexual experience.

Worst Laid Plans began as a comedy show performed at UCB L.A.  Women would do stage readings of sexual-encounters-gone-wrong, all of which are hilarious and terrifyingly relatable.  Guests have included the great Amy Poehler, Janeane Garofalo, Laraine Newman, and many other comedic writers/performers.  A few of these monologues have been published in book form.

Brie scoffed at the idea that she would a)not be capable of having a weird sexual experience and b)not be willing to tell about it.  After all, we tell stories so that we are able to relate to one another.  Why should stories of this nature be any different? Because we are ladies?

Listening to this audiobook made this lady feel more like a natural woman than I ever had before.  My friends and I have become much closer having shared delightfully awful casual hook-up stories of our own.  We bellow over in laughter not only at the tragic tales, but also understanding that many of them may have been avoided if we’d just been talking about it all along. - Julia Cotton 

Elmore LeonardElmore Leonard wrote over 40 novels in his lifetime and I’ve made it a goal in life to read every one. Each year I knock out two or three. Last week I finished Maximum Bob, his early 90’s novel about a human peacock in a judge’s robe and the oddballs, misfits, criminals and crime fighters he sends careening into each other like billiards balls with a few and arrogant and selfish decisions. Right now I’m reading LaBrava, his 1980 novel about a Secret Service agent turned photographer and the oddballs, misfits, and criminals who careen around him like billiards balls after one selfish and arrogant decision.

You might notice that Leonard’s novels have a certain formula to them. In addition to the plots, which are often so similar, you can count on a certain set of stock characters. There's the pair of mismatched lowlifes planning a crime, in over their heads and hating each other. The drugged out rich boy, usually confined to a house, who begins as a benefactor to the lowlifes and eventually becomes their target. There will be a young blonde who plays with men like G.I. Joes or an older brunette who’s struggling to earn respect in the male-dominated world of law enforcement. And there will be a charming, laconic, graying at the temples dud, sometimes a cop, sometimes a crook, who romances the heroine, knocks around the lowlifes and gets what he wants in the end. The ending will feel abrupt and end with a joke. And the whole thing will be so damn much fun that you’ll want to pick up another book right away.

Leonard wrote with a grace and clarity that you will not find anywhere else. He believed in leaving out the parts that readers tend to skip. His books are marvels of precision. He moved his stories along so fast, and moves in and out of all the different point of views so well, that it feels like you watched a movie in your head.

With so many books, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. My top two favorites are Swag, the story of a used car salesman and a car thief who team up to making a killing in the armed robbery business, or The Hot Kid, Leonard’s late-career masterpiece about a U.S. Marshall in the 1930’s. After that try something gritty, like Killshot, or witty, like Get Shorty. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Just start reading. And let me know what you think. - Ryan Callahan