Lauren Levine

Troupe Talk: Wiki Tikki Tabby

Wiki Tikki Tabby This troupe talk is dedicated to and written in loving memory of Jake Malnaughty.

If there’s one thing you should know about the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) troupe Wiki Tikki Tabby (see also Wikki Tiki Tabby, Wiki Tiki Tabbie, or Wifi Tiffy Tubby...spelling varies), it’s that first and foremost, member Byron Dow will do anything for free. And he means anything. In fact, he agreed to participate in this troupe talk for free. In addition, you name it, and Byron will also gladly f*** it or eat it, as long as he has the proper instruction to do so. Well, on one fateful day, the name Jake Malnaughty was whispered in hushed tones around the dark corners of DCH, as Dow was instructed to sacrifice the late great Malnaughty to the almighty gods of improv. Fortunately, the sacrifice appeased the gods, so they bestowed improv powers of passion, courage, whimsy, support, and bold choice-making upon Wiki Tikki Tabby. Thus, from that day forward, they were forever bonded in solidarity. Wiki Tikki Tabby (Emily Baudot, Byron Dow, Joe Halbouty, Houston Hardaway, Shawn Mayer, and Danielle Seright) is a troupe that always brings the unexpected, the outlandish, and the wildly creative to the stage. Like the love children of Lewis Carroll and Willy Wonka, a Wiki Tikki show is a delightfully trippy experience, full of laughs and lots of love for the craft and each other. It’s like a meticulously woven tapestry or an intricate mandala of colorful scenes that each seem bizarre on their own but somehow all come together in a mesmerizing and mind-blowing arrangement. A Wiki Tikki show is truly a one-of-a-kind...and probably would not be possible without the sacrifice of Jake Malnaughty.

Beyond Byron’s human sacrifice to the gods of improv, Jake Malnaughty may he rest in peace, how did Wiki Tikki Tabby originate?

Danielle: It was a cold, rainy day...

Emily: ...We were all in Level 3, and Byron came up to us, either together or separately, and he had this grand vision, and I think his vision was...(Byron starts grinning) well you know what, Byron, I don’t want to speak for you.

Byron: (Still grinning) No, go ahead.

Joe: Byron had a vision?

Shawn: Let’s all guess Byron’s grand vision. I got a text message like, “Hey, you wanna be in a troupe?” And I was like, “Yeah. OK.”

Byron: Yep, that’s actually the whole story.

Emily: Really? I got a face-to-face invitation.

Danielle: Darcy asked me.

Shawn: Wow. I got a text, man.

Byron: I was probably like, “Hey Darcy, can you ask Danielle?” I don’t think I knew you very well.

Emily: Then Byron said, “I think you guys will all play well together.” And I think we do. ...So that’s that story.

Houston: I agree. We all came up in the same levels together, not necessarily the same class. And we all had the same energy level and passion toward improv. We kind of just gravitated toward each other based on that and became friends that way.

Danielle: I knew who you all were, except for Joe really, but I guess we met at Jams and through interning and being at DCH all the time.

Houston: I knew you [Danielle] through interning.

Shawn: I had Danielle in my third level class, but I didn’t remember. When you [Danielle] came and talked to me after your open mic, I was like, “Who are you?”...in my head. But, now I know. I know your name.

Byron: What’s her name?

Shawn: Don’t put me on the spot.

Byron: Hey, you guys wanna make a troupe?

Houston: Yeah.

Joe: Yes.

Danielle: Yeah.

Emily: Yeah, that’s a good idea.

Shawn: We can form another troupe.

Byron: It’ll be Tikki Wiki. Reverse it.

Shawn: What would we do differently?

Houston: It would have to be everything opposite. Right?

Wiki Tikki Tabby

Speaking of Tikki Wiki’s and Wiki Tikki’s, where did the name Wiki Tikki Tabby come from?

Emily: Well, the original idea was that we were going to get a suggestion from the audience like...

Joe: ...Like, “What was the last Wikipedia page you visited?” And then we came up with the name based off of that...and then we dumped that idea.

Emily: Yeah, but we still kept this idea, or concept, of being on a Wikipedia page and clicking blue links until you’re like 3,000 steps away from where you started and still relate it somehow. I think we’ve still maintained that.

Houston: Well, we went through a bunch of “What should our name be?” and stuff like that, and I think it came from when we were in earlier levels, we were all interested in pushing boundaries and seeing other weird stuff we could do. What are some other formats and other weird things we can do that we haven’t been doing in class? And we thought, “Let’s do a Wikipedia thing for the suggestion.”

Danielle: I don’t know where the “Tabby” part came from?

Joe: Browser tabs, but we kept it as “Tabby” because someone made a bunch of posters of us with our faces on cats.

Houston: Also, I’m not sure any of us spell it the same. I think we all mess it up all the time.

Emily: That’s kind of like us, too, though. It’s [correct name spelling] not really a rule, more like a guideline. It’s a conceptual thing. I’m OK with that.

Since you guys took inspiration from the dark hole that is Wikipedia, what’s been the weirdest Wiki rabbit hole you’ve found yourself traveling down recently?

Emily: The Bell Tower.

Houston: Like the guy who shot people from the bell tower?

Joe: What?!

Emily: No! Jesus Christ!

Houston: Sorry! I didn’t know what we’re talking about! We were talking about Wikipedia rabbit holes, and then you said “The Bell Tower.” And I was like “What could be an article about a bell tower?”

Danielle: It was a scene. Did you forget our improv?

Emily: I was talking about a performance inspired by a Wikipedia thing. I’m sorry, I misunderstood the question.

Byron: Well, the last Wikipedia page I visited was an article about a torture device called the brazen bull.

Emily: Ooooh! I love that!

[All laugh]

Emily: Hold up. It’s a cool thing.

Byron: It’s a bronze bull, and you put someone inside it, and you heat it up, and basically...

Houston: They’re cooked inside.

Byron: And they get cooked. There’s also a horn that comes out of the bull’s mouth and as they’re getting cooked they start screaming...and it sounds like a bull. (making bull noises) I don’t know.

Is that what happened to Jake Malnaughty?

Emily: Well, that’s one thing that happened.

Byron: That is what happened to Jake Malnaughty.

Danielle: And then Byron ate him.

Byron: And then I ate him afterward, because they asked me too. I f***ed him, too. I got right up in there!

Joe: Before or after?

Houston: While he was in the bull?

Wiki Tikki Tabby

What’s Wiki Tikki’s style of improv? Do you guys have a format?

Houston: We’ve kind of evolved. We were trying to incorporate a bunch of different styles into one, but now, I think our main focus is having organic, playful shows and going wherever it takes us. Not placing any restrictions on ourselves.

Byron: It’s like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole. That’s how we like to view it.

Emily: Exactly. It’s like Alice in Wonderland meets Donnie Darko meets I don’t know...

Byron: ...A drug trip?

Emily: Is that pretentious?

Joe: Very pretentious, but that’s what we’re about.

Byron: I’m totally cool with being pretentious. I think it’s hilarious.

Shawn: We’re pretentious meets...

Joe: ...Mongooses. Or is it Mongeese? How do you pluralize “Mongoose?”

Emily: Mongeese. I’m pretty sure.

Houston: I hope it’s “mongooses,” because that sounds stupid.

Shawn: Couldn’t the plural and the singular just be the same?

Byron: Yeah, it could. But what if it was like “Duogooses?” Like you got two of them?

Houston: (Googling) The plural form is “mongooses” or rarely “mongeese.”

Emily: So once again, as is the usual, both Joe and I were correct.

Houston: Oooh a group of “mongeese” is called a “mob.”

Byron: Anyway, I think, and we’ve kind of all talked about this, we do scenes and we do super organic stuff. I have this challenging question: “Can you do a successful improv show without doing any scenes?” Non-scenic improvising. So, can we make the parts where we’re not in a normal scene more interesting?

Houston: I think it’s interesting with our group evolving because we’ve been trying to figure out what we want to do as a group. And Byron was gone in Chicago for a little while, and then we had some group changes, so now we’ve been trying to get back on our feet and figure out what direction to go in. I think Danny has been really helpful in pointing out, “Here’s things that seem fun that you’re already doing, so here’s the direction you might want to go.”

Byron: Shawn describes our style being like a dream.

Shawn: A fever dream.

Byron: A fever dream. It’s very weird. If you try and recall your dreams, they’re strange and weird things are happening, but they’re sometimes connected. You can go from one place and then have it magically transform into another place.

Shawn: Sometimes you can remember dreams exactly and recount it to somebody, but other times you can be like, “I was talking to my mom, but she had my dad’s face...and popcorn kept falling out of her mouth.” And I think that could be a scene. I’m cool with that.

Houston: I think we definitely have a stream of consciousness type vibe, where we’re using the show to build on each other and connect the dots. And wherever it's fun, we’ll follow that.

Byron: My favorite thing about a Wiki show is that it’s out there, it’s pretty unique, and we take a lot of risks.

Joe: I think it works pretty well...except when we forget we can edit.

Houston: That did happen. We had a 30-35 minute mono-scene once...I don’t know if it was really that long, but it felt that long. It wasn’t until the end of the show that someone edited and I was like, “Oh yeah! We can edit!” ...Anyways, to answer your question, I don’t think there’s a name for our format, but we take what we have and build on it.

Emily: I think we joked around calling it [our format] “Fever Dream Machine” at one point. Or some iteration of that, I guess.

Byron: I think it’s closer related to a Courtesy Sleeve. It’s very similar in that we follow rabbit holes down to interesting, unique scenes. Our scenes are out there, but they’re cool.

Wiki Tikki Tabby

What do you dig about performing with each of your fellow Tabbies?

Houston: Joe, I love that you are always super patient in scenes, which is something I’m not good at. You always have such witty things to say. You have some one-liners, where I’m just like, “Motherf***er! Damn you, that’s really good.”

Emily: (to Joe) Quality just leaks out of your mouth. I don’t know how you do it. Well, probably because you don’t just say the first thing that pops into your head.

Joe: (Wiping the quality from his lips) Is the quality still there?

Emily: Yeah, I don’t think you’re ever going to get rid of it.

Joe: I’m sorry. I probably need a handkerchief.

Byron: You [Joe] probably have an economy of words that’s like better than a lot of other performers. Like you choose words carefully.

Danielle: You got good words, Joe.

Houston: And you know when to say them.

Joe: Rad.

Emily: Houston is like a little pinball...

Danielle: Set on fire.

Joe: Or a super ball that you bounce and it goes higher and it shoots off all the walls.

Danielle: And is set on fire.

Emily: But not the shitty kind [of super ball] you get at Chucky Cheese, but like the good kind you get at Dave & Buster’s.

Shawn: I was thinking Houston is like a wet noodle covered in cocaine.

Danielle: Set on fire.

Joe: I would say he’s al dente.

Danielle: Yeah, cooked, not wet.

Byron: I don’t have any clever analogies, but I just love Houston’s use of emotion. I think it’s better than a lot of other performers out there. You’re not afraid to make something.

Joe: You’re really good at angst.

Danielle: Taps out like a motherf***er.

Emily: You’re an edit ninja.

Byron: I like Shawn’s analogy best about you, though.

Shawn: Oh, and he can mirror anything. (Houston mirroring) He’s that! He’s you!

Houston: Danielle, you always think of these really funny, goofy things that I would never think of. Whenever you’re on stage, I’m super excited to see what you’re going to say and what you’re going to do. You’re just so good. I’m always excited to see what happens.

Emily: When I go out into a scene with Danielle, I know it’s going to be a good time. I’m not worried about anything. Sometimes you go in to play with somebody and you get anxious because you’re trying to figure out what to say to them, but with Danielle it’s very natural, and I’m just like “Thank you!” You’re very grounded energy-wise.

Houston: You have great physicality, too. And you always surprise me with your choices. There was one time in class you had a scene with Joe, and you didn’t like the drink he had, and you just straight up poured it out. Like I would never think to make that choice, and it was such a great choice.

Shawn: I don’t know what to expect.

Byron: Yeah! Surprising, most definitely. A little goofster!

Shawn: Your face during the show-and-tell bit during the graduation show, so perfect. So beautiful.

Byron: Classic goofster!

Danielle: I feel really comfortable playing with Emily, always. She’s so creative, the things Emily comes up with, and her initiations are always awesome. She’s so good at that. I like her energy. Her characters are always really good. I like her little kid characters.

Emily: (using a little anime child voice) Thank you very much.

Houston: You [Emily] are always so bold and confident. More than anyone, you are always out in the first scene. You’re out in a lot of scenes. When you make a choice, it’s bold and big. You are so confident. That’s something I admire and try to emulate. You just go out there and f***in’ do it!

Byron: Courageous. Very courageous and brave. It’s inspiring to me because I still get super scared walking out into scenes and I’m hardly in the first scene of a set ever, and Emily consistently gets out there. (To Emily) You don’t let the stage be empty, you attack it.

Joe: I think you [Emily] have grown a lot too, since Level 1. You’re really good at being in the scene and building the world. The thing you did at Block Party was really good.

Danielle: You always make 100 percent choices. Bold and confident and awesome. You stick to your shit.

Shawn: You commit.

Byron: You do stick to your shit. A little sticker! OK, now Shawn...I’m going to start this out and it’s not going to sound like a compliment. Shawn, you are NOT balanced! You are not balanced. You are like a scale and every single thing you are really good at is on one side...and it blows my mind. Why is that guy so smart? Why is that guy so bold? Why is that guy...not me?

Emily: Why does that guy look so much like Gene Wilder?

Shawn: It’s the hair.

Byron: I do think you are good at everything. Not just good, amazing.

Joe: I don’t think you [Shawn] really look like Gene Wilder, but you act like Gene Wilder. Not mimicking him, but you’ve got a similar feel to the way you act in scenes.

Emily: I feel like we give each other a hard time, but I feel like that’s because you’re like my improv brother, my big brother. I try to emulate the way you think on stage because it’s so good. I wish I could crawl in your brain and live there. It’d be such a weird, wacky place.

Shawn: It’s a dirty place.

Joe: You did a really good bit about truck nuts last night.

Emily: Truck nuts?

Shawn: I was fondling nuts all over the place.

Houston: You’re so whimsical, Shawn. And playful. Even when you’re playing a character that’s pissed off, there’s still a sense of fun to it, which I think is so important in improv. You’re always having a good time, and you bring that energy to whatever you’re doing on stage. Interesting, quirky, unique, and it’s not something you can learn, it’s something you have.

Byron: You’re just a little curly whirly.

Emily: If Houston is a super ball, then Byron is like a nuclear power jet. He’s got so much energy, but like in a great productive way.

Shawn: Like the Kool-Aid® Man.

Byron: Thanks! That’s who I aspire to be.

Joe: Smashing through stuff. Also, you [Byron] went to Chicago.

Houston: Yeah, he went to Chicago

Shawn: He went to Chicago.

Byron: Yeah, I went to Chicago. Make sure you put that in the article. I went to Chicago and studied at the Improv Olympics...you know, the iO.

Emily: Yeah, he was there for a week, and then they got sick of him and sent him back.

Houston: You [Byron] have a lot of knowledge about improv, like way more than I do. Like way more than a lot of people I know do. You’ve opened my eyes to a lot of ways shows can be built. And you play with a really good intensity. You make really big, strange moves, but they always completely work within the structure of what we set up.

Joe: The first time we ever played together, I knew I wanted to be in a troupe with this guy. You [Byron] initiated with “Timmy have a seat”...and I was thinking in my head “Have a seat, Tim” I had the exact same idea in my head as you.

Danielle: I love how passionate about improv Byron is. Byron subbed in my Level 1 class, and he was the guy with the notebook out.

Emily: I don’t think there’s anyone as committed to improv as you [Byron]. You bring a passion that’s remarkable. When you perform, you can tell you love being there.

Let’s end this Troupe Talk with some fond words of farewell and a moment of remembrance, for the one and only, Jake Malnaughty, Wiki Tikki’s first sacrifice to the improv gods.

Joe: Poor uh...Johnny...uh what was his name?

Danielle: Jake.

Shawn: You’ve already forgotten?

Byron: Jake Malnaughty.

Houston: You know Jake Malnaughty. His name.

Joe: Yeah, that sounds right. That guy, oh how I miss him.

Emily: I think it’s good to distance yourself, you know, and dehumanize it. He served his purpose well, and that’s the kind of thing I can say about him. The reason we picked him to be our sacrifice was that he was a bit of a dick.

Shawn: He was an asshole.

Danielle: He did improv in New York.

Shawn: We weren’t havin’ none of that!

Houston: Also he fit in the bull really nicely. It was a small bull.

Joe: He was a petite man.

Emily: Except for the pot belly.

Houston: He was petite with a belly.

Emily: Well, you know, I don’t remember him well. But if I could go back and sacrifice somebody again...I’d do it.

Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate. 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.

(First three images: Tom Halbouty; last image: Darcy Armstrong)

DCH Reimagined: Disney Edition

Hello, DCH blogosphere homies! It has been a really long time, and I’ve missed you all terribly. Some of you probably thought I fell off the face of the Earth, since I haven’t posted anything on here in what feels like an eternity. But I have good news, in the words of Mushu from Mulan: I LIIIIIVE!!! I am indeed alive, kickin’, and still a part of Earth, at least to the best of my knowledge. Anyway, speaking of Mushu and Mulan and Disney animation, I decided to commence my return to the DCH blog squad with another exciting edition of DCH Reimagined. Huzzah! This week, I’ll determine what Disney film some of our favorite DCH troupes embody. You’re welcome.

Mirror, Mirror I must insist, let’s find out which troupes made this list...

Impractical Magic = Hocus Pocus

hocuspocusFeisty and full of snark, the ladies that comprise Impractical Magic are representative of the beloved 1993 Halloween classic, which showcased starring performances from Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker. Like the film Hocus Pocus (and all great Disney flicks tbh), Impractical Magic shows often teach audiences valuable life lessons, such as the fact that boys can be easily distracted by a pair of “yabos,” virgins should never light mysterious candles with black flames, and one is never too cool for Halloween. Full of sass and badassery, the high energy the ladies of Impractical Magic bring to each performance rivals that of the Sanderson Sisters themselves and has a way of “putting a spell on you!” To top it off, with “magic” right in the troupe name, it’s only fitting that these gals are represented by a movie about witches. *Side note: this troupe may or may not actually try to steal your child’s soul, so leave your kids at home when seeing their show.

Franzia = Oliver & Company

oliverFranzia is a troupe that leaves us ordinary folk wishing that some of their innate coolness would please rub off onto us. They’re a bunch of comedy BAMFs, who don’t care about formats or rules; they’re just down to create memorable scenes with bold characters, causing audiences to laugh til they pee. If there’s a Disney film with an almost equal no-f---s-given attitude, it’s without a doubt Oliver & Company. It may be tad underrated, but it’s a classic none the less, and furthermore its coolness is undeniable. Three words: Billy Motherf---in’ Joel! Disney couldn’t get any smoother with a cast that starred the Piano Man himself, as well as friggin’ Dom DeLuise, Cheech Marin, and Bette Midler, #blessup. Also, you haven’t experienced cool until you’ve found yourself wearing a sausage scarf and badass Ray Bans, parading down 5th Ave with your own dog posse...I assume the members of Franzia have probably had parallel experiences.

The Monthly Junk = Fox & the Hound

foxandthehoundOK, I know what you’re thinking here: “Why would you choose like the saddest, most tragic Disney film ever to represent the two most cheerful, positive ladies at DCH?” I’m not suggesting that a Monthly Junk show will make you openly weep and ponder the nature of social conditioning and human behavior (although, I’m not NOT suggesting that either). At the core of this Disney film is a story about friendship, and at the core of Monthly Junk is a friendship that gives these gals their special onstage chemistry. It’s a friendship that transcends the stage and infuses everything these two do together. I mean, “Best of Friends” is the song that everyone thinks of when they hear Fox and the Hound, it also happens to be the song that comes to mind when I think of The Monthly Junk, though a version of the song that’s far less sad and much more upbeat...maybe an EDM remix with a sick drop (Does that exist? I need to know. The world needs to know!). Two ladies, who are the best of friends, making us laugh and cry (tears of joy of course) and laugh some more.

Glistlefoot = Peter Pan

peterpanA bunch of lost boys (and of course the incredible, fierce lost girl Darcy Armstrong), who can’t be tamed and like to get weird and wild on stage, like a rambunctious gang of unsupervised kiddos in a magical faraway land where grown-ups don’t exist and pirates and mermaids and fairies roam free, yeah, that pretty much sums up a Glistlefoot show. Thus, Glistlefoot is Peter Pan. This former Ewing troupe always seems to put on a hilarious, surreal set, often venturing into whimsical and absurd territory. I’ve heard that the recipe for magical flight, as well as a strong improv game, includes faith, trust, and a little Glistlefoot dust...not sure of the exact ratios/measurements on that, though; will have to confirm and get back to you.

Boink Bros = A Goofy Movie

goofymovieThere were many reasons why I chose 1995’s A Goofy Movie as representative of Boink Bros, but mainly because of that one scene where Pauley Shore’s character eats straight up cheese whiz right out of the can. He piles the cheese on his hand, proclaiming it the Leaning Tower of Cheeza (does anyone else remember that?!)...for some reason, I just associate that with the shenanigans and boinkenings of Boink Bros. A Goofy Movie (which, arguably, along with Encino Man may have been the height of P. Shore’s career) featured the voice of Pauley Shore. And any movie that features simply the voice of Pauley Shore, rather than the whole live human Pauley Shore, is dope in my book. Boink Bros are also dope.  Two dope dudes, doin’ dope improv. That’s a lot of dopeness.

Empty Inside = Muppet Treasure Island

muppettiBecause puppets. Of the Disney movies involving puppetry, Muppet Treasure Island is by far the best. Why? Because Tim Curry, pirates, hilarious jokes, and all the yo-ho-ho and a bottle of fun. It’s a Muppet masterpiece. A humor extravaganza. I highly recommend it. Of the DCH troupes that involve puppetry, Empty Inside is by far the best. I highly recommend these humans and their puppet babies as well.

 

Clover = The Aristocats

aristocatsBecause “everybody wants to be a cat.”

Nuff said!

(Click here to see why Clover are like a bunch of kitties)

Feel free to post your suggestions for other editions of DCH Reimagined in the comments below. Until next time, peace out girl scouts!

Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate. 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.

It’s Okay to Say No

For many of us improvisers, variations of “yes” or “hell yes” or “yasss bitch, please!” are phrases we find ourselves using on the daily. Boy do we love to say “yes” to things. Usually it's what makes life a little more exciting, leads us on new adventures, or sparks a new creative endeavor. But, if you have people-pleasing tendencies like me, then you might find yourself saying "yes" to almost anything (within in reason,  of course, cause I’m not about to “yes” trying crystal meth or licking peanut butter off a hobo’s foot...dat yucky...also it could be argued here that one probably leads to the other...anyway) and everything.  And I mean ALMOST EVERYTHING!

Example:  "Lauren, wanna go on a coffee run with me this afternoon?"

“Yes.”

“Lauren, can you get that 10-page report to me by this afternoon?”

“Yes.”

“Lauren,  I made reservations for lunch at this new Korean BBQ place this afternoon. You’re coming, right?"

“Yes.”

"Lauren, you still on for the Hall & Oats flash mob this afternoon?"

"Yes."

“Lauren, I’m throwing a birthday party for my dog this afternoon. Can you make it?"

"Yes.”

“Lauren, wanna try crystal meth and then go lick peanut butter off a hobo’s foot?”

“No, dat yucky!”

"Lauren, you want to go to this new workout class this afternoon that will totally make your butt cramp for a week but is totally worth it because Beyoncé swears by its results?”

"Yes!"

Next thing I know I’m drowning in a sea of "yes" and I’m overbooked, overcommitted, and completely overwhelmed. After checking your schedule, if you too find yourself saying to people, “I’ll be free three weeks from next Thursday after a work dinner but before I have my back-to-back improv shows,” then you might be saying “yes” to certain things a little too much (or maybe you just like filling up your time and you’re a naturally productive, industrious human, in which case kudos my friend, we need to talk later, cause I want to know your secret to getting it all done).

Ron SwansonIf you're at all like me, then sometimes saying “no” can be a bit of a struggle. As improvisers, we’re programmed to “yes, and...” the shit out of life and whatever’s thrown our way, but at a certain point our continuous chain of “yes”-ing things only leads us to an overly cluttered calendar and a to-do list that could wrap around the circumference of the Earth. This can become problematic, because it leaves less time to focus on the things we’re truly passionate about and causes us to often half-ass the things we’ve now committed to. As the all wise Ron Swanson would advise, it’s far better to commit to one thing and whole-ass it, than commit to a bunch of stuff and only put a fraction of your ass into the work.

But why are we so hesitant to just say “no” or “no thanks” or “nah, bro, I’m busy as f*** right now”? Speaking for myself, I'm often reluctant to turn down invitations to do things out of fear of hurting other peoples' feelings and a deep desire to avoid confrontation. This is because I can be a bit of a pushover and passive, and well, thanks to social anxiety and a Jewish upbringing, somewhat of a neurotic mess at times who is very easily guilted (no one knows how to lay on the guilt like a Jewish grandma) into doing things.

Say NoThere’s also this idea of FOMO. I don’t know if you know FOMO, but let’s just say, between you and me, FOMO is a real asshole. The fear of missing out (FOMO) often goads us into committing to a billion different things at once, because it fakes us into thinking that something super exciting or interesting is going to happen without us being present. This, in turn, causes some of us to engage in completely logical (can you hear the sarcasm) self-pity sessions and feelings of loserness and alienation.  Like I said, FOMO is a real asshole.  

But when saying “yes” leads to burnout and your creative energy reserves have officially run dry, it’s perfectly OK to start saying “no.” Don’t feel guilty. People get it. They’re not going to be mad if you can’t commit to something (read that again and again, Lauren, and make it your life mantra). Obviously, you don’t have to be a jerk about things, and you can say “no” in a polite and sincere manner. People (if they’re rational and not assholes like FOMO...FOMO is such an asshole) will respect and support your decision to decline an invitation.

“No” is not always a dirty word or a bad word or a word used for summoning up the demons of bad improv choices, but instead, it can be used as a powerful tool for keeping us from becoming beleaguered and worn down by over-commitment. This means saying “yes” only to the things that really matter, that bring you joy, or inspire you. Saying “no” to the things that you are uncomfortable with, feel less passionate about, or you are simply uninterested in, will help you better manage your time and keep those creative juices from running low (wow, if I only I would listen to myself from time to time).

Now go be you, you beautiful human reading this blog post, and let yourself say “no,” if you want to that is...it’s your life, boo.

Ratatouille

Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate and a Sketch 3 student. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.

Finding Your Comedic Voice

A couple nights ago during a really lovely dinner discussion about the art of writing and comedy, I was asked, “Do you think you know what your comedic voice is?” I sat there, took a bite of a deliciously cheesy slice of pizza, and savored the question, hoping I might find an answer somehow stashed away in those folds of gooey mozzarella—obviously implanted there just for me by the comedy writing pizza gods. My response, “I think I’m still in the process of finding it. It’s probs evolving every day.” And yes, I probs actually said the word “probs” out loud, because I am a noob who sometimes uses text-worthy abbreviations, like “probs,” in real life conversation. (*Challenge: how many times can I use “probs” during the course of this blog post?). But, I digress. My answer, the use of “probs” excluded, is fairly typical of many budding writers, comedians, or really anyone else in the beginning stages of paving their way in a creative field.

Jedi Jon

As much as I would love for a hooded and robed Jon Stewart to swoop down and bestow upon me a pen powered by The Force and say, “Boom, here’s your comedic voice! You’re a Jedi writer now, Lauren. Do or do not there is no try! ...Btw, write funny things, and don’t f*** up by crossing over to the dark side yo,” I’m pretty sure that’s probs not going to happen...probs not anytime soon at least. In the meantime, when it comes to my comedic voice, I’m still finding and figuring things out. The voice-finding quest is a noble and dogged pursuit that involves a lifelong process of constant grooming and weeding and improving your body of creative work. Think a lot of sweat, a lot of love, and a lot of time, caffeinated late nights, and unyielding dedication all in the name of comedy.

Perhaps we should backtrack a bit here, though. Before we dive any further into this blog post, it might be helpful for me to explain what I mean when I talk about “voice.” “Voice” is one of those weird intangible, amorphous concepts that creatives of long long ago probs came up with to confuse and challenge the hell out of creatives of the here and now. No not really, but it is a concept that is hard to accurately pin down and describe. Many have tried and their efforts have all been valiant, but it’s difficult to put into words what exactly is one’s comedic voice. (Not to be confused with “style,” which we’ll save for a later blog post. Also not to be confused with  a popular TV singing competition with some serious bromantic undertones from judges Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, which we will also save for a later... probs much later... post.)  

Oscar WildeAllow me to attempt to define this thing. Voice is the zing, the oomph, the little secret spice, the x-factor if you will, that brings your work to life and makes it uniquely your own. It’s the way you put your words together and the unique way you view the world around you (please see the amazing quote by playwright Oscar Wilde for a much more eloquent way of describing this). In the literary sphere, for example, J.K. Rowling’s unique worldview is one of love conquering all, magic existing all around us, and Dobby being a free house elf because socks. J.R.R. Tolkien’s worldview suggests that a hero’s journey is never made alone, and if elves and dwarves can set aside their differences to fight an army of orcs, so can the rest of us. And George R.R. Martin’s unique outlook on the world tells us that good guys can be killed off, bad guys can sit on an iron throne, and badass ladies can ride dragons and be faceless assassins and do several other badass things because they’re cool like that, also boobs. Voice is essentially the thing that makes a person go, “Whoa, this couldn’t have been written by anybody else out there but you. Dope!”

So how does one go about finding a voice then? Well, the answer isn’t some grand mystery locked away in a magic box along with the secrets of the universe. It’s fairly straightforward stuff. First and foremost, practice! Practice, practice, practice, and practice some more. For comedy writers, that probs means spending day after day, year after year, writing everything and anything down–even the most absolute suckage from the depths of your brain space—as much as you can. Write it all down. Start embracing the hand cramps and the wrist pains, a.k.a. your writer battle scars that show you’ve put in the practice time. The more you write and put your ideas out there...or do whatever creative thing it is that you do, you eventually fall into a groove and learn what feels comfortable to you, what your strengths are, what you’re passionate about, and where your niche in the comedy world may be.

This brings me to the next point. Finding your comedic voice is a lengthy process that involves becoming more comfortable with the voice you already have. Yeah, you, you reading this, you already have a voice. Who would’ve guessed it, right?! It’s the voice in your head, the voice that makes you different from everyone else around you, and it’s the same voice that at some point has probs made someone think you’re a weirdo or wonder where you come up with all your wacky ideas. It’s who you are as a human. And boy is it beautiful! When finding our comedic voice, we’re really just taking what’s already there and polishing it up a bit and then putting it out into the world more visibly.

So, follow your instincts and do what comes naturally to you! Are you a people watcher who enjoys playing fly on the wall and observing everything going on around you? Try observational humor. Are you filled with a certain level of snark and a panache for the somewhat sick and twisted? Dark comedy may be your thing. Do you get overly excited, like to yell, love food more than life, and often feel like writing in all caps to get your loud excitement across to other people? Perhaps you’re really just Aziz Ansari (Are you Aziz Ansari? Are you?! If so, hit me up later, we got lots to talk about. Please and thank you!). Whatever it is that comes naturally to you, do it and do it hard, baby. Nothing is funnier than a voice coming from a place of honesty and authenticity.

You are your voice. But remember you can’t force it, just like you probs couldn’t force chest hairs to grow or zits to disappear when you were going through puberty. And you can’t grow it artificially, like a scientist can grow freaky test-tube body parts (yeah that’s a thing, read this cray cray article if you don’t believe me). Just give it time and a good dose of practice, and your voice will develop naturally.

Finding your voice is probs important to do at some point along your comedy journey. But don’t be in a rush to do so. Voice can aid in elevating your work and allow you to put a signature, new twist on old ideas. However, when all is said and done, voice isn’t everything. If finding your voice is wracking your brain with anxiety and taking away time from simply putting your ideas out there, then you’re not doing yourself any favors. In the grand scheme of things, your voice is simply one tool among many in a huge tool belt of awesomeness, which you can use to help usher your thoughts out into the wild yonder of creative ideation. It’s not everything, nor is it something to stress about, because eventually your comedic voice will probs find its way to you and then you can watch it continually evolve.  

These things always work out. You’ll see.

If you would like to talk about voice, writing, the general secrets of the universe, or you’re the real Aziz Ansari and saw my message above, please feel free to put something in the comments section below! I know you’re out there Aziz!

*The answer:  15 “probs” (Not counting this one). Any more than that would be one “probs” too many (also, not counting that one either).

Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate and a Sketch 3 student. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.

Troupe Talk: Warm Milk

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: OK, here’s the real story...

Sallie: We did actually meet at a restaurant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sallie: Oh, that’s cool.

John: I never got in.

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

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

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

Sarah: And we waited for John.

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

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

John: Oh, OK then.

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

Spirit Danny:  Yes.

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

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

Spirit Danny: My b.

Warm Milk

Do you guys remember your first practice together?

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

John: How did that make you feel?

Sarah: Uh, it was a little awkward.

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

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

Collin: Classic me!

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

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

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

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

Where did the name “Warm Milk” come from?

Sallie and Payton and Sarah and Spirit Danny: Ooooh!

John: Can I answer this?

Sallie: Oh yeah.

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

Payton: It was Collin, yeah.

Collin: I think it was Sallie.

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: I came up with it.

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

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

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

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

Sarah: Then she got real milky.

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

Sallie: We bathed in it.

Payton: Oh yeah, everyone creamed all day.

John: There was definitely a full day of creaming.

Payton: Oh, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Sallie: I started peeing milk.

John: What flavor?

Sallie: Chocolate.

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

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

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

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

Warm Milk

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

Sallie: Experimental!

ALL: Dayumm!

John: Fun!

ALL: Dayumm!

Sarah: F***in’ weird as shit!

ALL: Dayumm!

Sallie: Breakin all the rules!

ALL: Dayumm!

Payton: Rock ’n’ roll!

ALL: Dayumm!

Spirit Danny: Dayumm!

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

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

Joshua: Lots of support.

Sarah: Definitely group mind.

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

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

Sarah: Expect to see a lot of sweat.

Sallie: And dancing.

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

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

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

Sarah: And so good.

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

John: Moves learned in Amanda’s dance class.

Spirit Danny: Agreed.

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

Collin: They’re super supportive.

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

John: Well, I don’t.

Sallie: OK, except for John.

Payton: Yeah, he’s never on board.

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

Payton: You got milked a little too hard.

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

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

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

Joshua: We did an improvised talk show.

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

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

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

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

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

Payton: She knows her specific bedtimes.

Sallie: And she don’t give a f***!

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

Sallie: She says it like it is.

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

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

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

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

Sallie: I know, right?

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

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

Joshua: [To John] Calm down, Sarah.

Sarah: Thanks, guys!

Spirit Danny: You're welcome.

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

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

Collin: This interview was sponsored by Budweiser actually.

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

Warm Milk

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

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

Sallie: You mean that?

John: I do mean that.

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

Payton: Oh my god!

Collin: Oh, this is happening!

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

John: Is this when you had short hair?

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

Sarah: You can do it.

Payton: Wait, wait, wait!

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

John: Oh my god!

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

John: Hold on, just a second!

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

Payton: Oh my god! So many spins.

Sallie: Oh my god, so many.

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

Payton: We did!

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

Payton: We did!

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

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

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

Sallie: Oh my god, Sarah!

John: Sarah!

Sallie: Do you want my ring?

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

Payton: Aww, Sarah!

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

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

Sarah: Tonight at eight.

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

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

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

Spirit Danny: Yeah!

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

Payton: She’s the Milk Queen.

John: She is the Milk Goddess.

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

John: That was beautiful.

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

Joshua: Oh man, I wish I was there.

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

Sallie: Yeah, you got murdered.

Joshua: Thanks, guys.

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: Every show.

Payton: She comes to all our shows.

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

Sallie: So encouraging.

Joshua: I don’t ever want another coach.

Sallie: She’s an angel.

John: She’s a Dairy Queen.

Payton: She’s our Dairy Queen.

Spirit Danny: Ditto.

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

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

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

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

Payton: That was beautiful.

Spirit Danny: Agreed.

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

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

Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate and a Sketch 3 student. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.

(Images two through four: Ravi Kiran)

Congratulations DCH Class of June 2016

Oh my wow! I can’t believe we’re finally here. We’re graduating guys. We’re graduating from THE world famous Dallas Comedy House (DCH)! Saying that still feels so surreal to me. I keep pinching myself to try and wake up from what has felt like the most fantastic and exhilarating dream, well a dream minus flying cats and an encounter with a shirtless Chris Pratt because at times I think there’s no way this has all been real. But, I’m not dreaming, I’ve indeed reached the end of the whirlwind journey that has been my improv education at DCH. Jimmy Fallon

If you would have told me a year ago that I’d not only be taking improv classes but also come to be part of some amazing troupes, performing in front of actual people, I’d have said, “Shut yo mouth fool, you’ve lost your damn mind!” Or more likely, I would've have stared at you with a skeptical look and quietly thought that in my head. At that time, I was incredibly shy and anxious (plagued by horrible stage fright), and I wanted nothing more than to simply be a writer who could fade into the background of life, content with letting anyone else read my words and soak up the limelight.

But as I sit here, in front of my computer screen today, trying to wrack my brain with what exactly to say to all you fellow DCH graduates, I know that I’m not that same scared person I was when I started this whole improv thing. I’ve come a long way. My once frozen feet have begun to thaw out and my feelings of dread and panic when facing an audience have started to substantially fade away. Hell, I’m now part of two sketch comedy productions, I’m performing with my Big Stupid Fun crew, and I’m continually adding new delicious and exciting items to my ever-growing comedy plate.

I never expected any of that to happen, though. The thing is, when you embark upon a new endeavor nobody has an idea what’s going to happen next. NOBODY. None of us. Not even Neil deGrasse Tyson who is a literal genius and knows the complete inner workings of the universe, dark matter, and why waffles are so insanely delicious. Therefore, all anyone can do in these situations is go in with a positive mindset, hope for the best, and see where the journey takes you. Ugh, that sounds so cheesy, but it’s true.

Along the way, however, you accumulate knowledge and new skills (or arrows for your improv quiver as Kam De Haan would phrase it) and you start to realize the things that matter most to you, that helped you reach your end goal, that inspire you to keep moving long after you’ve crossed that finish line. So, I thought I’d take this time to share the three concepts, or pieces of pseudo-wisdom, that have come to matter most to me as an improviser and human being.

You’ve probably heard people telling you time and time again to “do what you love” or “follow your passions,” but that’s crappy half-advice and rather cliché, so I’m not going to do that to you fine readers and fellow graduates. Maya Angelou—poet, civil rights activist, and overall kween—once wrote, “Pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” It’s fair to say that this may be better advice than simply, “Follow your passions, young Padawan, the future is yours.”

What Angelou’s quote suggests is that rather than “follow” your passion, take the time to “cultivate” your passion. Once you know what you’re passionate about it’s time to hone it, to water it, to nurture it, and to spend time learning as much as you possibly can about every facet of your craft. Whereas “following” implies something that results in an end, “cultivating” is a lifelong process. When cultivating plants, for instance, you don’t stop watering them or tilling the soil when you get a single bud. Nope, you just keep on watering and tilling, watering and tilling, even after the bud has blossomed, so over time, the whole garden can continue to flourish. In writing as in gardening, one dedicates a great deal to cultivation.

From a young age, I discovered my passion for writing. I was the weirdo elementary kid, constantly lost in a daydream, who carried a journal around and filled it with silly stories and whatever ridiculous other things popped into my head. On paper, I felt freest to express myself and I knew that whatever I did in life, I wanted it to involve writing in some form or another. I wanted to write and I wanted to make people laugh, simple as that.

I spent most of my time in graduate school studying the craft of storytelling and journalism, trying to wrap my mind around proper narrative structure and the use of figurative language and what it meant to expose universal truths through prose. All of those things are great to discover, I suppose, but as someone who was more interested in entertaining readers and writing funny things (praying desperately to have a Freaky Friday experience with Dave Barry or David Sedaris or Tina Fey or Jon Stewart my comedic literary gurus), I still felt incomplete as a writer. There was so much more out there to learn.

That’s when I started searching for sketch writing classes via the Internet and I came across DCH. I was so excited. Then my excitement turned into panic because I discovered that I had to take improv before I could set foot in the writer’s room. A terrifying prospect for a performance anxiety suffering individual. Initially, I scoffed at the idea of taking improv, thinking, “How could that possibly help my writing? These people don’t know what they’re talking about. This is just cray cray.” They weren’t cray cray, though. I was cray cray for thinking that they were cray cray.

Ten months and five levels of improv later, I’m still an incomplete writer, but an incomplete writer who has a new set of skills and new friends and new ways of thinking about storytelling. Improv not only significantly helped my confidence and allowed me to expand my creativity, but it’s also opened whole new doors of comedy wisdom and comedic approaches to writing. These are new doors that I will continue to open and voraciously consume all that’s behind in order to keep cultivating my passion.

But you see, a strange thing happens when you’re out, busy cultivating. You start to find yourself surrounded by an amazing group of individuals who share your passions and want to see you succeed in all your undertakings. These are the people who celebrate your distinct weirdness and want to learn from you as much as you do from them. The art and literary world call this wonderful phenomenon “finding your tribe,” which happens to be my second point.

In its simplest form a tribe consists of two parts: Tribal elders, those who hold and pass down their knowledge from years of experience, and the tribal juniors, those who learn from the tribal elders and bring with them fresh, innovative ideas to the tribal community. Eventually, the tribal juniors will learn and experience enough to become elders themselves, making room in the tribe for new members, resulting in a magnificent and cyclical process that inspires creativity and interconnectedness.   

DCH is a wonderful tribe, with elders and juniors constantly swapping knowledge and ideas. I am so very lucky to have found and now consider myself a part of that tribe. There’s never been a place where I’ve felt as unconditionally loved and accepted, and for that I can’t even find the right words to express the amount of gratitude I feel. It’s rare to find a tribe quite like the one at DCH, so I urge my fellow graduates and tribe-mates to cherish it, continue fueling it with positivity and encouragement, and remember that no matter how far you drift away from it your tribe will always be there with open arms to welcome you back.

I once read a Tumblr blog post that said, “You can’t do epic shit with basic people,” and that is so true. No one in this DCH tribe is basic. You’re all incredibly complex and passionate and wacky (shout out to the wackiest of them all, Danielle Seright) individuals who inspire and amaze me with your talents. Continue doing epic shit. Remember me when you’re famous.

Because the DCH tribe is so awesome and may become your home away from home, it’s also very easy to get sucked into spending all your time cultivating and dealing with tribal affairs, which isn’t a bad thing per se. But it’s important to remember that it’s also perfectly fine, even recommended, that you step back from the tribe every once in a while. Take a break and live your life. That’s my final piece of “wisdom,” fellow graduates.

Go out and do stuff. Ride a roller coaster, go bungee jumping, tell someone you love them, run butt naked through the street, climb a mountain, save a neighborhood from foreclosure by going on an adventure to find the hidden treasure of a one-eyed pirate (which coincidentally is also the plot to Goonies), whatever you do just do something. Live your life and experience amazing things...then come back to the tribe and tell us all about it so we can live vicariously through you.

That stuff that you experience away from the tribe is going to fuel your creativity even more and foster new ideas when you return. The more you go out and experience life, the better improviser, the better writer, and the better-rounded you you will become. In the words of the ever wise Rihanna, “Just live your life! Ay ay ay. No tellin’ where it'll take ya, just live your life.”

As I near the conclusion of this commencement post, I feel that the only thing left to do is thank the members of the tribe who helped get me to the end (of my improv journey, not the post, otherwise I’d be thanking caffeine and the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks). Truman Capote wrote that “anyone who gave you confidence you owe them a lot,” so with that said, I have a lot of thanking to do.

First, I have to thank all the teachers, TAs, and coaches who I’ve had the pleasure of learning from.

Sarah and Brent, thank you both for having the patience and kindness to get me through Level 1 improv and for not letting me run out the door on my first day. Because of you guys, I came back for more. Ashley and Scriven, both of you continue to inspire me, and I learned so so much from you two. Thank you for watering my seeds of excitement and showing me that even a quiet, gentle voice can make a loud impact in the right situation. Mike and Stephanie, thank you two for always coming to class ready to have fun and for teaching me what exactly a “Ewing” is. Without that knowledge, I would be nowhere.

Tommy and Jennifer, we cried together, we laughed together, and we certainly grew together. I think this was the level that I truly saw strides in my performing ability, and I thank you both for always being supportive and giving me the courage and push that I needed to come out and play more. Kyle and Allie, you are both so incredibly passionate about what you do and I think that’s a beautiful thing; don’t ever lose that spark. Thank you two for pushing me to make smarter improv choices and giving me a good dose of tough love at a time when I definitely needed it. I feel stronger and more confident than ever!

Amada Austin, thank you for seeing something in me and taking a chance by putting me on a Ewing team. I am eternally grateful for that experience and couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful group of humans to play with and call my improv fam. Maggie, my Big Stupid Fun coach, we’ve had a lot of big stupid fun moments together. So many good laughs. Thank you for showing all of us the power of laughter and positivity. Each practice, I’m energized and comforted by the positive energy you bring.  You are a gem, and I’m lucky I get to be coached by such a badass and supportive lady.

Second, I have to thank Chad Haught. C-Haught. C-Dog. The Chadster...wait, scratch that last one. No one should ever call you The Chadster, that just feels too weird. Chad, you answered my frantic email before I ever signed up for classes at DCH. I was worried about being surrounded by stuffy thespians and not having enough performing experience, but you put my mind at ease. You also laughed at what I wrote. Because of your kindness and your laughter, I signed up for Level 1. Without you, this blog post wouldn’t even exist right now.

Last but certainly not least, I especially want to thank all the homies I’ve gotten to play with since day one, fellow graduates or not. Whether you’re a Brew Ha-Ha-er, a Nood and Dump (reheated or original), or part of my Big Stupid Fun fam, I LOVE you all dearly! I would do just about anything for you. I probably wouldn’t kill for you, but if you needed someone to help you hide a body or play lookout while you’re up to nefarious activities, hit me up. I learned just as much from you guys, as I did from any teacher or coach. Thank you all for just bein your bad selves. *Virtual hugs for all of you!*

Alright, I’ll wrap it up. I can hear the orchestra warming up to play, which is the universal cue to step down from a soap box.

So fellow DCH graduates, again, may you continue to cultivate your passions, learn and grow with your tribe, and keep on experiencing life. Congratulations to all you guys, the DCH Class of June 2016.

We did it!

Legally Blonde

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.