Louis CK

If You Want to be a Comic, Be a Philosopher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danny Neely is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. He works part time at a bakery and another part of  the time as a freelance writer. You can see him perform as a member of Big Turtle, Clover, Coiffelganger, Empty Inside, and Warm Milk.

(Image: Thought Catalog/Creative Commons)

Comedy Centerfold: Connor Posey

Welcome to Comedy Centerfold, where we feature a Dallas Comedy House performer and get to know him or her a little better by using questions that Playboy centerfolds are usually asked.  Connor PoseyIt's a little-known fact that when Charles Bukowski lived in San Pedro, California, he silently attended stand-up open mics and Wednesday night improv shows. He was intrigued by the low-life tales of comedians struggling to make ends meet and inspired by those that spun a good tale or offered witty retorts. One of those comedians was Connor Posey, whom Bukowski immortalized in his poem, "The Laughing Heart," with these famous last lines: "you are marvelous / the gods wait to delight / in you." Bukowski died and Posey left California for America's new comedy center, Dallas. Today, you can watch him perform stand-up and in the troupes Your Neighbor Karl (Feb. 24) and Coiffelganger (Jan. 27, King of the Mountain show).

Hometown? I grew up in Grapevine, Texas. It's a lovely little town, if you're 50, married, and unconscious.

Guilty Pleasures? I still listen to My Chemical Romance constantly. Actually, you know what...no. That's not a guilty pleasure. I'm proud. I've still got a pair of black, skinny jeans somewhere in my closet. MCR for life!

Ambitions? I've had several false starts on a novel, and I'd love to finish that some day. I record music, and I've always wanted to work with an eccentric, drug-addled singer. I feel like I'd make a good Twiggy Ramirez to the right Marilyn Manson. As far as comedy goes, my only ambition is more stage time. I recently started doing stand-up. I expect to be opening for Louis CK by the end of the year.

Best Concert? That's a tough one. I saw Ministry in May 2015, and it was an incredible show. I've been a fan of the band since I picked up Filth Pig on a whim in a Half Price Books when I was 12. They are the reason I bought a guitar. Seeing Al Jourgensen in action was incredible. He's a dying breed. I'm seeing Lamb of God next month, and I saw them about 10 years ago. They're a very close second.

Favorite Book? Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. It's the darkest comedy I've ever read.

Favorite Movie? The Dark Knight. I've seen it probably 15 times. Hollywood cotton candy.

Favorite TV Show? Brace yourself...The Office. Probably the most commonly adored show in any improv comedy club nationwide.

Pets? All my pets are dead. I've found they're much easier to take care of that way.

Foods I Crave? SALT. UNHEALTHY, HIGH-BLOOD PRESSURE INDUCING LEVELS OF SALT. DANGEROUS, EXPLOSIVE AMOUNTS OF SALT. TABLE SALT. SEA SALT. EPSOM SALT. BATH SALT. I DON'T CARE JUST GIVE ME SALT.

People I Admire? That would be a long list. I'll narrow it down to the two artists who inspired me to actually change my life: George Carlin introduced me to comedy, and Al Jourgensen introduced me to heavy metal.

Dream Role? I like to think I'd make a pretty convincing Ted Bundy.

Favorite Song to Sing? "Satan's Ice Cream Truck" by Strapping Young Lad.

Good First Date Idea? I think the first date is the ideal time to break up with someone. It's just easier that way, because neither party is too attached at that point.

(Image: Allie Trimboli) 

DCF 14: Grant Redmond

9192418Grant Redmond performs many times at the Dallas Comedy Festival. You have literally no excuse to miss him. The other day, Grant took the time to talk with us the other day about his comedy origins, his philosophies on life, and his thoughts on fictional Michael Bay films.  How did you get started in comedy?

I was in a writing group with Christian Hughes (my now roommate and fellow local comic) in high school. We would write and perform sketches for the entire school every Friday. After we graduated, I had no real creative outlet aside from writing competitions at the worthless college I was attending. A friend of mine, who was also in my high school writing group, posted a video of him doing an open mic in Austin, TX. I had no idea that just anyone could try stand-up. Google informed me of an open mic at the now deceased Hyena’s in Arlington. So, I stayed up all night and wrote 5 horrendous minutes of “material”. You can imagine how it went. People were nice, but I was no George Carlin. Shit, I didn’t even know who Carlin was. Open mics became something I would do whenever I was in town from college. Not very often, but it kept me interested. Years went by and suddenly I decided that college wasn’t as important to me as stand-up was. This coming August will mark the two year mark since I moved back to DFW and really hit the stage hard. I’ve found a group of like-minded comedian friends and a club that feels like home. The aptly named Dallas Comedy House.

Who were your influences growing up, and who influences you now? Whose work excites you?

The first comedy album that I ever listened to was Mitch Hedberg: Mitch All Together. I wouldn’t say that my material was influenced by him, but he is definitely the reason I started listening to stand-up. I’d say I’m most influenced now by Louis CK. In the sense that I talk a lot about myself and all my physical and social deformities, I can clearly see where he has guided what I like to talk about.

As far as whose work excites me, no one can beat Rory Scovel. Every time I see him, he is doing something different. Rory is very “in the moment”. He can riff unlike any stand-up I’ve seen in person. Amanda Austin was nice enough to ask me to host both of his shows during The Dallas Comedy Festival this year, marking the happiest moment in my short stand-up “career”.

What makes festivals special?

Festivals are special because it isn’t just a show. It’s a week of comedy. That rush that we get right before a show starts gets to last all week long. Whether it be before I am on stage, or about to watch a show that I’m excited for.

What is your philosophy of life?

People love to say that life is short. Well, it’s not. It’s long. It’s stupid how long life is. I’m 25 right now and I feel like I’ve been here forever. But, why not fill that time doing something that you love? I’ve never understood people who just settle for anything. Your job, your significant other. That is so much time that you have to spend doing (ha) both of those things. Don’t settle. Chase! I don’t know much. But I do know that I’m not going to turn 50 wondering about the “what ifs” of life. I’m going to reflect on the “I did”.

If your act was a Michael Bay action movie, what would be the name and plot of the movie? 

At the moment, it would be called “Untitled Michael Bay Project” because I’m still early in my development. I’ve got a general idea, but also have a lot of tuning to do. Thus far, the plot would be a lot of clips of me deleting my Google search history.

See Grant perform at the Dallas Comedy Festival on Tuesday, March 18th (shows at 7:30PM and 10:00PM,) and on Wednesday, March 19th at 9:30. Get your tickets here.

What We're Loving: Comedy Legends, Angry Neurotics, Grammy Mistakes, Low Production Values

What We're LovingEach Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Nick Scott praises a comedy legend, Sarah Wyatt celebrates anxiety, David Allison has a problem with the Grammys, and Ryan Callahan revisits an old obsession.

 

Albert+Brooks+Drive+Premiere+2011+Toronto+KM80ZsXRt5plMost of you youngsters probably know Albert Brooks from one of three things: the voice of the title character's dad in Finding Nemo, Paul Rudd's father in This Is Forty, or as the mob boss who soothes Bryan Cranston while murdering him in Drive. Originally I was just going to write about his latest novel, 2030: The True Story of What Happens to America, but I realized this wasn't enough. He has done too much great work that is almost completely overlooked by the current generation of comedians and comedy nerds. Brooks got his start as a stand-up comedian, deftly playing on audience expectations of what they were normally used to seeing from a stand-up set. His "completely improvised joke" bit using audience suggestions is one of my favorite bits of all time. He was hired to make short films for the early years of Saturday Night Live (all of which are worth watching) before moving on to become a filmmaker himself. The first film he wrote and directed, Reel Life, displayed one of his greatest skills: the ability to see trends in society and predict where they will go. Reel Life predicts exactly what television would become in the age of the reality show decades ahead of time. His next film, Modern Romance, is one of my favorite movies about relationships. Lost in America, a movie which has Brooks playing a man who along with his wife attempts to drop out of society and drive across America in an RV, is in my top 10 favorite movies. He's even recently embraced the modern age, as his Twitter account, @AlbertBrooks, is consistently funny. Throw in some great acting performances in Broadcast News, a small part in Taxi Driver, and his voice work as Hank Scorpio on The Simpsons and you've got an incredible body of work that deserves to be more widely appreciated. RUNNER UP PICK: For Colored Girl Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Not Enuf by Ntozake Shange. - Nick Scott

MV5BMTUwMjkxMTI5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTU0NDAwNA@@._V1_SY1200_CR85,0,630,1200_Marc Maron is on one. The polarizing comic is having the most success of his career at an age when most comedians are making terrible romantic comedies or sad stand stand up specials that make you wish they'd stop. Instead, Marc Maron is filming season two of his IFC show, Maron and killing it on his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. The show follows the troubled and contemplative Marc as he deals with fictionalized situations in his day to day life involving love, addictions, and recording his podcast. On his podcast, Marc interviews comedians, musicians, actors, anyone about the story of their life in a compelling and honest way that you don't normally hear. I learn a life lesson every time I listen to it and so recommend that you subscribe. Many of his famous friends that have appeared on his podcast are featured on Maron. People like Dave Foley and Dennis Leary fuel Marc’s anxiety and neurosis to a frenzied, hilarious peak. This show and this man make me laugh and give me hope that my life won’t end up as pathetic and spinstery as I sometimes imagine it. I often struggle with some of the same thoughts and issues that Marc does on the show. Sometimes it feels like he’s reading my mind. It’s messed up. I love it. I’m not sure if my current obsession with Marc Maron stems from wanting to be with him or wanting to be him. We both have huge hipster glasses, own multiple cats, and find it incredibly difficult to stop making the same mistakes over and over again. I’d like to think he’s reading this right now, thinking about sending me an email but then never following through. Because that’s what I would do if I were him. - Sarah Wyatt

tiglivemockup9-1.jpgThis past week, the Grammy’s made a gigantic mistake.  No, I’m not talking about this mistake.  I’m instead speaking of awarding best comedy album to Kathy Griffin instead of Tig Notaro.  Now, this isn’t going to turn into a piling on of Kathy Griffin, I think she’s underrated in the comedy community and tends to be marginalized as more of a reality star than a great stand up.  She’s very good at what she does.  But Tig Notaro’s album Live one of the most important comedy albums to come out in some time, is in a different league. If you’re not familiar with the legend of this album, it comes from a set she did at Largo in LA on August 3, 2012.  Tig was given the news that she had cancer (Among many other pieces of horrible news) about ten days beforehand and this was her first time going up after hearing the news.  After the show, Louis CK said “[Tig’s] was one of the truly great, masterful stand up sets.”  It was so good that CK released the album days later using his gigantic comedic social network and giving 80% of the gross dollars to Tig/Cancer Research.  This album alone cemented that the success Louis CK experienced wasn’t just a fad.  It also set in stone the idea that the public wanted honesty from their comedians, not just bits.  One thing I love about Live is listening to her apologize over and over again for just not being able to do routines like a bee passing her on the 405.  That’s not to say the set isn’t funny, it’s consistently hilarious. The biggest reason you need to check out this album though is because of the way Tig opened herself up for this show.  Even if you’ve listened to it before, it’s worth revisiting just to show how badly the Grammy’s screwed up.  Live is  streaming on music services like Spotify and Slacker, or you can just buy it for like $5 and support cancer research. - David Allison

The_new_Channel_101_LA_LogoA recent discussion about the improved quality of Community since the return of Dan Harmon led to a discussion of the talents of Dan Harmon which led to a discussion of some of his earlier, pre-Community work which led to a discussion of Channel 101 which led to me going down the Channel 101 rabbit hole, binge-watching old shows until 5 in the morning. For those who don’t know, Channel 101 was a TV-station-on-the-web created by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab in 2003 as a place where writers and directors could bring their work directly to the audience without the interference of TV executives. New pilots, which had to be five minutes or less, were screened each month for a live audience. The top five shows were picked up for another episode and the rest were cancelled, their creators encouraged to submit again. The shows that resulted are some of the funniest, most original, comedy pieces I have ever seen. From the Harmon created Computerman, in which a drop of blood turns a desktop computer into an inquisitive, helpful, kung-fu fighting man-computer played by Jack Black, to The ‘Bu, a pastiche of The Hills from The Lonely Island in their pre-SNL days, to my personal favorite, Yacht Rock, which features the fictionalized exploits of Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, and friends, each show abounds with an exuberance, an obvious love of comedy, so often lacking from bigger-budget, made-by-committee efforts. In the mid-00’s, these shows were my obsession. The creators and performers clearly had a blast making these shows, and that enthusiasm comes right through the screen. Do yourself a favor, set aside twenty minutes and dive in. The Wastelander. House of Cosbys. Kicked in the Nuts. You won’t be disappointed. - Ryan Callahan

Why Go Slow?

TJ & DaveI'd like to point you to a great article on Splitsider. It's called "Louis CK, TJ & Dave and the Power of Slow Comedy." The writer, Matt Shafeek, makes some great points about taking time to develop characters and discover situations, all the while not worrying about getting laughs.

TJ & Dave can often go long stretches of time without any big laughs, and this is where a lot of weaker improvisers often falter. A performer who fears he or she has lost the audience will panic and will resort to time-honored gimmicks – exaggerated physicality, ridiculous characters, and of course, going ‘blue’ (making a lewd/sexual reference or choice) in a desperate attempt to end the audience’s silence.  But TJ & Dave, as well as Louis CK, know that patience in comedy can lead to much bigger rewards.

In our current "get to the point" culture, these types of comedy acts would seem like they'd fail. But talk to any improviser about TJ & Dave, and she will talk like they're gods, worshiping anything they do. That's because they offer more than junk food (the quick, easy laughs). They offer a protein-rich meal based around characters' relationship to one another.

The people involved in these kinds of shows, on stage and off, see the value in slowing down, keeping the story grounded, and never, ever forcing any laughs. Sometimes this leads to hilarious discoveries. Other times, it leads somewhere less amusing, but still completely honest – to an interesting bit of theater, let’s say. And that’s great, because who says comedy only exists to make you laugh?

Go ahead, read the full article. I'll wait right here for you. And when you come back, please let us know in the comments how you feel about slow comedy. Is it a struggle for you? If so, why? If not, what helps you slow down?