What We're Loving: Unpopular Opinions, Hidden Upsides, Deleted Context, Specialized Pitching

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison makes a bold statement, Jonda Robinson fails greatly, Amanda Hahn needs a mind break, and Ryan Callahan goes to the bullpen. imgresSometimes I really hate popular opinion. There’s a collective hive mind that we all participate in and often times cinema is significantly affected by it’s whims. You’ll hear about this amazing movie that “everyone” loves, set plans to see it opening night, and then realize within five minutes that Benjamin Button is terrible. But you can’t say anything about how much you hated it because it gets nominated for Oscars and stuff. The opposite happens too and it’s even more disappointing. There are so many movies that our pop culture group mind simply rejects and we’re not supposed to give them a chance. Then, like an idiot, I see one of these flicks, love it, and can’t talk about my adoration for it in fear of receiving palpable judgement in return. The current film I feel self conscious about really enjoying is something that was released on DVD this past week: Muppets Most Wanted. AND IT’S WHAT I’M LOVING THIS WEEK. There, I said it.

Where are you going?

Don’t run away yet!

Hear me out on this. Yes this commercial failure that you didn’t hear anything good about is not a great film. With that said, there are numerous factors that make it highly enjoyable to watch. First, you’ve got solid performances from Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell. See, that’s not so bad! You liked them in that other thing you liked, so that’s gotta count for something. Also, it’s basically a musical and contains about ten full length songs, most of which were written by Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords). Flight of the Conchords was your favorite show! Plus, McKenzie won an Oscar for the tunes he wrote for the previous Muppets film, so that helps. Oh and it’s the Muppets! You remember how much you loved them as a kid? You would’ve killed another child, straight up murdered a newborn, to go to Muppet Treasure Island with the gang.

So give this movie a shot. Even if it means sneaking it home in a pizza box and watching it under the cover of darkness so that your friends don’t judge you. - David Allison 9780345472328_p0_v2_s260x420

Lately I’ve been trying to look at the positive side of failing. For example, last week I was visiting a friend and we decided to go eat at a certain restaurant. We got a cab and made the trek across town during rush hour, only to find out that they were closed. Sigh. Trying to look on the bright side, I told her that it wasn’t a total waste because it was a mistake we’d learn from. She appropriately rolled her eyes at me.

In an effort to prepare for another year of teaching middle school, I’ve been learning more about the concept of learning through failure from the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. Dweck’s theory is that there are two kinds of mindsets that you can have: the fixed mindset, in which you believe that your intelligence and talents are fixed and do not change, and the growth mindset, in which you believe that your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. For the fixed mindset, failure is a terrifying thing that says, “You’re not enough.” But for the growth mindset, failure is a perfect opportunity to learn and become better than you were before. According to Dweck, you get to choose which mindset you approach life with. If you’d like to see which mindset you currently lean toward, there’s a quiz for that! And if you’d like to attempt to change your mindset, there are steps for that!

Some of the most fun things I have done in the past year, from taking a sketch writing class to wakesurfing, were scary things that I at first said no to because I was afraid of failing. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to try, I highly suggest that you go for it, even if you’re afraid you’ll fail at it. It’ll help you become a cooler, better version of yourself. And if you need something to help you get motivated, check out Dweck’s book to give you that little push that you need. - Jonda Robinson


The end of each semester is typically unusually busy. This summer’s semester has been no exception. Sometimes you just need a mind break from everything. I found the perfect one: Ads Without Context . The name is misleading because it’s more like “ads re-contextualized” than ads with no context. And thank goodness it is. This entire feed is just .gifs from infomercials with captions giving new context to the melodramatic ads. The mix of the silent overacting overlaid with the captions is endlessly silly and delightful.

Some are simple.

Some are gross.

Some make me laugh out loud.

Some are weirdly sad.

And many more are endlessly re-watchable.

So turn off the TV and tune into No Context Ads. The infomercials are way better on there. - Amanda Hahn

51fbRsn29aL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_You ever find a book and feel like it was written just for you? That's how I feel about The Setup Man: A Novel, the debut thriller by T.T. Monday. The book introduces Johnny Adcock, a 35-year-old lefty relief specialist for the fictional San Jose Bay Dogs. Johnny only pitches when the Bay Dogs have a lead, and only against left-handed hitters. He works about ten minutes a night. Most guys in his position would be content to chew on sunflower seeds and let the money roll in. Not Johnny Adcock. He's the restless sort. He needs something to fill the rest of the day. That's why he works as a private detective. Worried your wife is cheating on you with the pool boy? Someone from your time in the minors trying to blackmail you? Johnny Adcock is your man.

The Setup Man combines my two favorite things: Private detectives, and private detectives who are also other things. Private detectives are my favorite fictional characters. As a child I loved them all: Encyclopedia Brown, Thomas Magnum, Rick and A.J. Simon. The A-Team was essentially a private eye super team. In high schoool I discovered Humphrey Bogart's Phillip Marlowe, still the greatest onscreen P.I. ever. After college I devoured the Continental Op stories of Dashiell Hammett, such as Red Harvest, for my money the best P.I. novel ever. I've spent many an afternoon or evening binge watching reruns of Psych or Monk. Private detectives are the best.

But the private detective who is also something else is even better. How can something be better that the best? Here's how: What would be better than a private detective who investigates the paranormal? Oh, I don't know, maybe a  private detective who investigates the paranormal and has a day job as a lifeguard. What could be better than a private detective played by Andy Richter? A private detective / accountant played by Andy Richter! And what could be better than a private eye who investigates the seedy underbelly of Major League Baseball? A private eye who investigates that seedy underbelly while having to pitch to lefties every couple of days.

I started reading The Setup Man late Tuesday night and finished on Wednesday. Once I started, I had to keep reading. That's about the highest praise you can give a P.I. novel. I needed to know what happened next, and I wanted to see how Johnny Adcock would solve the case. The book isn't perfect. There are a couple thudding moments of authorial intrudsion that feel like an after-school special, and the book jacket inexplicably features a right-handed pitcher, but the plot moves, the tone is charming, there is a vivid cast of characters, and the details about day to day life in the majors seem authentic. I can't wait for Johnny Adcock's next adventure. - Ryan Callahan

Q&A With Puppeteer Sarah Nolen

Puppets mean Muppets for most people. But Fozzy and Kermit and Gonzo are only recent additions to an art form that's been around for 30,000 years. Puppetry is a tradition that is found in all societies around the world, where people have used anything from socks on their hands to elaborate life-size constructions to help tell stories and entertain. Sarah NolenWe here at the Dallas Comedy House have a resident puppeteer, Sarah Nolen, who is conducting a puppet workshop that runs for four Saturdays starting January 7.

Curious about puppets and the workshop? So were we, and Sarah was happy to answer a few questions.

What is your puppeteering history? How did you get interested in it? How long have you been doing it?

I have been fiddling with puppets since I was in grade school. I performed my first show at the age of 9, for my parents. It was a rendition of "Rapunzel" performed by toilet paper rolls…with clothes made of paper. The interest started, I'm sure, from watching and loving puppets on TV shows like The Muppet Show, Beakman's World, Muppets Tonight, Puzzle Place, and others. Moreover, I am fascinated by objects and textures. In high school, I gave up puppets because they weren't very cool at the time. Going through puberty and introducing people to an old sock with buttons for eyes didn't make sense. I picked up videography instead. But senior year, I filmed my first short video with puppets. I filmed two puppets made from soap boxes singing along to "The Magic Flute." It was a soap opera--and it cracked me up. That's when I realized I had to keep doing it. In college, I studied film and all my shorts involved puppetry of some kind. Summer my junior year, I traveled to Connecticut to partake in a three-week long workshop held by Sandglass Theater. They call it "puppet boot camp," and Eric and Ines-Zeller Bass teach you everything from manipulation to breathing to conceptualizing. You learn about the life of objects. It was the most inspiring thing I have ever done artistically, and I've never thought about puppets the same way.

What are some of the most difficult aspects of working with puppets? How do you overcome the difficulties? 

One of the most difficult aspects of working with puppets is separating yourself from the puppet. You are lending life to any object you manipulate, so you cannot think of that life as your own. That's kind of hippy-dippy, but as far as Muppet-style puppetry goes, the most difficult thing is giving an emotion to something expressionless, something inanimate. Through that limitation, though, you can learn a lot about what gives something life other than it's face. Technically, a very difficult thing is matching the mouth movements with your own. But the prescription for that is practice!

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working with puppets? 

I think the most rewarding part of puppetry is discovering some sort of alien in the palm of your hand. Getting people to relate and care for these little aliens is really terrific. One of the coolest moments for me was when one of my puppets died on stage suddenly, and the whole audience felt it and panicked a little. After she died, I reached in my pocket and had a bunch of snow (it was a Christmas show), and smiled, throwing it everywhere for the exit. It was a little reminder that--hey, it was never really alive. But it's a lot of fun, when you create something that people care about. That moment where you realize that the audience has forgotten you is pretty fantastic.

How can taking a puppet class help with other forms of improv? 

This puppetry workshop will focus on learning Muppet-style puppetry for the improv stage. Taking a puppet class will definitely help with communication, characters, and expanding skills. As a puppeteer, you learn how to make different characters on the fly with just your voice and hand movement. You learn to play different characters in the same puppet. You become finely aware of what changes in gesture, voice and pacing can express. With puppets, as with anything limited, you will also be exercising the idea of "if this, then what?" For example, if my puppet is a monkey, then maybe it has a bad case of fleas. He's got an itching problem. You are literally given the "if" with objects.

What is your favorite puppet (either one you work with or throughout history) and why?

One of my favorite puppets was a marionette puppet I saw performed at a the Puppet Incident puppet slam in Austin. Puppeteer Marta MacRostie had made this thing on strings that laid flat, and you couldn't tell what it was. When it finally got up off the ground, it was a giant human hand marionette! It started walking around like a dog, and flicking things on the ground, and tapping. I don't think I've ever giggled so much. As far as Muppets go, my favorite is Rowlf. I love his floppy ears when he plays the piano. And his puns.

What do you say to people who think that puppets are only for kids?

I stick out my tongue at them! The most amazing thing about puppetry is that it uses our ability to personify anything. We can relate to a drunk trash can, we can still laugh at a dog ballerina, and as adults, we can finally empathize with how hard it must be for Kermit to get all the Muppets to work together. What's amazing about puppetry is that even as an adult, we can forget that there is a puppeteer, and see these inanimate things as alive, like when we were a kid. That is magic.

What do you hope people will walk away with after taking your workshop? 

I hope people will walk away with a broader perspective of puppetry. I hope they are reminded of how to imagine, act zany and that playing is not just for kids.

Thank you, Sarah, for taking the time to answers our questions. Remember folks, registration is open until Jan. 6 for the puppet workshop.