Dear Dallas Comedy House (DCH) friends, family, and of course, Mr. Vernon,
Pretty People With Problems accepts the fact that they’ve had to sacrifice a whole lot of time and energy, time originally guided by the wonderful Nikki Gasparo and now guided by the equally wonderful Ashley Bright, to flush out and hone a wild idea for an improvised teen movie. They’ve all practiced really hard together, and it’s crazy inspiring to see how far they’ve come. So, “Who exactly are they?” you ask. Well, you may see them as just a posse of unruly, free-spirited improv kiddos, but they’re definitely more than that. They’re a troupe of incredibly talented players who genuinely love to “yes and...” and support each other on and off the stage. With shows chock full of silly scenarios, zany casts of characters, and plenty of talk about Jerrell’s butthole, Pretty People With Problems is helping audiences relive their glorious high school moments: the good, the bad, and the embarrassing. With a lot of love and a whole lot of weird, they bring to life those precious moments rife with acne, angst, and possibly a rockin’ John Hughes soundtrack. In the simplest terms, Pretty People With Problems is the stellar combination of a Cody... a Jerrell and a Sallie...a Tyler and a Brian...a Bonnie...and a Natalie (a.k.a. Buffy in a young Meryl Streep disguise).
Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast/Improv Club (it’s a dual purpose organization)
To start us off, let’s hear the super teen-angsty, melodramatic origin story of how Pretty People With Problems came to be.
Cody: I was smoking pot behind a dumpster and writing poetry with my tears when Natalie told me Brian had told her that Tyler told him that Bonnie told her that Sallie said that Jerrell said that Nikki Gasparo said I had shit my pants in the cafeteria and that Ms. Bright slipped in it and gave me detention. I looked Natalie in the eyes and threw my letterman jacket on the ground and said, “I need redemption.” Then I messaged everyone on AIM and asked if they wanted to do a teen drama. No one wanted to, but they were all into improv, so I skated all the way to Keller, Texas, where Nikki lived, and we had our first practice.
Sallie: It was a dark, stormy night in the mid-1990s. Brian was working in his father’s grocery store, closing up because he was that kid with adult problems. Tyler was smoking a cigarette outside, just not giving a f***. Bonnie and Natalie cruised up in their BMW convertible with a bottle of vodka and techno music blasting on the radio. Cody was hiding behind the building filming everyone for one of his “art films.” Jerrell flew in on a cloud, and no one was certain whether he was human or God. Sallie was mopping up the parking lot and watching porn on her phone. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck and permanently banded these seven individuals together. Pretty People With Problems was formed.
Jerrell: I wasn't there for the very, very beginning, but from what I understand is that I was brought in as a season one guest star to shake up the personal relationships of the main cast but then I stuck around. It pays to hang around the craft services table a.k.a. chill out at Brian and Tyler's apartment while they're practicing because you're too hungover to go home.
Natalie: Brian and I have always been the dearest of friends, enabling each other to watch cable, instead of studying or binging on junk food and classic romance films (with the sound muted and our own dialogue, of course). And, don't forget the platonic sleepovers and make-out practice sessions. BEST BUDDIES. Then, of course, we always yearned for the attention of our high school's "it" duo, Cody and Jerrell, but flawlessly covered up our desperation with plenty of sarcasm and wit. Anytime Brian or I needed some sage advice, we consulted the original club sponsor/home-ec teacher, Ms. Bowen. No matter the situation, Ms. Bowen could always make me feel better, see the error of my ways, or realize which pill to take. It’s weird, though, I also always seemed to feel like her wisdom had an underlying message about my relationship, which was totally platonic, with Brian. Anyway, the coolest and most badass rebel, Tyler, looked in every room and hallway with a sexual tension that excited Brian and me, but we figured he'd eventually just fall for Ms. Bowen, and they would have some kind of sordid tryst that resulted in jail time and/or a pregnancy. Bonnie came into the picture when she moved here from Idabel, Oklahoma. She was the sweetest, little small-town girl with perfect grades. Brian and I pooled our spare change and sour patch kids together to bet on when she'd finally indulge in her dark side. And that's basically it, but, hey, it's only junior year, right?
Bonnie: Ugh. Total drab of a story. I don't know if you know Nikki Gasparo, but she basically rules the school. She's like the Queen B. And by “B,” I mean BITCH! No, she's amazing! She came up with the idea for an improvised teen drama and we all orgasmed in unison and started the troupe.
For people who may not be familiar with you guys, what can someone expect to see at one of your shows? What's your format or style?
Cody: We ask the audience for a problem they had in high school, then we put on a narrative, ”dramatic” show, in which we try to bring that problem to life. They can expect to see horse girls, dumb jocks, smart jocks, pill-addicted bitches, smelly skater boys, bug-boy, Poot the kleptomaniac, pooping in the cafeteria, teachers at prom, a cool opening credits video, and Jerrell’s butthole.
Sallie: We do an improvised teen drama in a narrative format. You can expect to see all your favorites: the slutty cheerleader, the mysterious bad boy, the pompous jock, the insecure school guidance counselor, the stoner, the horse girl, the bug boy, etc.
Jerrell: It's VERY dramatic. Like the TNT of the theater. We love drama. But, essentially, we come out to a staple teen drama song looking very good and grab an audience suggestion of a high school issue and we play off of that. And somewhere along the way feelings are confessed and there's a lot of yelling.
Natalie: We begin with an air of drama and an audience member's personal high school obstacle. From there, we present a no-frills, totally unfunny and seriously serious adaptation of One Tree Hill/The O.C./Beverly Hills 90210/Melrose Place/Dawson's Creek/Gossip Girl/My So-Called Life/Degrassi High/Degrassi: The Next Generation.
Bonnie: Basically you will see a lot of sighing and Sallie playing human/animal characters. We also love to open and close lockers and backpacks, to really give our show that high school feeling.
If you could go back in time and give your teenage, high school self some advice, what would it be?
Cody: DUMP HER! And definitely don’t F***ING BRING HER TO DALLAS WITH YOU AND MOVE IN WITH HER YOU DIPSHIT! RUN AWAY! RUN! Also, when you get to Dallas don’t wait three years to go to Dallas Comedy House. Or do, because you’ll like the people you have class with. Whatever. Hey, don’t Bogart the joint, man.
Sallie: STOP SKIPPING CLASS, YA DUMMY.
Jerrell: Chill out. No matter how much that straight dude flirts with you, he's just doing it for the attention. And wash your face at night, you deserve clear skin.
Natalie: STOP GIVING ANY DAMN F***S! And am I kind of crushing on Brian, or do we just spend too much time together AS FRIENDS??
Bonnie: Keep eating lunch in the library. It's so much more peaceful in the library than in the lunchroom. Plus you're never going to get to see a food fight, so what's the point.
Teen movies are often all about those badass girl cliques. If life were a teen movie, what fictional #girlsquad would each of your troupe mates be part of and why? (Yes, Natalie, you can provide what teen drama stereotype/trope they’d be. Whatever makes you happy, boo.)
Cody: I know who’s in this troupe and how good they are at this sort of thing. My knowledge of pop-culture is painfully inadequate, so I’m going to let the others take this one.
Sallie: Natalie would be in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s clique or she would be Buffy herself. She is so obsessed with that show that I’m starting to think she is Buffy.
Bonnie: Natalie would be a part of... Well she just would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So would Brian. They are both Buffy because they are so badass and they have great hair.
Sallie: Brian would be part of the Plastics in Mean Girls because he is a badass, boss bitch that runs things. (Seriously, he is the bar manager at DCH. Check out the new menu!)
Natalie: Brian would be the field hockey captain and the sweet, loveable class president who also isn't afraid to let lose because he's a great leader and hella admirable. Also fit.
Sallie: I think Cody would be a part of the Heathers because he might murder someone.
Bonnie: Cody is definitely Regina from the Plastics because he is such a conniving, secret-starting, boyfriend-stealing, witch!
Natalie: Cody would be the section leader in the school choir, just to hear his own voice more, and he would also be the newest member of the pottery club because he wanted to meet an artsy girl that doesn't have dreadlocks but also doesn't judge anyone for having them.
Sallie: Jerrell would be a Spice Girl in Spice World because he really is a real-life pop star.
Bonnie: Jerrell would be Cher from Clueless because he has the best wardrobe and he is very persuasive. And he has great cheekbones.
Natalie: Jerrell would be the drill team captain who lights up a fat doobie under the bleachers before every halftime show but still has the best high kick you'll ever see. He is loveable as f*** but down-to-earth.
Bonnie: Sallie would be Dionne from the clique in Clueless because she pulls off a nose ring so well and she don't take shit from no gross bitch with a fake weave.
Sallie: Sallie would be one of the detentioners in The Breakfast Club. Most likely the quiet girl with dandruff because sometimes she really does get dandruff and she’s kind of creepy.
Natalie: Sallie would be the school principal on the fast track to being superintendent, but she gets it on with the weird goth kids because she's sexy as hell and could rock leather.
Sallie: Bonnie would be part of the T-Birds from Grease, because I could see her cruising in a sick ride, looking for chicks and greasing back her hair with a comb she keeps in her back pocket.
Natalie: Bonnie would be the bad virgin/clean teen that wants to remain pure but likes getting carried away with dirty talk and weenie play, because she's sweet and hot. Tyler would the president of the AV club, or the school DJ, or the bitchiest klepto you'll ever meet, because he's the bitchiest klepto you'll ever meet. He's also banging Sallie/Ms. Bowen.
Sallie: Tyler would be part of the Toro’s in Bring It On because he is very cheerful, supportive, and probably has a sick round-off back handspring.
Bonnie: Tyler would be Gretchen from the Plastics because he's always starting incredibly ridiculous rumors. These are just two he started at my high school. "Demi Lovato is giving the graduation speech," and "We're getting a Chick-fil-A in the cafeteria!"
Speaking of Plastics and Mean Girls, if you ever found a Burn Book with your picture in it, what do you think would be written about you?
Cody: Probably something like, “He has a big head, both metaphorically AND literally.”
Sallie: There would probably be a very frizzy-haired picture of me and under it would say, “Does she even go here?”
Jerrell: My burn would be something like, "Yikes...kinda desperate." But my picture would look great.
Natalie: “Eats a lot of cheese, ...like, a LOT!”
Bonnie: “Bonnie eats her corn like she's trying to get it off.”
What do you enjoy most about getting to play with this particular group of people?
Cody: When we first started practicing, it was hard to be good, because we were all just being so stupid and cracking ourselves up. Ashley had to develop punishments for breaking. I think the silliness and making each other laugh is what I love most. Also, I have to give credit to the effort Ashley has put into this project. It’s nothing short of inspiring. The passion from everyone has been outstanding.
Sallie: Everyone in this group is an incredible performer and improviser. I am always looking forward to either practice or shows with them because we have so much fun with each other. Each one is a genuinely hilarious person, and we’re always cracking each other up.
Jerrell: These are some of the weirdest people I've ever played with. There's never any judgment about a move being made or a joke or whatever. Like, this entire troupe is so weird, and it's the best. I don't know; it's super freeing knowing that I can do whatever dumb, weird thing I want to and they “yes and” it.
Natalie: I love and adore this group so incredibly much, because while we're all friends and mesh really well, we also each have unique and distinct qualities/styles/personalities. We make each other laugh a lot, and I think that's a great place to start when your goal is to make other people laugh, too.
Bonnie: We all have so much fun together and we know and love teen dramas. Plus, I've seen all these people on the toilet and once you've seen that, a bond forms that's unexplainable and so amazing.
What rule of improv do you try to apply to your everyday life and why?
Cody: Oh wow, thank you for the soapbox. I’m going to try to only put one foot on it. I guess I have to choose between “say yes” and “listen to the last thing said.” I think it would be the latter because I have a tendency to respond to things with “I” or “me” statements just to relate, and I want to work on really listening to and engaging with the other person in a conversation.
Sallie: “YES AND,” baby. I always try to say yes to new opportunities and experiences, and this has significantly broadened my horizons. Also, listening is so important, and since taking improv classes, I believe I am a better listener in my regular life.
Jerrell: Saying yes. That's so cliché, but I mean saying yes to everything, mostly to myself. I used to spend a lot of time being concerned about how other people felt about me and what I was doing, instead of how I was feeling and whatever. So, more specifically, saying yes to my feelings and what I want and need to do from moment to moment.
Natalie: Improv is a phenomenon to me because every concept/pillar can simply translate into or be applied to life. So, I can't choose a “single” concept that I apply, but in general, I see improv, in its purest sense, as an enchanting, mind-boggling and frustrating entity, which can also be said of life. Also, the support and respect I’ve seen and experienced in the DCH community, especially in regards to gender equality, is a security and love I know I am extremely lucky to have.
Bonnie: I always say yes. It just makes life so much more fun.
As with anything in life, movie quotes are always applicable. So let’s end this Q&A by coming up with a Pretty People tagline, using only teen movie quotes.
Cody: “Whatever I feel like I wanna do, gosh!” – Napoleon Dynamite; Alternate: “Yes… yes… yes…” – Napoleon Dynamite
Sallie: “Well you can’t kill me ‘cause I’m already dead. And I talked to God, and she says, ‘Yo wassup?’ and she wants you to lose the gun.” – Deb in Empire Records
Jerrell: "Do yo thang, Isis." – Bring It On
Natalie: "Shoulda used the window!" – Walter Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You; Alternate: "It don't matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning's winning." – Dominic Toretto in The Fast And The Furious
Bonnie: "Why should I listen to you? You're a virgin who can't drive." – Tai from Clueless
Pretty People With Problems performs at DCH on June 1 and June 9.
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.