Rachel Dratch

Book Review: "Girl Walks into a Bar" by Rachel Dratch

Girl Walks into a BarYou may know Rachel Dratch as Saturday Night Live (SNL) characters Debbie Downer or Zazu, the female component in The Boston Couple sketches alongside Jimmy Fallon. Or maybe you know her as a main stage Second City actor or from her two-woman show, Dratch & Fey, with someone named Tina Fey. If you still don’t know who she is, then I want to know what rock you lived under in the early to mid 2000s. My rock was called Waco, and, yes, we got NBC there. Although Dratch has not been inactive in the comedy community, in Girl Walks into a Bar (2012) Dratch tells us that the most prevalent FAQ that’s thrown her way is, “What happened to you?!” As well as talking about her childhood, how she broke into the comedy world, and an “Unofficial Guide to Being on SNL,” Dratch talks about falling into fame obscurity. She follows up this discussion about how she is only offered roles as “The Unf@#!ables” and the reasons why. The rest of the story is about being a single woman in New York City, calling to mind how possibly insane Sex and the City is.

I liked Girl Walks into a Bar, because she earnestly tells us what it is like to fail and then try again. She twice tried out for Second City classes and auditioned for SNL. Dratch concludes that the second time is the charm and dubs herself “Ol’ Two Time Dratch.” She is a wonderful example of working hard and being persistent to get where you want to be in life—something that many people need to be reminded of. However, Dratch admits that she does not have it all figured out, rarely doles out advice, and constantly wonders how the universe works. “Universe!” My favorite chapter is “Body by Shtetl,” which any woman of Eastern European descent can appreciate.

I’ll admit that if you don’t want to hear about relationships or babies, you might not like the last half of the book (I would never advocate reading only part of a book that isn’t poetry, essays, short stories, or a textbook, so read it all or not at all. Seriously.). I do think that anyone who is struggling with his or her life goals would enjoy this book. It is not a self-help book, but a story of a woman living her life and overcoming obstacles.

Because I am fairly new to improv, my favorite quote from Girl Walks into a Bar, of course, has to do with improv:

“How did I think of that?” I wondered. I didn't feel like I had thought of it. It's a sort of flow that happens when you are completely in the moment and not getting in your own way. Not trying so hard, not planning ahead, just getting out of your own head and letting the magic happen. You could apply this to any activity, of course. You could apply it to life.

Thumbs up, ma’am. Thumbs up.

Leslie Michaels is currently a Level 2 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She spends her spare time riding her bicycle, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Netflix. She still questions whether she’s a dog person or a cat person.

What We're Loving: The Sports-Comedy Connection, Funeral Planning, Old Virgins, Hard Boils

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison returns with his famous SNL preview, Jonda Robinson knows why there are only one set of footprints, Brittany Smith has some recommendations for your trip back to 2006, and Ryan Callahan is easily upsold. saturdaynightlive-logoSaturday Night Live is back this week, which means it’s time for my semi annual (annual as in yearly, semi as in never before) take on the upcoming season. I really do view each year of SNL like the handful of sporting teams I follow. All offseason long I watch as they release and acquire talent, hoping for the big move that puts them over the top and back to relevance. Also, like a sports fan, go into each year with the blind optimism that this year will be better, before watching my expectations crash back to Earth by Thanksgiving.

Here’s why I’m excited (Bullet pointed lists lead to maximum excitement!):

  • Cast reduction.
    • Fewer players means more stage time for those that remain, which means that we’ll actually get to see their talents this year.
  • Michael Che to Weekend Update.
    • Fantastic writer and proved on The Daily Show that he’ll be fantastic behind the desk
    • His move also removed Cecily Strong from Update. I didn’t mind her, but I like what I’ve seen out of Che better and think that she was better in her first season when simply concentrated on sketches.
  • Streeter Seidel added to the writing staff
  • Fortieth Anniversary
    • It has to be good if it’s an anniversary season, right?

- David Allison

secondcity_grandmasrecordsI have to admit that I don’t use Twitter as effectively as I could. I often forget to look at it, then I become overwhelmed at all the tweets I have missed, then I scroll to the most current ones, causing myself to pass over a lot of 140-character gems. Fortunately this week, even though I probably missed out on a lot of important world news, I didn’t miss out on Aidy Bryant (@aidybryant) sharing one of her favorite scenes from the Second City archives.

The sketch is called “Grandma’s Records,” and while I had read it before, I’d never seen it performed. The set-up is that Mother Superior, beloved nun and music lover, has passed away. Her friends are preparing for her funeral and hope to find a suitable record from her collection to play at the service. As with most things in sketch comedy and life in general, there are some hiccups along the path to completing this task. Seeing it performed brought new life to it for me, and there are some specific things to watch out for:

  1. Rachel Dratch’s retelling of the “Footprints” story is fantastic, and it’s the only way I ever want to hear that story again. Also, it reminded me that my own grandma had this story hanging up in her house for most of my life.
  2. Scott Adsit’s physicality in the scene is great, and watching him react to the songs on the records makes them that much funnier.
  3. The songs themselves will make you laugh, and one will even change your perspective on Herbert Hoover’s “chicken in every pot” promise.

In case you’re still on the fence about whether you should watch it or not, I’ll tell you that Tina Fey plays guitar in it. If you can say no to laughter and Tina Fey, you’re a stronger person than I am. - Jonda Robinson

ElizabethOn a weird whim Saturday night I found myself watching the HBO Miniseries from 2006, Elizabeth I. The drama puts Helen Mirren at the height of her Helen Mirren-est, playing the Virgin Queen, being sassy, and hooking up with dudes 30 years her junior. Basically fulfilling all of my fantasies for post-menopausal life.

The show follows the queen in the later years of her life still trying to find an advantageous suitor in order to keep England as a European superpower. What makes this difficult though, is the love she has for her long-time staffer, the Earl of Leicester. Since she cannot marry him as he is but a commoner, she does what so many of us have foolishly done and asks that they remain friends. Now, I don’t care who you are, beloved sovereign of the most powerful country in the world or not, you can’t be just friends with the person you wanna bone. Then, the Earl dies and his adorably shaggy haired son, (Hugh Dancy), takes his place as the queen’s confidante. Eventually he too falls for the queen, but once again, because he is not royal, the queen will not marry him. He then proceeds to knock up one of her hand maidens and the queen pulls the pimp move of blessing their marriage, only on the condition that Hugh Dancy is still allowed to hook up with the queen. Baller. Status.

If none of this is enticing enough, you also see a young Eddie Redmayne sporting Jersey Shore-level terrible extensions and the queen constantly referring to herself as “we”. So run, don’t walk, to your stolen HBOGo account to watch an 8 year old show about a woman who died 400 years ago. - Brittany Smith

StrandBooks800My sojourn in New York continues. Last week, I covered two of my favorite things to do in the city: Walk and Eat. This week, I'm still loving both activities (in fact, I had a pizza called a "Fraggle Rock" from Roberta's the other night at Madison Square Eats. Mozzarella, ricotta, squash, cranberries. Have you ever wanted to marry a pizza? Because I wanted to marry this pizza), and I have added a third favorite New York activity: Book Shopping.

My nights have been largely free over this past week, leaving me much time to walk around the city and enjoy the many book stores. Over the past few nights I have been able to visit two of my favorite book stores: Strand Bookstore and Mast Books. Strand reminds me of the Half Price Books super store off Northwest Highway, except that the stickers they place on the books come off easily and the staff has no interest in helping you at all. Seriously, every time I have asked someone for help in that bookstore, they respond with a combination of anger and panic, like I'm interrupting them right as they were about to hide a corpse. But The Stand is worth it for the treasures. They have more books about presidents than you can even imagine. And I'm sure you can imagine a lot of books about presidents. (The previous sentence was directed to Ryan Goldsberry.) I could spend several hours in the basement looking through the racks of essays, letters, and biographies. That's not an exaggeration. That's what I did on Tuesday.

From the outside, Mast Books looks like a little museum. On the inside, they have a lot of art books and photography books and used books that cater to the East Village crowd (Bukowski, Fante, Vonnegut). They also have the coolest little collection of crime novels. The other night I found some Black Lizard paperbacks from the 80's that were re-issues of books from the 50's, forgotten hard-boiled works with titles like Bury My Grave Deep and Kill The Boss Good-By. At the register, the cashier pointed out a stack of similar books she had yet to shelve. The stack contained several books by Charles Willeford.  I bought those books. She must have seen me coming a mile away. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: Hacks!

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison turns hack, Amanda Hahn gets her hair hacked, Jonda Robinson might hack up a hairball, and Ryan Callahan learns some lesson from a LA hack. tina-fey3At this point, it's hack for a person who loves comedy to discuss the greatness of Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch. Ugh, we get it nerds, they're funny gals, under appreciated, could have been rocket scientists and once saved Earth by winking at an asteroid. It's quite common for each of them to be lauded with affection, especially from schlubs that like to do make 'em ups on stage for strangers. But this week has been especially kind for fanboys/fangirls of Dratch and Fey as their old Second City/UCB show has found it's way online. The quality of the footage is TERRIBLE. It honestly looks as if the uploader took a Beta copy of their baby steps, converted the footage to VHS, recorded the Dratch & Fey show over it, washed the tape in the dishwasher, hung it out to dry in the Death Valley sun and then decided to upload it to YouTube. Seriously, that's what happened. Even though it's not quite in HD, the quality of the comedy shines through.

Here's a link to the whole thing.

The show begins with dueling one woman shows, one with the intention of educating an audience to women's history and the other with the intention of educating an audience to women's anatomy. From there, Dratch and Fey delve into a really well put together combination of sketch, audience interaction, and monologues. Though the show only ran from 1999-2000, the complete package feels incredibly refined and tight. There's never much downtime and the whole set ebbs and flows so naturally that it's obvious why this sketch show is thought of in the pantheon of all time greats. Hell, the whole thing helped to inspire 30 Rock, so that alone makes it worth watching. The other part that really stands out to me is just how good Rachel Dratch is. That's not to say Tina Fey isn't great, but she's a movie star gosh darn it, we get to see her in stuff all the time. The aggressive innocence with with Dratch plays makes every one of her characters likable and will leave you convinced as to how underrated she is. And then you can finally join us in the chorus of people clamoring for more Dratch & Fey. -David Allison

tumblr_n9jvg93aIB1thkqcyo1_1280I don’t want to seem divisive or political with what I’m about to say, but I need to get it out there: I am a fan of cats. Many times I have said that if reincarnation is a thing, please, make me a cat so I can take naps for days. I recognize that not everyone is a fan of felines, though, such as my friend who believes that they are evil and the only thing keeping them from taking over the world is their lack of opposable thumbs. If she’s right, and they someday do rise up, I like to think I’ve given enough belly rubs that they’ll show some mercy on me.

All of that is to say that when cats are involved in something, it usually catches my attention. And this week that was the case when I stumbled upon the Tumblr “Confused Cats Against Feminism.” Now, when I first heard that women were against feminism and had their own Tumblr dedicated to the cause, I wasn’t really interested. Frankly it sounded boring to me, and I like getting to vote and stuff, so I was like “nah.” But then when cats got in on the party, I was like “yes, please!” There’s one with sage advice about who and what to trust. One who is against both vacuums and the women who wield them. One who believes in equal oppression of all humans. And one who just wants his belly rubbed, dangit.

You should check them out so you can enjoy their cuteness, be more informed about this cat cause, and also so, in the event that they do overpower humans and take over the world, you’ll be in their good graces. Also, if you have an anti-feminist cat in your life, get him or her in on this movement! - Jonda Robinson

1382258215Exciting news, everyone: I got a haircut this week. No, I’m not so vain as to write about how much I love my haircut. I’m here to write about the woman who cut it because I fell in platonic love with her. What I thought would be a normal conversation as she cut my hair turned into a fascinating talk with a fascinating woman named Alexis Lu, AKA Queen Lex Lu. It’s possible that you’ve heard of her already because she has her feet dipped into a million things around Dallas and Texas. She’s a hair stylist, make up artist, photographer, stylist, wig maker, rapper, actor, and a warm, funny person in general.

I warned her that I would stalk her all over the internet, but I did not tell her that I would be writing about her on a public blog. It’s okay though because it’s illegal to get mad at someone for writing about you if it’s nice things, right? …Right?? Right! Good, because I only have rave reviews for Lex Lu. I liked her so much that my new goal is to find reasons to hire her for various things. Do I need my makeup done before the next time go to a coffee shop to write in a corner by myself? No. Do I need to hire entertainment to rap for me while I get dressed for work in the morning? No. But I want to anyway, because not only does she do great work, she’s so pleasant to be around. Plus she has a song called ‘CAN’T FEEL MY FACE’ which makes me giggle because that’s a little too relatable.

I’ll end my post with week with another call to action: Hire this woman. She’s excellent. And just more proof that talking to strangers is the best possible way to spend your day. -Amanda Hahn

03Last weekend, my girlfriend and I watched Collateral, the 2004 crime thriller starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, directed by Michael Mann (Heat, Thief). I lived in LA when Collateral came out and I always thought that the film did the best job of capturing the way LA looks at night. It turns out, that was director Michael Mann's intention. He shot the film in DV, and even had the taxi cab that Foxx's character drives painted a particular shade, to capture the golden hues of Los Angeles streetlights.

I did not remember how much the film was about the nature of improvisation, not just on a thematic or performance level, but in the nature of its structure. The film has the structure of a great long form improv show; diverse elements and characters eventually come together, scenes mirror each other, there are call backs, and everything from the beginning is brought back at the end and tied together.

There are so many parallel scenes in the movie that play off each other - the twin cab rides of Jada Pinkett-Smith and Tom Cruise, the visit to the jazz club vs the visit to the night club, the two run ins with the patrol cops, the two visits to the first informant's apartment. Throughout the film, the same locations and characters are visited and revisited, but each time the suspense is heightened, new information is added. Old scenes take on new meanings. Like a great improv show, the movie does not endlessly invent new things; it takes what it has and escalates and escalates until the everything reaches a fever pitch.

The movie even has a scene of actual improvisation. Foxx's meek cap driver must impersonate Cruise's cold-blooded hit man, and acquire a hit list from a cartel heavy (Javier Bardem) at a night club. Foxx does not know what he's walking into or what to say. His only choice is to "Yes, And" the hell out of everything and hope that he's committed enough to his character to pull it off. That scene is one of the best in a movie full of great scenes, and rewards an engaged audience with its call backs and in-jokes.

I always thought Collateral was a brilliant crime movie, another example of Michael Mann's mastery of the genre. I had no idea it was also a brilliant improv show. - Ryan Callahan