Rob Howe

Podcast Profile: Diabetics Doing Things with Rob Howe

DDT Podcast After my brief Podcasting 101 series for the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) blog, I received a few questions from friends and readers about how to get their own podcasts started. However, the hardest part of doing something new is actually starting. That’s when I decided I would write profiles of DCH performers and community members who have podcasts of their own, showing by example that everything is just a fun and wild downhill slide after recording your first episode.

This week, I profile Rob Howe’s Diabetics Doing Things. Rob performs with Dairy-Based and Primary Colours, but I had the pleasure of being a student in his improv Level 2 class. I heard through the grapevine at DCH that he had a podcast of his own in which he interviews people that share his experience of having Type-1 diabetes and refusing to let that put any stop on their lives. His podcast is filled with inspiring conversations that make me want to take the bull by the horns. (But figuratively… not literally… I don’t think bulls like that.)

Hi, Rob! Thank you for doing the thing. Please tell us what inspired you to make a podcast Diabetics Doing Things.

Super excited to be able to do the thing! OK, so I've been super fortunate in that I've had some pretty amazing experiences in my life, whether in athletics or travel, etc. and I also have Type-1 diabetes. And more often than not, people think that T1D is this debilitating disease that takes away your hopes, dreams, and future. So I found myself thinking that someone should be telling the stories of the things people with Type-1 are doing OUTSIDE of their diabetes. So I started Diabetics Doing Things.

One of my favorite moments from the podcast is from Episode 2. You're talking to Scriven Bernard about dealing with other people who ask the wrong questions about diabetes and you say, "What's the right question to ask?" How do you find those "right questions" to ask during your interview podcast?

I have a sort of boiler-plate interview list to get people comfortable with the types of questions I'll be asking, but what's great is that while most of the episodes start the same, they always end up a little different. It's amazing to hear about the different challenges that my guests have overcome throughout their lives, and the great things they're doing in spite of and alongside their disease.  

I know you more as an improviser and instructor through DCH, but Diabetics Doing Things is more grounded in what life is like as a diabetic, something that could be considered a very serious topic. I'd love to know more about the dichotomy of recording this podcast as opposed to performing with a troupe. Does the comedy lend itself to the vulnerability of the subject, and vice versa for your performance?

There's so much about everyday life that's funny. I guess the main difference between the podcast and performing is that I often don't know my guests. Sometimes it's the first time I've talked to them so it takes a little while to develop a rapport. My troupe mates are also my soul mates so we can skip all the intros and get right down to having fun. While life as a diabetic IS a serious topic, I think some of the best comedy comes from those serious, unique, poignant moments that people share. So while sometimes the discussions are vulnerable and serious, more often than not my guests and I end up having a good laugh at our own expense.

Every beginning (and occasionally some seasoned) podcasters experience some mishap during recording or editing, either by our own hand or a forced computer update. Do you have an example of podcast failure during the recording or editing process?

Oh, I definitely do. I was doing an interview for Episode 009 and my guest was from the U.K. so we had the usual scheduling challenges associated with different time zones and we had this amazing conversation on a Sunday afternoon and as soon as we hung up on Skype I realized I had only recorded like 30 seconds of the interview. I was super embarrassed and felt really unprofessional, but I just asked if we could re-do it, and she was more than accommodating.

What advice would you offer for those who are interested in podcasting? (Or as I like to call them, "Podawans.)

My biggest piece of advice is to make your podcast about something. If you can define your audience, and really appeal to them, you're more likely to have enough success to keep you motivated to continue. Other than that, you've just got to ask for things. My podcast success has been 100 percent due to the help of others. Most people are more than willing to help you if you ask, so you just have to overcome that fear and ask away. On the tech side, starting a podcast is super easy. Your phone is a great recording device (full disclosure: I use a USB microphone and GarageBand) and there are tons of great software out there available for free. So figure out what you wanna talk about, then do it!

For more information about Diabetics Doing Things, visit diabeticsdoingthings.com. You can also download episodes from iTunes via your podcatching app of choice.

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

You Won't Believe What Happens When You Watch These 7 Videos

Dallas Comedy House (DCH) performer and tech Scriven Bernard was a teacher assistant this past term for a Level 1 class led by Sarah Adams. The assistants are instructed to send follow-up notes reinforcing what the students learned in class each week. Scriven changed the note-giving game by turning them into music videos.

I recently sat down with Scriven in his Plaid Park studios to learn more about the project.

How did you come up with the idea to produce the videos?

I came up with the idea to produce the videos during the first class of the term. Sarah Adams and I recognized that the students had a lot of energy and seemed like a really cohesive group, and we really wanted to capitalize on that. So she turned to me and said, "We should do some sort of bit with them." I wasn't sure exactly what to do at first, but I knew it would involve music and costumes because I love both of those things. I told Sarah I'd think about it and that I'd draft something when I did the notes. The next day, I recorded that first video during my lunch break and sent it over to her. She loved it and insisted that I share it.

I also tend to get bogged down in the structure and rules of everything and forget that after all, we are improvisers. We are all here because we love spontaneity and supporting other people. So, these videos are another way of sharing that spirit with the students and reminding all of us that while there is a structure to the program and while there ARE higher-percentage choices, we can still let loose and have fun.

What kind of reaction have you received from the students, teachers, and other T.A.s?

The students seemed to love the videos. They were excited each week to see what I'd come up with next, and I think it made them feel more comfortable about coming out of their shells. And they were absolutely thrilled when I told them I wanted them to be in the last video with me.

I've only spoken to a small number of teachers about it, but a majority of the reviews have been positive. For the most part, the teachers love the idea and the energy that the video notes bring. The teachers with reservations about them value the structure, consistency, and neutral energy of the traditional note-taking system. One of the fears expressed is that a shy student might feel out of place when confronted with such strong energy in a Level 1 class, but I have not yet had that experience, and I will continue to make sure that all students feel welcomed and comfortable regardless of how I'm sending the notes.

Fellow T.A.s have loved the idea, but some have expressed concerns over its sustainability. And yeah, I definitely had that fear at first. I thought, "Oh, crap, what have I gotten myself into?" But, you know, I'm having so much fun with it. I love doing the videos, I love getting the students involved, and until someone tells me to stop, I'm going to keep finding fun ways to enhance students' improv experiences.

How can you top what you did this term?

I learned a few valuable lessons when writing the lyrics to the music videos. The first is that I can't choreograph to save my life, and the second is that things are better when I let them happen naturally and don't try to force them. When I'd write out the notes first then let the natural rhythm of the words inspire a song, the end result was far better than when I picked a song and tried to force the words into it.

I'll adopt that second lesson with figuring out what to do for this next Level 1 class. The idea for the video notes came naturally from my desire to have fun with the class, the energy dynamic between Sarah and me, and the overall chemistry among the students. So, just as in an improv scene, I'll listen to the situation before I respond. I'll let the ideas form naturally, then I'll see where that takes me. Perhaps I'll do another round of video notes. Perhaps something even better will happen. I don't really know yet, and that's the beauty of it.

If I had to give advice for how everyone can top the notes, I'd say this: Adopt the teachings of improv in everything you do. Follow the normal structure, but support the moves of everyone around you and have fun. Listen to the things happening around you and respond honestly to them. Be spontaneous. Make each other laugh.

A rundown of the song list. 

Week 1 - "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars Week 2 - "Africa" by Toto Week 3 - "Price Tag" by Jessie J Week 4 - "Hello" by Adele (Fun fact! Rob Howe subbed in for Sarah during this week, and before we'd talked about choosing a song we each independently wrote our own lyrics for "Hello." I ended up combining them.) Week 5 - "MMMBop" by Hanson Week 6 - "Dragostea Din Tei (Numa Numa)" by O-Zone Week 7 - "Bye Bye Bye" by *NSYNC

Confessions of a Comedy-holic

Confessions of a Comedy-holic is a weekly blog series that features performers of the Dallas Comedy House (DCH). What does it take to be funny? What make someone a great comedian? What brought them to DCH, what kept them staying, and how has it changed their own lives. Celebrities of DCH speak about their journeys in comedy. Local comedians share their story.  How Do You Feel?

Rob HoweThe very first time I met Rob Howe, he was my Level 2 teacher.  Here we are after class, sitting at the DCH bar, having a conversation.

Rob, today’s class was so much fun. How long have you been teaching?

This is my class No. 4, so almost a year now. I’ve been performing here for two years, and now one year of teaching. So I’ve been at DCH for almost three years.

Do you want to know what I took away from my entire experience at DCH so far? It’s when you said in our first class: “Don’t try to perform. You are here just friends, that came together to have some fun. So just have fun with it.” Ever since, that’s all I do here: just have fun.

I went to Chicago last fall for a 10-day workshop, and the first thing they said to us there was: “Whole point of this workshop is to have a good time. If you don’t have that, then you are doing it all wrong.” So, there’s no magic to this. All that we do, just have fun here. We all want to perform well. But the great thing about improv is that we can choose how we feel here, no matter what happens in real life.

We are in charge of our own feelings.

Yes, you are in control of it. You can make your own choice.

What about you, what is the major thing that you took away from improv during the entire time?

Bonding with people and making friends. People that I had a conversation with right after my very first class are still my close friends now. Even though we came from different backgrounds, we love the same thing.

I remember you once said: “We don’t do improv to make money.” That’s not what we are here for.

Yes. Some people think they will just come in, become a great performer, make a great income. That is not how it works.

Besides having fun, what is your end goal with this?

I love this place and the people here. This must be the first time in my life when I don’t really have an end goal. I just want to have as much fun as I can in this place. Hang out with my friends, put up a few shows, do festivals, meet new people. I am now taking sketch classes, to keep learning. I don’t like to stay still.

If you are not making a living at improv, then how do you make living?

I work in advertising.

It seems like you about achieved your goals with improv. How about your life goal?

I am struggling to commit to just one thing. I’d like to be the guy that makes a difference in something one day. I am still finding out what that thing is. I like change. And what is so cool about this place is that I can see people change, and I am happy to contribute to that.

You must know what your biggest wish is in this life. Your dream?

I want a waterfall of shoes. Hopefully some super rare sneakers.

Imagine that you can write a letter to future generations that will be opened and read 100 years from now. What message would you want to deliver to people of the future?

I would write a very poetic, heartfelt love letter to bacon double-cheese Whataburger and just express how I feel about it. And tell them, that if something in the world went wrong, it was from the moment of Whataburger going down and that they should not let anyone to tell them how their food should taste or how they should feel.

Are you from Dallas?

I was born in Louisiana, then I lived in Wisconsin, Arizona, Ohio, and Colorado, and now I can see myself living in Dallas for the rest of my life. I moved a lot while I was young. I played with the Globetrotters (basketball team/tricks show), and we went to visit and perform in 27 different countries back then. I am now going to travel to Singapore and Tokyo in a few weeks.

Adventurous.

That’s me.

How did you end up at DCH?

Once I moved to Dallas, to be close to my family, two of my friends from N.Y. and L.A. told me to try improv here, so I did. And I loved it. I was 24 back then. I am now almost 27.

Your birthday is coming up in October. Do you have a birthday wish?

I want to see Star Wars at midnight in L.A. with my friends.

So I guess "Star Wars or Star Trek?" would be a rhetorical question then?

I do like Star Trek, but the answer is definitely Star Wars.

I’ve learned a lot about you so far. If you were me, what question would you like me to ask you?

I would like you to ask me, what advice would I give to someone who just signed up for improv classes or is wondering if they should do so. I would tell them to stop coming up with excuses. There’s no risk. The worst thing that might ever happen is that you won’t like it. But if you do like it, the reward is tremendous.

Well, I think that some are just afraid to be embarrassed. Even though, you come here to be laughed at...

Being embarrassed is not fun. Everyone likes to be funny, but no one wants to take a risk. But no one was super great at anything for the first time. Here at DCH, you should know that your teammates are always holding your back. Knowing that you are surrounded by people that support you and care about you, isn’t that great?

That is awesome. And thank you for such a great conversation.

Thank you, and keep being bold in class.

You got it.

Iryna Spitzer is a writer and improviser. She is currently in Level 2 at DCH. Besides comedy, she likes drama (to balance it out), also flowers, children, animals, and world peace!  

Troupe Talk: Primary Colours

Primary Colours Fun fact for you from the Primary Colours interview editing “room”:

I’m editing this interview from the airport at the bar (because airports are for beer) drinking an IPA (because airports are for beer), and eating edamame. Edamame (for those that don’t know) is green. (…And airports are for beer.)

Interesting fact I learned interviewing Primary Colours about green: Yellow, red, and blue are the primary colors. And green. Because something about light.

Second fun fact for you from the Primary Colours interview editing “room”: I’m headed to my (unofficial) sweet home Chicago.

Interesting fact that relates to that, that I learned by interviewing Primary Colours: They are headed to Pittsburgh (soon) for the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival! And Ashley’s Grandma will be there!

Fun fact for you from the Primary Colours interview editing “room”: There is a really sweet looking Grandma sitting at a table nearby at the TGI Fridays

Totally unrelated fact that sort of has to do with my interview with Primary Colours: I really hope that is Ashley’s Grandma so I can rub it in all of their faces that I met her (and fed her a pierogi) first.

Friends, I happily present to you: Primary Colours!

Congrats on your acceptance to the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival! What are you most stoked about?

Ash: I'm stoked about us all [except Rob :(]  being on the same plane. Those poor other passengers. Also stoked about pierogies. And wedding soup. And hanging out with my grandma.

Tim: I’m stoked about meeting Ashley’s grandma and hand-feeding her a pierogi. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’ve read Pittsburgh is a pretty romantic city, so we’ll see what develops.

Sarah: I’m stoked about meeting Ashley’s grandma and holding her hand while gazing at the merging of the rivers. And going balls out with some of my best friends. And finally finding out what exactly Jerrell’s morning beauty routine is.

Jerrell: Thank you! I’m stoked about meeting Ashley’s grandma, all the food, and the actual plane ride. I loveeee plane rides. Or like, just the idea of plane rides. They make me feel accomplished.

Lindsay: I'm stoked about meeting Ashley's grandma and taking her to the observatory to gaze at the stars. And having a break from mom responsibilities. Unless someone needs a mom...

Rob: I’ve met one of Ashley’s grandma’s before, it was lovely. She snickered at dirty jokes. I’ve also heard that Pittsburgh is a city of romance, bridges, and silent H’s, so hopefully we’ll all get some of that. Sarah has a silent H, so that’s a neat coincidence.

Colten: I’m stoked about flying back all together with Ashley’s grandma. I love plane rides and grandmas.

Tell us about the form Primary Colours follows. What’s your style?

Ash: Form - the Harold. Style - Shenanigans.

Tim: I think Ashley said it all. However, I always think of our style as being pretty esoteric, as in, only really funny to us. I’m always a bit confused when people laugh at our shows, because I typically don’t expect people to find our ridiculous shit funny.

Sarah: I think Ashley and Tim said it all. Plus a lot of singing.

Lindsay: I think Ashley, Tim, and Sarah said it all. Plus a ton of support, no matter how crazy it gets.

Jerrell: It’s all been said, plus a lot of smiling and fart noises.

Rob: I think it’s all been covered except my favorite part of the show, which is when someone who’s never seen improv before leans over to the friend who brought them and says, “What’s happening?” loud enough for me to hear.

Colten: I think Harold had the best answer. He covered it all. It’s a Harold, that’s what we do. This is our style.

In Pittsburgh you’ll probably run into improvisers from other cities. What would you tell them is unique about the Dallas Comedy House?

Ash: I'd ask them if they've ever played hangers, but then I'd remember it no longer exists, so I'd mumble something about Tommy and tacos and amble away.

Tim: I’d tell them it’s an incredibly supportive and welcoming community, especially now that I’ve left.

Sarah: Ditto what Tim said. And we should bring back hangers.

Lindsay: I'll tell them that I still feel left out, because I never got to play hangers.

Jerrell: I would tell them all about hangers because it went off. And yeah, just how supportive our community is. It’s wonderful.

Rob: I’d probably corner Aubrey Plaza and spit some mad game for our coach, Tyler Via. I’m actually not going to Pittsburgh, but I can imagine it going something like this, “Hey, **head nod**” She’ll get the picture.

Colten: I’m going to make Tyler Via and Aubrey Plaza play hangers together, so he can explain to her that it was invented in Dallas.

Name something you love that’s the color of each of the three primary colors.

Ash: Well, PC East member Andre lectured us many times that green is a primary color of light (along with red and blue) and that red, yellow, and blue are primary colors of pigment. So, I just go with an overlapping four. But to answer your question: Blue - a nice, semi-cloudy night sky. Yellow - candied ginger. Red - a big, raw cut ruby I saw once and haven't forgotten. Green - dank memes.

Tim: Possibly the smartest, funniest person I’ve ever met pointed out that green is only a primary color in terms of light, and that pigment is different. So, I just want to be clear where I’m coming from and that I’m choosing the colors of fragmented light. But, to get to the point - blue - Amanda Austin’s eye shadow. Red - a scratch from a lil kitty cat. Green - dank memes.

Sarah: Dre-dre all day. Blue - a dark, blue suit that my dude wears that makes him look hella fine; Ashley’s light blue eyes; red - my DCH intern shirt; yellow - that one yellow shirt that Tim wears that is pretty much sheer; green - the tip of this onion that I let just grow outside my apartment for a few months, it was pretty scary but fascinating.

Lindsay: Blue - The New England Patriots uniforms. Yellow - The leaves in the fall in New England. Red - My first car, a Jetta that I drove until it fell apart 200,000 miles later. Green - A four-leaf clover.

Jerrell: Blue - The color of the Lost season 1 DVD set. Yellow - Pikachu. Red - Taylor Swift’s album. Green - Flubber.

Rob: Hi Andre, I hope you read this. Blue - Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber blade hue. Yellow - A type of fever. Red - the “what makes the red man red?” song from Peter Pan. “Why don’t you ask him, Howe?” lolz OK sorry. Green - “The Color of Money.”

Colten: Blue - the ocean. Yellow - Starburst. Red - record buttons. Green - (this goes out to Andre) spearmint flavored gum packages.

Primary Colours performs Friday, August 28, at the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival and regularly at the Dallas Comedy House.

Tori Oman is a Level Five student at DCH. She’s trained and performed with the Second City and iO in L.A. and Chicago. Favorite pastimes include being irrationally competitive at Monopoly, eating an apple in every country she’s traveled to, and being the sole person on this planet that thinks Necco Wafers are a delicious candy choice.

Troupe Talk: The Rift

The Rift This week, your favorite interviewer (Oprah and Ellen WHO) tackles some more team talk with the Dallas Comedy House home teams. Up this week is The Rift, who all wore hats to spill the beans about comedy, nerves, and each other.

You are all wearing hats for this interview! Thanks, Rift, for dressing up all fancy and wearing the hats! Describe for our readers what you’ve chosen:

David: Probably a baseball cap. Something pliable, non-descript and worn out. I picked this not because of any funny reason, but because I love realism above all else. Ashley: I've chosen a fancy lady, floppy church hat in lilac. It has a propeller atop for function. Zach: I'm wearing a boater festooned with patriotic ribbons and a "Vote for Taft!" button. Tim: A Mossy Oak camo snapback. Laurie: I am wearing a sombrero.

Congratulations on the Dallas Comedy Festival. Do you guys still get nervous when it’s time to go on stage? If so, how do you deal?

David: I tend to get stressed out for a show a couple of days or a week before it's set to happen as I fight through a mental battle of wanting to do well but also knowing that preparation of any sort leads to a terrible show. Come the day of the show, though, especially once I get in the green room and see some familiar faces, I'm good to go. Ashley: I used to get so nervous that my arms would go numb during shows. Now I just get excited without the bodily nervousness, but I do always have to pee before I go on stage. Always. Never fails. Am I allowed to say pee? Zach: Sure, I still get stage fright, every show. I just close my eyes and think of England. Tim: Yes, I get nervous. I recite the line from Dune about how fear is the mind killer, and then I remember how dumb that is and I try to get David to make me laugh. Laurie: Yes, everytime. I throw up in the shower.

The Rift is also a 2012 movie where "After radar anomalies start appearing all over the world, strange rifts are starting to form in the sky. There is something hiding behind these rifts. It's moving….” and a 1990 movie where "An experimental submarine, the Siren II, with a very experienced crew is sent to find out what happened to the Siren I, mysteriously disappeared in a submarine rift.” Are you guys also mysterious and creepy? What’s your comedy style?

David: I hope we're not mysterious and creepy! I'd like to think we're all pretty approachable. And I'd say our comedy style is just people that like each other getting together to do dumb stuff. Ashley: "An experimental submarine with a very experienced crew." I'm going to watch this movie now. I'm a fan of anything odd and unexpected. Zach: I would say our style lands somewhere between "elegant heiress with a secret" and "deranged sea captain holding a knife in his teeth.” Tim: I'm pretty creepy. I stare at people a lot. I'd call my personal comedy style "dumb" and "juvenile." I'm sure "purposely offensive" and "quasi-racist" could also apply at different times. Laurie: I have no idea what you’re talking about. So, very. Each one of us is so damn creepy. All of us together is a Hitchcock film on acid. Anything goes.

The Rift

So speaking of comedy— what are your favorite improv rules to apply in real life?

David: Actively listening. Also a fan of the conversational callback. Ashley: Actively engage in the moment and listen. Like, actually listen so hard that you can't hear your own thoughts. Zach: "Don't spit on anyone.” Tim: Repeat the last thing said to you in your head, and don't bring a preconceived notion of how things should go to a new conversation. Laurie: Stay out of your head.

The Rift took turns saying something nice about everyone in the group. Here’s what happened when I meshed together all the nice things they said about each other.

David is: a sublime and rationally wit gentleman with a warm smile that knows how to cardigan himself. His brain used to take up an entire room at MIT but has since been streamlined. Tim is: a zany, relevant, and sneaky brain. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were standing right behind me. Zach is: very present and energetic—probably an ancient god who hopped into a mortal body just to try out modern American life. He has mysterious, old world charm mixed with sexual napalm—an orgasmic waterfall for the female audience member. Cameron is: a smooth, detailed performer who plays the reality of the most absurd. He smells like fluffy pancakes, rocks a well-groomed mustache, and has all the merriment of a drunk elf, with twice the sexual prowess. Laurie is: full of brassy energy and fun to watch—hotter than a firework fuse. She would do great in a knife fight. She brings the LOLs. Rob is: A living beacon of kindness and comedy. Average height, above average personality—he's patient, a great listener, extremely smart—the strictest definition of a cool man. Ashley is: great, organic, versatile—a master of interaction betwixt humans. She makes Mother Teresa look like a fart,and has a giggle better than all the bluebonnets in Texas.

The Rift perform at the Dallas Comedy House on April 24 at 10:30 p.m. with Photobomb.

Tori Oman is a level three student at DCH. She’s trained and performed with the Second City and iO in L.A. and Chicago. Favorite pastimes include being irrationally competitive at Monopoly, eating an apple in every country she’s traveled to, and being the sole person on this planet that thinks Necco Wafers are a delicious candy choice.

(Photos: Jason Hensel)

What We're Loving: Exclusive Meals, Old TV Formats, Illusions

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Ashley Bright eats well, David Allison puts up with dancing, and Amanda Hahn visits the world of illusion. 1357889532_franklogotranspFood really resonated with me this week. I had one of the best meals of my life and now I'm going to tell you about it, mostly so that I can re-live it as I type.  In fact, I was so detailed in my re-living of the meal that my first draft of this piece was almost 400 words and I had only made it through the amuse-bouche and the first course.  How can I only hit the highlights if the whole meal was so bright? I'll try.  FRANK Underground is a private dining experience where you sign up to be on the invite list, get invited, sign up again, get on a lottery for that week's meal, and hope to be chosen.  We've been signing up for the past few months and finally got picked.  (By we, I mean good pals and fellow DCHers, Rob and Mariam.)   Days before our dinnertime, they emailed us the secret(ish) location and revealed the menu: "con gusto."  So, I had about four days to periodically look at the menu and drool over it.  Cut to  evening.  That night's location was in a loft at Adam Hat's.  Walking into the loft, there was a giant window giving a perfect view of Dallas Comedy House.  I'd never seen its roof before.  The chefs were plugging away at the meal in the homey kitchen.  All fourteen or so of the diners were asked to sit at the long table built by one of the chef's from salvaged barn wood. The chefs told us the story of the table and FRANK's conception; and they also explained that this Mexican inspired menu is one they've been wanting to do since they started two years ago.  Our first course included huitlacoche or as Americans call it 'corn smut.'  Don't google it, it is very unappetizing.  But it is so very delicious when stuffed inside of a squash blossom.  In our third course, there was an egg cooked at 63.5 degrees for an hour.  It was like no egg I've ever had before.  The yolk was the same texture as the white.  Absolutely incredible.  Okay, I could easily write a novella on this meal.  Please come ask me about it, so I can describe every bite and sip to you with insane detail.  Please.  I haven't even told you about the dessert yet. - Ashley Bright

The Maya Rudolph ShowThe variety show is back! This past week, The Maya Rudolph Show debuted on NBC, finally ushering in the return of one of my favorite television show formats. I love variety shows, their combination of comedy, music, dance, and overall show polish makes for a really enjoyable viewing experience. Now I understand that some of you aren’t dorks and may not be as familiar with what the general structure of such a special is, but fret not, I’m gonna help introduce you to what a variety show looks like. Also, I’ll let you know how The Maya Rudolph Show did in regards to each of these tropes, just in case you weren’t part of the 2.2 they pulled.

Trope 1- Tone I’m sure there was some bullshit Greecian theatre example of a dramatic variety show, but any successful one nowadays is going to be light, upbeat, and fun. Also, the humor is very specific, many times arising from quick banter back and forth between the players or audience interaction. Check out this clip of The Smothers Brothers on The Judy Garland Show to see what I’m talking about. The Maya Rudolph Show did pretty well with this in general, but she could really use a full time sidekick to bounce dialogue off of.

Trope 2- Dancing Ugh. So much dancing. Honestly, this is the part that I care the least about because dancing is boring. Generally speaking, it’s part of a variety show because old people find it graceful. In fact, I can only think of two examples of funny dancing, one is the classic bit “Fat guy is fat but watch out, he can get down!” and the other being the would be the way Rudolph danced on her program this past week. With that said, it’s become so ingrained in what a variety show is that it can’t be eliminated. The Maya Rudolph Show featured some dancing, but that was mostly because of the talents of Sean Hayes who, by the way, should be on every episode.

Trope 3- Celebrity Special Guests The only thing better than watching a famous person host an hour of television is watching a famous person host an hour of television with their famous friends! Mostly, these other celebrities come in the form of featured players that guest star in the sketches. It’s much like Saturday Night Live except it’s almost always self deprecating or physical (Example: “Ha ha, look at this oversized hat I’m wearing!”). Occasionally you’ll see a musical guest like The Maya Rudolph Show did in Janelle Monae’s performance, but most of the time the special guest either acts in the sketches or does stand up. You gotta keep the funny train moving. Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg, Sean Hayes, Chris Parnell, Kristen Bell, and Craig Robinson dropped by the set on the Maya Rudolph show, so they more than filled the celebrity quotient.

Trope 4- Music Any variety show worth it’s salt must have a few musical numbers. There has to be an upbeat opener featuring lots of singing, which The Maya Rudolph Show definitely included with the opening number and a closing number that is more somber and heart felt. My favorite play on the closer comes from Paul F. Tompkins’ variety show, with his stirring rendition of “Skyfall.” On The Maya Rudolph Show this week, they ended with this great lullabye featuring her and Chris Parnell.

At the end of the day, not only did The Maya Rudolph Show nail pretty much every trope, it did so in a refreshing way. I really hope this gets ordered to series, but I’d take any variety show at this point. Except this one. - David Allison

HahnI spent the beginning of this week at a Vision Sciences Society conference. It’s an annual meeting where a bunch of graduate students, professors, and researchers get to together by a beach in Florida. We mainly go to get tan, but we also present and discuss research relating to all things vision. As part of the conference, there is a Best Illusion of the Year Contest. It’s a one-night event where contestants present their illusions, and the audience votes for the best one. It was personally special to me this year because my lovely friend and former lab-mate at Rice University, Kimberley Orsten, was presenting an illusion of her own (and won 3rd place!). Kim’s is a simple one, but it’s also one of the more fun ones to watch. I’ve watched the little roads move back and forth for what feels like hours now. Plus, hers and the rest of the illusions in the contest come with short explanations of why they are able to fool you (fair warning: some descriptions are better than others). The explanations are my favorite part because illusions can teach you so much about how the visual system works. That’s what I love about seeing these illusions presented live, right in my face, by vision scientists at the contest. They present the illusions, induce “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd, and then tell you why you saw what you saw. It makes learning about your visual system even more interesting (take notes, Miss Frizzle). Even if you aren’t a vision nerd, they’re just fun to look at. So if you want to see research’s latest mind tricks and learn a little something about why you see what you see in everyday life, pop on over to the Best Illusion of the Year website and view the top ten illusions. (Kim’s is the road one). Have fun, and find me later to let me know if any of them made you say “whoaaa.”- Amanda Hahn