Robin Williams

Better Call It Drama

Better Call Saul People who can make me laugh are my absolute favorite. Obviously, if laughing wasn’t my thing, I wouldn’t be at Dallas Comedy House learning improv. It’s through said learning, though, that is making it more evident to me just how talented, and multi-faceted, comedians are. And maybe most importantly, I’m learning that it’s not always just about the joke or the laugh.

I love Better Call Saul. I really love Better Call Saul. Maybe it’s a bit obsessive how much I love it, but I have a tendency to become a smidge obsessed with things like TV shows, films, music, podcasts – all of it. Via social media, I communicate primarily in gifs from my favorite aspects of pop culture due to said obsessions, if that helps you paint a more accurate picture of my infatuation with all things arts and entertainment.

The second season of the AMC show just started on February 15 and follows everyone’s favorite “morally-flexible” lawyer, Saul Goodman’s, transformation from Slippin’ Jimmy to his character in the wildly successful and beloved Breaking Bad. But, if I’m being honest, I love Better Call Saul because of Bob Odenkirk.  

Comedy fans will know Bob from Mr. Show, a sketch show also featuring David Cross that aired on HBO in the mid to late 1990s. Odenkirk also served as a writer on Saturday Night Live (SNL) for many years following his time at The Second City Chicago, writing sketches for Chris Farley (Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker, anyone?) and working alongside Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel. In more recent years, Bob and David released a four-episode sketch show for Netflix, W/ Bob & David, that followed a similar structure as Mr. Show but, as both comedians suggest, is completely different.

With such a background in comedy, it’s impressive to watch Odenkirk in Better Call Saul because it’s such a dramatic role featuring such a complex character. I’m not by any means suggesting that comedic characters can’t also be complex but Jimmy McGill, as well as many of the other Saul characters, really dives headfirst into the deep end. Sure, Better Call Saul will make you laugh but I don’t think the show can exactly be classified a comedy.

While it was mentioned following the first episode of the season during Talking Saul (Yes, like, Talking Dead but about Better Call Saul, also hosted by Chris Hardwick), watching Better Call Saul really makes me think about how many comedians are able to step into very dramatic roles and completely nail it. Maybe this doesn’t quite seem out of the ordinary but how many dramatic actors are able to be really, really funny? A few, but not as many.

What About Bob

Comedians make the jump often and they make it memorable. Bill Murray, a household name in comedy, known for roles in classics like Caddyshack, multiple Wes Anderson films, and my personal favorite since I was a kid (I have no idea why), What About Bob? It was with Lost in Translation that we really got to see Murray’s versatility and ability to do something, and be someone, completely different. Kristen Wiig, another SNL favorite who, thank goddess, brought us Bridesmaids, shines in Welcome to Me and The Skeleton Twins. You can Google this very topic and find list after list of comedians who kill sans jokes, but I can’t bear to leave out Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, Steve Carell in, well, take your pick, Foxcatcher, The Big Short, just to name a few.

Kristen Wiig Skeleton Twins

It’s undeniably exciting to watch a person, a person who inspires you yourself to be funny, no matter who that may be, a person who makes you laugh and is, at times, ridiculously silly, make you also angry, cry, cry happy tears or even be afraid, for them or of them. Or, at least, it’s exciting to me.

So, if anyone needs me for the next several Monday evenings, you can find me glued to my TV, rooting for Jimmy and Kim, watching him become Saul, drinking wine, and unintelligibly live-tweeting Better Call Saul like, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh #BetterCallSaul!!! 39 minutes in and I'm already losing my sh*t. So good. @mrbobodenkirk is the best.”* 

*Actual (censored) tweet from my actual (uncensored) Twitter account.

Megan Radke is currently a Level 3 student at DCH. She is a copywriter and social media manager by day and an essayist and mediocre musician by night. She is a constant consumer of books, music, film, and all things comedy. She is also great at racking up copious amounts of credit card debt with spur-of-the-moment travel.

Redeeming Features: "The Birdcage"

Welcome to Redeeming Features. The blog where I (poorly) review movies that are underappreciated, underrated or under the radar, in hopes of convincing you to give them a second chance. The BirdcageThis week, we have a little change of taste. Instead of your typical Hollywood bank buster, we have a delightful little ditty, originally written for stage and adapted for the screen. I should also probably preface that this film, while it did VERY well in its gayday, is still relatively unknown; especially among my unfortunate generation. (read: whippersnappers.)

*rolls eyes; puts on an Aqua cassette*

So, let’s take off our clothes and open the closet door to this week’s flick – The Birdcage, starring, well, a butt load of people. You see, lately we’ve been covering some of my favorite plot-driven flicks; but now, it’s all about that face. And those faces are (take a deep breath): Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Dan Futterman, Ally McBeal, Hank Azaria, and Christine Baranski. So many actors, not enough screen time. But they all play their characters perfectly.

And since we have such a strong, character-driven film, I’d like to review a little differently. I’mma hit it and quit it with a little synopsis of each main character, served with a side of snark, and wrapped up with a delicious little plot outline that I think you’ll find both tasty and interesting. But will undoubtedly (hopefully*) leave you wanting more.

Up first, Armand Goldman (Robin Williams). Armand is a gay man who owns a popular drag nightclub in South Miami obviously called, The Birdcage. In The Birdcage, The Birdcage is the centerpiece of the entire film, and in a lot of ways, is a character in and of itself. But I digress. Armand is an openly gay man, but edges more on the side of “masculine,” which will reveal itself later in the film. He manages the club’s day-to-day, while night-to-night he manages the club’s leading talent: his long-time partner and confidant, Albert.

Albert Goldman (Nathan Lane) is The Birdcage’s No. 1 drag star. Star lighting as Starina, Albert is, in the words of my East Texas relatives, “gayer than the day is long.” But boy is he adorable. And, if we’re being honest, does one hell of a John Wayne impersonation.

Manic in nature, Albert brings as much passion to the stage as he does compassion for his family. Dancing around his true self, in every effort to protect “his” and Armand’s son, Val.

Val (Dan Futterman) is the teenage “son” of Armand and Albert. Well, technically he’s just Armand’s biological son, made with his biological mother, Katherine Archer (Christine Baranski). But Albert loves him as his own. And, TECHNICALLY, Val is not passing as teenaged. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot, but man is annoying when casting directors try to play off a man with visibly noticeable two-oclock shadow as a young chicken. Val, on break from university, visits his parents to introduce them to his new fiance, Ally McBeal. Yeah, I said introduce. They eloped like the stars of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.”

Ally McBeal (Barbara Keeley [Calista Flockhart]) is Val’s super OMG totes presh little angel fiancé. Ally and Val come home to Miami to meet the parents, and in a not-so-polite manner, let them know last minute that her parents will actually be joining them. Her parents, of course, are Ohio Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman) and Mrs. Keeley (Dianne Wiest). Hmmmm, I wonder if her traditional Republican upbringing will cause any shenanigans. Hmmmmmmmm. HMMMMM.

Senator Keeley (Gene Hackman), caught in the throws of a political partner’s underage sex scandal, seeks hideaway in the most seemingly surreptitious spot – gay ole Miami, Flo-Rida. He and Mrs. Keeley agree to head down the banana belt, operating under the impression that Val’s parents are the COLEmans. The COLEmans hail from Greece; Armand, a cultural attaché and Val’s mother, an ordinary housewife living a normal Ohio-approved life only taking breaks from her womanly duties when the “maid” fills in.

The “maid,” Agador Spartacus (Hank Azaria), is… honestly, too much for words. You’ll have to just see this Gloria-Estefan-singing, soup-ruining, short-short wearing prince in all his hairlessly immaculate glory.

Phew. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s top this synopsis sundae with a real cherry of a plot.

(Takes a much bigger breath than earlier) Drag nightclub owner’s definitely not teenaged son brings Ally McBeal home to meet the gay parents with aforementioned McBeal’s super Republican politician parents in toe. And if that’s not entertaining enough for you, it’s got drag queens, drag kings, drag teens, main drags, dame drags, drag scenes, drag in drag, drag on drag, and even dragon drag. To the say the least, The Birdcage does not drag its glittery heels jumping into the drag.

All I can say is: if you like drag, you’ll love The Birdcage. Also if you like quick banter, seamlessly interwoven character stories, countless movie trope parodies, or just wanna see Robin Williams and Nathan Lane play out their adorably opposite and precociously perfunct relationship. Which, who doesn’t?

TL; DR – a gay club owner and his drag Queen agree to put on a false front for their son’s fiancée's right-wing father and mother.

Cody Tidmore is a Level Two sketch student at DCH. He’s been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Seeing it all – the good, the bad, even the ugly. And when it comes to annoyingly working movie quotes into regular conversation, he’s the reel deal.

Con Fair

By Mike Corbett Look, we all could use a break after the last week, right? We lost a comedy genius in Robin Williams, under incredibly disheartening circumstances, parts of Missouri look like a warzone every night thanks to overly militarized police, and now, unfortunately, top it all off, we’ve lost the voice of Saturday Night Live, with the passing of Don Pardo.   Really just a rough week all around, and certainly not one that is generating easily mocked news stories.

So, in lieu of my usual current events focused piece, I’d like to instead take this article in a completely ribald direction and examine one of the great mysteries I’ve come across in my life time. The year was 2012, I’d been living in Dallas for six months, and was attending the highly regarded Texas State Fair for the first time. I had heard many stories about the fair, and what a spectacle it was, so I had to see it for myself. Before I even set foot in Fair Park, its reputation for being a spectacle was confirmed with the sad passing of Big Tex. I was sure nothing could top a giant mechanical cowboy fire, but I went attended anyways, to see what other wonders the fair might hold. It didn’t take long for those wonders to be revealed, and just an hour into my trip, while walking through the Midway, I came across it…

Behold: THE MAJESTY!

That is, as far as I can tell, a carnival ride featuring a massive airbrushed picture of Cameron Powe, the character Nicolas Cage portrayed in 1997 blockbuster Con Air. Now, even as an avid Nicolas Cage fan, I could not believe that any carnival ride manufacturer would have made a Con Air themed ride, even at the height of that film’s popularity. Upon further inspection, you can tell that it is definitely not themed after Con Air, and in fact, the giant sized Cameron Powe is the only reference to the movie. Look closely and you can see that the rest of the ride seems to be themed in a Heavy Metal-esque sci-fi fashion, making the inclusion of a massive air brushed Nicolas Cage even stranger.

Years have passed since that visit to the fair, but questions regarding that ride still haunt me. Was Nicolas Cage just a random inclusion into the ride’s mural? Was the artist just given free reign, and happened to love his work? Or did someone give him very clear instructions to airbrush a ten foot tall Nicolas Cage on the side of a carnival ride? If that’s the case, are there others out there? Is there a Himalaya out in some parking lot carnival proudly displaying a torch wielding Benjamin Franklin Gates from National Treasure? Maybe there’s one of those lame motorcycle carousels featuring artwork from Cage’s star turns in Ghost Rider and Drive Angry! The possibilities are only constrained by Nic’s IMDB page.

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m desperate to find out. I love Mr. Cage’s work the same way he himself loves pachinko, but I know when I’ve been bested. If there’s a Cage megafan out there that has devoted his life to airbrushing pictures of his idol into seemingly random places, then I would like to tip my hat to him. From a safe distance of course; Cage stalkers have already proven to be a particularly…eccentric lot, I really don’t want to get to close. If this Cage loving airbrush artiste does exist, I’d also love to see his van, which I’m sure is emblazoned with something like this:

The Greatest Film That Never Was

As a reminder, the Texas State Fair kicks off September 26th and runs through October 19th, just down the street from Dallas Comedy House at Fair Park.  You can see this ride and eat anything from a fried corn dog to a fried boot during these three amazing weeks.

Mike Corbett is a level 3 sketch writing student at the DCH Training Center. He's also an intern for the DCH Blog. You can find more of Mike's comedy stylings HERE. 

#Ashtag Week 4: We've All Eaten Bugs

Let's jump right into what you've been waiting all week for: I have been playing Kim Kardashian:Hollywood on my phone. It's terrible. Honestly. But I cannot stop. I am at war with this game. First of all, I refuse to spend any actual money on it. Have I watched video ads to earn money and/or energy in the game? Yes. Have I downloaded other apps and/or games to earn money and/or energy in the game? Yes. Have I spent any real life, real world money? No. Kim Kardashian, you may take my time, but you cannot have my money. Okay, look, I'm a fairly dudely chick in most aspects of my life. Most people that know me will attest that to be true. But I enjoy make-up and hair and all of that razzamatazz. I'll admit it: I enjoy buying clothes and dressing my stupid avatar up in this game. I do not enjoy that whatever hair color choice you make is also assigned to the brows. Blonde hair must be accompanied by yellow brows. So my avatar is brunette. The game consists of doing appearances and photo shoots to earn points, stars, and money to make your way up from the E-list of celebritydom. You must have energy to earn. I was recently given a tip by a real-life pal who had ascended all the way to the A-list, without spending real life-money. And with his tip, I've made it to the C-list. Now that I've written this paragraph, I feel like I'm free to stop playing. But I'm not gonna. I'm gonna keep on playing; for I almost have enough money to buy my second home in Miami. Gotta level up so I can buy a new purse!

One of this week's top viewed videos on YouTube is titled "Teens React to Saved By The Bell (25th Anniversary)," and just like last week's videos, the title spells out exactly what happens here. This video includes guest teen, Maisie Williams, who plays Arya on Game of Thrones. She made a sad faced reaction to the infamous "I'm so excited, I'm so scared" Jesse Spano clip. She also chose Zack Morris over A.C. Slater. Arya picking Zack Morris is a sweet victory for child me. This was a hotly contested debate between my little sister and me back in 1994. She was always a fan of A.C. Slater, and she was always wrong. Arya Stark says so.

A battle that will never be truly settled…A.C. Slater vs Zach Morris.

The top hashtag this week comes from the UK: #mtvhottest, which is a voting system to determine this summer's hottest star. One Direction is currently in the lead with Demi Lovato and Lady Gaga duking it out to be the top lady. I know of some Lady Gaga tunes. I even know some lyrics. And I've heard of Demi Lovato. While I've heard of One Direction, I could not identify a song for you. I'm certain that I've heard one, just as I'm sure that I've accidentally eaten a lot of bugs in my life.

I just went over to YouTube to search for One Direction's top song, and then watched "What Makes You Beautiful." For the first thirty seconds, I did not recognize it. I cheerily thought to myself, "maybe this means I haven't eaten bugs after all." Then the chorus chimed in and I knew the tune. I guess we all know what that means: bugs.

To end on a somber note, Robin Williams is unfortunately a top search due to his untimely passing. The man had such an incredible impact on so many of our lives. Even at his most silly and hyperactive, he exposed such a vulnerable side of himself. I recently watched Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King starring Williams and Jeff Bridges. It made me cry, but it also left me pretty happy and hopeful. It's streaming on Netflix and I recommend it, if you're watching Robin Williams' flicks this week to memorialize him. Though, maybe the best way to honor him is to remember that everyone struggles; no matter how brave a face they put on for the rest of the world. Be kind and remember that you're not alone.

Ashley Bright is a graduate of the improv program at the DCH Training Center and a level 2 sketch writing student. She's an intern for the DCH blog and can be seen performing at DCH every weekend.

What We're Loving: Other People's Mix CDs, Dream Composing, Non-Educational Educational Shows, Failures of Language

image (1)Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison rescues dying media, Ashley Bright welcomes whimsy into the world, Amanda Hahn discovers comedy that speaks to her, and Ryan Callahan finds improv lessons in an unlikely place. 

Used-CDs When it comes to buying used media I always strive to be aware of the market.  I’m like the Jim Cramer of thrifted content.  For the longest time, the best value in this realm was, obviously, VHS tapes.  The medium had an eight year run of being the best bang for your buck if you wanted some cheap entertainment.  That’s no longer the case as the continued march of time has rendered many VHS players useless and many VHS tapes dated.  It’s the end of an era.  So what are you, as a consumer, supposed to do?  Where do we as a society go from here?  I’m here today to issue some direction; used CDs are a BUY BUY BUY.

Recently, I spent very little money on a handful of CDs from a local resale shop and have been reaping the benefits ever since.  But David, why?  To me, used CDs are an excellent opportunity for entertainment because you have a chance to listen to them everyday (In your car) and their availability litters the shelves of every thrift store.  Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the content isn’t streaming
    • You probably have a subscription to a service like Spotify or Slacker that allows you to stream most music on the go.  If you see something you like on the shelf, check to make sure it’s not streaming. I don’t want to see you waste your money!  I recently made this mistake with the soundtrack to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.  I’m a dummy.
  • Soundtracks are a hidden goldmine
    • I went over this in detail last month herehere, and here.
  • Mix CDs are the best
    • I know we all loved a good mix cd (Or mix tape if you’re like a billion years old). You can find people’s personal CD-RWs at most thrift stores.  They are definitely hit or miss, but that’s why we buy stuff used, we’re all chasing the magical dragon of a good value.

Since I’ve gone on my recent CD buying spree (I’ve purchased five CDs in 2014 alone, which places me in the top 1% of CD purchasers) I’ve discovered that I really enjoy Taylor Hicks, Space Jam’s soundtrack belongs in the pantheon of all time greats, and that music producers in 2008 thought that autotune fixed EVERYTHING. They were wrong.  Learn these lessons and more by joining me in making 2014 the year of the CD! - David Allison

BluebearI don't get enough whimsy in my life. So, this week I finally started reading Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. Years ago, I read and immensely enjoyed Moers' The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear. I'm actually going to tell you more about Bluebear because I've yet to make a significant dent in the nearly 700-page Rumo. We first meet Bluebear when he's tiny and floating in a walnut shell precariously close to a whirlpool. He is saved by tiny Minipirates, but is left on his own when he outgrows their ship. He learns to the art of speech by some talking waves, the Babbling Billows. In one of my favorite of his 13 1/2 lives, Bluebear finds himself in the head of a giant and lands a job of a 'dream composer' to keep the giant's brain occupied. He makes his way out of the head and into Atlantis, where he makes his way to be the King of Lies and keeps his title for a year. The King of Lies is a Congladiator tournament in a colosseum, where instead of fighting, the congladiators much weave fictional stories to the audience and the audience crowns a winner. Bluebear encounters the character Rumo on his travels. Making Rumo the Mork to Bluebear's Happy Days. These books do ring of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but feel a little less sardonic. If you're a fan of Douglas Adams, fantasy, Vonnegut, or just good stories, I encourage you to give a world created by Moers a go. - Ashley Bright

BlastoffI love learning and school. I love it so much that being a professor is my #1 dream job. I also love comedy. Being a comedian is my #1.1 dream job. So what did my friend recently recommend to me that combines both learning and funny? Professor Blastoff! I’ve only listened to the first episode of this podcast so far, but I’m already hooked. It’s hosted by her-great-goddess-of-comedy-forever Tig Notaro, along with Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger. The three of them talk science, philosophy, math, theology – whatever interests them, under the premise that a Professor R.L. Blastoff used to host a radio show in the 1940s in the basement of Kyle’s house. He got transported into another dimension (I don’t remember why, and it doesn’t matter). Now the three of them are filling in until Professor Blastoff comes back. I didn’t learn anything new from the episode I listened to, but I didn’t care. The three of them are friends (Tig and Kyle are BFFLs and writing partners), and it really comes through in their interactions. They ask each other questions, share what they know, and joke around (they’re just like us!). I felt like a fly on the wall of a funny person’s living room. If you like talking about stuff that interests you but don’t know much about with your friends, you will love this podcast. They have guests every week, and the next episode features Nick Offerman talking about bees. I doubt I’ll learn anything meaningful about bees, but I’m sure I’ll have a blast (get it?!) listening to the four of them muse and wonder about them. - Amanda Hahn

51xUIEAv0aLKate returns to her typewriter from time to time. She writes memories, anecdotes, observations. She makes and misses connections, struggles to remember and express her thoughts. She goes mad. She might be the last woman on Earth. This is the plot, in its entirety, of David Markson’s brilliant novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

Like all of Markson’s later works (Reader’s Block, This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel) Wittgenstien’s Mistress is told entirely in a series of one to two sentence paragraphs, without chapter breaks or time stamps or any indication of where we are. Yet the story draws in the reader with its cyclical structure, looping around and around the same themes, the same stories, the same moments, each time adding an element or introducing a new detail.

The themes are the themes of humanity: disease, madness, and the consistent inability of language to communicate what we truly mean to say. This book is a must read for those who love literature, those interested in philosophy, and, most importantly, those who study improv.

Like a great long-form improv show, Wittgenstein’s Mistress relies on patterns, connection, callbacks to create a fully formed whole out of a series of seemingly disparate parts. Every statement is an opportunity for exploration. Simple anecdotes evolve into complex games. Scenes 100 pages apart mirror each other. The end is in the beginning. - Ryan Callahan