Scriven Bernard

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

Pump It Up: Boosting Show Energy

Photobomb A show's energy level is one of the most critical pieces to its success. Unfortunately, not all shows boast the vigor of the self-fueling gut-busters we call our favorites. We’ve all experienced low-energy shows. As performers, we blame fate for waning energy and resort to throwing band-aids on our performances. We scream through rounds of "Eights," aggressively forcing eye contact with each other until someone has a heart attack and someone else cries and flees the green room. In the end, we give up and fling our anxious selves onto the stage to try to make the best of it.

While fate does play a role in the outcome of a show, there are lots of ways we can help to improve the flow of energy before the show even starts. Energy is complicated and comes from several different sources. Learn to identify these energy sources and apply some basic improv rules to them, and you’ll spare your future shows the misfortune of lethargy.

Establish Your Framework With a Routine!

You begin setting the energy of a show with your personal routine. The amount of sleep you get, the quality of your diet, and the number of Robusts you pound at the bar all impact the level of energy you bring with you. Poor habits dull our wits and inhibit our senses.

If your routine could use improvement, it can’t hurt to start making some changes. However, sudden drastic changes can stress your body and make the problem worse. Consistency is key. Make small, sustainable changes like getting to bed early or eating your first vegetable. Work your way toward getting a full night’s rest, eating well-balanced meals, and hydrating properly. When you do have a show with killer energy, take a retrospective glance at your routine leading up to it and do your best to replicate those practices.

Create a personal pre-show ritual. On the way to your show, listen to your favorite high-energy music like Britney Spears or Slayer, or a light, fun podcast. Anything that keeps you out of your head and amplifies your energy will work.

Focus on the Relationship With Your Troupe Mates!

Proper group-minding requires more effort than struggling through a frustrating game of "Mind Meld" three minutes before your show starts. You need the memories, trust, and inside jokes we get from hanging out with each other outside of practices to form a true group mind. Plan to eat dinner, grab a beer, or frolic through a meadow in the nude between practices. When you’re not together, keep communication open. Text each other, share YouTube videos, or Photoshop each troupe member’s head onto the body of a different mythological creature and caption the photo with defamatory allegations.

Before your show, get pumped about it! Tell each other how excited you are and advertise the show on social media. When you meet up at the theater, empower each other with that same enthusiasm. You’re about to have fun with your friends on stage. Channel that passion and make each other laugh. Just as we teach in classes, match each other. Energy is contagious, so let loose and be crazy.

Try to meet up as early as you can before your show to shake out the stress of the day and reconnect with your troupe mates. Rushing into a show from something else causes our tiny human brains to panic and keeps you from being able to focus sufficiently.

Choose the warm-ups that bring you the most joy as a group. The objective of a warm-up is to get on the same page and motivate yourselves before the show. Energy doesn’t come from screaming at each other or whoosh-bang-powing yourselves into bewilderment. It comes from trusting each other and letting the energy you’ve each stored up individually combine into something beautiful.

Sketch1

Heighten Your Show – Involve the Tech!

Teching is one of the most overlooked parts of any show. The tech is as much a part of the show as any member of the troupe. The music played beforehand and the timing of the edits directly alter the vitality and stamina of the show.

You know what it feels like to be in your head during a scene. Edits and support moves become increasingly difficult to execute. You see so many wonderful opportunities for edits, but you’re thinking so much that you stay glued to the side and miss opportunities. Techs do this, too! We get in our heads about our edits, because we’re worried about making the best and smartest move for your show.

Help the tech get out of his or her head! Bring the tech in for a warm-up, dance in the tech booth before the show starts, tell them you’ve got their back and know that he or she’s got yours.

Support the Audience!

Even if you work on all of the above until your troupe brims with levity, a crabby audience can suck it all right back out.

The opportunities for us to enhance audience energy start when customers walk through the door of the theater. They’ve already chosen to go out and have a good time, so they’re excited and ready to laugh. Elevating that energy even higher doesn’t take all that much work.

When you’re hanging out in the lobby between shows, say hello to strangers! Show them how loving and uplifting the community can be. Let them see how much we cherish the privilege of our involvement at the theater.

Also, catch your friends’ shows! There’s nothing like an audience of performers to show a crowd how to enjoy themselves. Plus, laughter and applause from fellow performers carries a bit more weight than that of strangers learning to distinguish improv from stand-up comedy.

Energy flows up the chain. Start at the lowest end of the chain and apply as much energy as you can, then keep boosting the energy as it travels further up the chain. If you start with little or no energy, it’s very difficult to boost it to that explosive state that we see during our favorite shows. Understand the elements that influence that energy flow and work to consistently improve the way you approach them. And above all, have fun. That’s what this is all about.

Scriven Bernard is a performer, tech, TA, and all-around fun guy. He works full-time as an implementation manager for a software company that focuses on driving corporate social responsibility. He enjoys running, reading, singing, dancing, and intentionally breaking the vacuum cleaner so that he doesn't have to clean the house. You can catch him at a Jam or an open mic or see him performing with the troupes Your Neighbor Karl, Coiffelgänger, Ununited Nations, and Tabooze.

Troupe Talk: Coiffelganger

Coiffelganger There are two qualities that make for a great improv troupe: A fanatical commitment to support one’s teammates and a robust sense of play. Add in prodigious amounts of comfortability with each other, great heads of hair, and the title of “King of the Mountain,” and you’ve got yourself Coiffelganger. Coiffelganger (Scriven Bernard, Danny Neely, Patrick Hennessy, Cody Hofmockel, and Connor Posey) is full of big coifs and even bigger personalities. When it comes to successful improv, these five will tell you that it’s all about the comradery, the fun, and making those moments where everything seems to magically click on stage...also some pre-show got-your-front dick taps help, too.

Congrats on your reign as King of the Mountain, Coiffelganger! First, how did you guys get together?

Connor: Firstly, thank you. Secondly, I don't quite recall how this group came to be. I was walking around Deep Ellum one lovely evening, when all of the sudden I felt a blunt object hit the back of my head. I awoke in the back of an unmarked van in a vat of Billy Jealousy Hair Styling Putty flanked by Danny, Scriven, Patrick and Cody. We scheduled our first practice then and there. Cody: Um...we met...here... Danny: OK, I’ll take the reins then. I think we all met at the jams mostly. That’s how we got to know each other certainly. The first time I met Scriven was at a jam. And I was in a scene with Pat, and he fake slapped me. Then I told him to real slap me after that scene. Cody: I just feel most comfortable talking to people who look like me. Patrick: I met Scriven, the first time, walking down the street outside of DCH, and I think we both started talking about energy drinks. That was just like a passing meeting, though. But later on, a Level 1 student confused me and Scriven for each other, and I just went with it. That’s actually the origin of our name. Scriven: Our hairstyles always got confused for each other, and we always joked about it. So, we picked other people with similar hairstyles and we all had fun playing together. Danny: I did have a similar hairstyle, but I think I just got a pity invite because I wasn’t in any troupes at the time. Cody: Dany was totally a pity move. We felt bad for him, seeing him struggle as a new person. He’s definitely our weakest member. Scriven: But, he’s also our richest. Patrick: In friendship.

Could you briefly describe how one could achieve the "coif" look?

Connor: Frankly, I think I have the seediest hairstyle in the group, so I'm not the best person to give coif advice. I put product in my hair, and then I hang my head out the window on the way to work. Bam. Scriven: Easy, I just stand behind a unicorn and let it shit rainbows in my hair. And just poof, done! Danny: I wash my hair every day. Sometimes, I’ll just let my natural grease build up over the course of a day. Cody: I’d have to disagree with Danny on that because I don’t think one day is enough to let your natural greases build up. I’m actually fond of the no-poo movement. Sometimes, I’ll just wash with conditioner in order to keep my hair’s natural oils, and then I can just basically use my hands for the coif. I’m a pretty greasy guy. Patrick: I’m not...I think mine always looks better on the second day. Because it gets kind of roughed up a little bit and then you kind of hand shape it back into place. Cody: How do I achieve the coif? I would say with my hands.

Coiffelganger

Tell us a little about Coiffelganger’s performance style. What form do you follow?

Connor: What the hell is a form? But no, seriously, we don't have a set form. Our recently adopted coach, the brilliant David Allison, told us that for a show as loosely structured as ours, we should think of it as having three beats over the course of the show. I thought that was apt advice. So something like a montage with three beats and lots of call-backs and world-building and such. Danny: We don’t have a format, but we definitely have a style. We’re like the Golden State Warriors of improv. Cody: Fun. Very up tempo, and we have a lot of energy. Danny is like Draymond Green because he’s always like throwing out the assist and can play any part. Scriven: I’m like a sports reference because not everyone gets me. Patrick: We come out strong and we don’t let it drop, from beginning to end. It’s just like in your face. We also like to f*ck with each other. We take pimping each other out to the next level. Scriven: I think our high career point is going to be when we accidentally kill one another on stage and everyone just goes with it. And then we chop the body up together and burn it. Cody: Basically we go hard every night til someone dies. No blood, no fun! Patrick: I would like to say while we’re on the note of “no blood, no fun!” that whenever I was doing my Igor character the other night, I was actually hitting my head on the floor and punching myself. Cody: So, I think if you had to describe our style in a single sentence it would be: Actually hitting our head on the floor.

Since Coiffelganger is equal parts hair and improv, what hair-do does each of your troupe mates embody and why?

Cody: I would say Scriven is someone’s hair right after they stick their finger in an electrical socket. Connor: Scriven is whatever hairstyle Christopher Lloyd has because he has a penchant for playing characters with insane ideas and dubious motivations. Cody is the long, flowing mane of Kenny G because of his emotional range. He can keep a straight face for days. Patrick: Cody is the baby doll of the group, and whenever I think of baby doll hair, I think of the pigtails on that doll, that when you cut it, it goes back into the head and then you can pull it back out and cut it again. Cody: What the f*ck?! Patrick: Have you not seen that doll before? Cody: I mean no. Patrick: So, Cody is retractable pigtails on a doll. Scriven: Because he’s also plastic and lives in a box. Connor: Danny is the bowl cut because he has this lovely, quintessentially American voice that summons images of Tom Sawyer painting a fence, or that Leave It to Beaver kid trying to understand divorce. Patrick: Danny would be Clark Kent hair. Cody: Or slicked back like a greaser because he’s so damn cool all the time. Danny: I also robbed a convenience store with an unloaded gun and got shot by the cops. Ponyboy went to the church, and it caught on fire, and Johnny died. Connor: Patrick is an afro, because he makes crazy, bold choices on stage, and takes scenes in fun, unpredictable directions. Cody: I would say Patrick is like half-shaved on one side and half long. Patrick: So, Skrillex? Cody: Because he can be like...f*ckin’ two-faced. No, because I think Patrick can be straight or wild and crazy depending on what side you’re getting. Scriven: He’s grounded and absurd. Cody: Just like Skrillex. Scriven: Connor is a rat tail. Danny: He’s kinda dirty but he reminds you of your childhood. Patrick: Whenever I first met Connor, he just came off as this burly, grouchy mountain-man type person. Cody: I think Connor would be chest hair. Scriven: Just bald with a lot of chest hair. Patrick: A rat tail made out of chest hair.

Coiffelganger

What qualities does it take for a troupe to be crowned King of the Mountain?

Scriven: Hair. Patrick: Hair. Danny: Hair. Cody: Good hair. Fun. Scriven: Inviting everyone on Facebook. Connor: Depends. Sometimes the winner is whoever brings the most friends to the show. But, like any other show, the troupe who has the most fun on stage is going to be the most fun to watch. So if you're not having fun...rethink your life. When you get off stage, you can go back to being miserable. 

Kings of Coiffelganger, it's time to pull out your improvised/pantomimed royal proclamations and tell us one of your kingly decrees.

King Danny: Play without fear and all your dreams will come true. King Patrick: Hereforth and henceforth everyone shall commit 110 percent to everything they do in every scene at Dallas Comedy House. King Cody: There’s nothing five white men can’t do. Wait, no, scratch that from the record, please. ...I like, play without fear. I’ll just jump on that. Also, free nachos for the entire kingdom! King Scriven: Prithee sir, respond thyself honestly. King Connor: When in doubt, open a scene by staring at your scene partners’ perfectly maintained, delicious hair. 

Lauren Levine is currently a Level 3 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.

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.  Yes, And…

Scriven BernardAfter watching yet another hilarious King of The Mountain show with Scriven Bernard, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with him at the DCH bar.

Scriven, I saw you at the Level 1 class today, passing by in the hall of the DCH Training Center.

Yes, I am a teaching assistant, and Ben Pfeiffer is the teacher. This is my first time at teaching improv. We have a lot of fun in class.

I heard the sounds of that, even through two different walls separating our class rooms :). Congratulations! First time I saw you on stage about two months ago, when you played a grandpa in a car…it was a really great performance. Was it someone specific you know in real life that you were copying?

Yes, that was a fun scene. That character is a combination of things. I didn’t really think it through, just kind of felt it, and let it come to life.

I happened to see the link to your TV interview, volunteering for American Cancer Society.

Yes, I was organizing their event, Relay For Life. It was a great way to participate for a great cause. I am now nervous. What else do you know about me?

I saw your video, playing Marilyn Monroe.

Yes, for our CEO’s birthday. My friends at work came up with this idea, and since some of them knew that I performed before, they bought me this dress and a wig, and I sang "Happy Birthday" to him.

So that was at your main job. What do you do for living?

I work at a software company as a project manager. I like it a lot.

Your family was here to see your performance today?

Yes, my mom, and her friend.

Not your girlfriend?

I don’t have one. I have been single for a while now. I don’t feel a need for a relationship. But if the right person comes along, I am open to it.

I have seen you play many different characters in a short period of time. What characters are your favorite? Which characters are more fun to play, male or female?

I like to pick a character that stands out and show it to the audience. I enjoy both male and female characters. I like to play a cheerleader girl or a southern older man. I like those two the most.

If you could play any real person, currently living or not, who would that person be?

Probably Paula Abdul. I don’t know why. I think she has a vibrant personality. I like rich characters.

If improv did not exist, what would you do instead?

Theater. Something that has to do with performing on stage.

That’s what brought you here in the first place, right? Love of the performing arts?

Yes. Improv takes a lot of my time now. But there will still be plenty of time for theater in my future.

What would you say to new people that just came into improv?

I would say to them, get involved. Come to the jam, come to see as many shows as you can, watch a lot of different performers. For some people, improv comes easier than to others. So don’t get discouraged right away. We all have good days and bad days. But this is a fun thing to do. And you need to get comfortable with idea that sometimes you won’t perform so well. You have to love what you do, and once you have fun with it, you will get better as you perform more.

You are great at improv yourself, and you perform a lot. How about life besides it? Everyone is good at something. What are you personally good at that we might not know about?

I feel like I am good at understanding people. I also like to be the life of the party, and I am good at calligraphy. I like rules, and I am good at math. Which might seem like it makes no sense at first if you think of improv as something that has no rules. But actually there are rules to improv, as well as a freedom to do whatever you wish at the same time. It gives you a great feeling, the ability to combine those things together.

I like structure myself. It might just seem like improv has no rules. But not everything is the way it might seem. Speaking of perception, what is your personal quality that you want people to see in you?

Sometimes, people might feel nervous, at work or at some other place. I want them to know that I am a very positive guy, and that I am here to support them.

I feel that about you. And thank you for supporting me in this conversation.

Thank you very much.

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!