Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

"Comedy Debut: How to Get Started in the Funny Business" by Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

So you want to try your hand at comedy, but don’t know where to start? Here are five steps to take to get you to the laughs.

1) Go see shows.To find the style of comedy that suits you the most—improv, stand-up, sketch, or a combination—you first have to see the varying types and styles. Fortunately for you, Dallas Comedy House (DCH) has all three types on rotation from Tuesday through Saturday each week. Check out the DCH monthly calendar to find something you’d like to see.

Bonus: Free shows happen weekly, too! Check out the free King of the Mountain show on Wednesday nights and the free Improv Playground on Thursday nights.

2) Go to a free Jam or Open Mic.Now that you’ve seen a few shows, you’re probably thinking, “Hey! I can do that! That looks easy and oh-so fun!” Well give it a go at a Tuesday night Jam. Improv Jams are come as you are, do as you do. They require no sign up and everyone can participate, from the passerby off the street to the seasoned performer. Open Mics require a bit more forethought: You must sign up by midnight the Sunday before and you must have three-to-five minutes of prepared material. Both are a great way to practice what you’ve got.

3) Take a free class.What, more free stuff? Yes! (We don’t want you to be held back from your dreams.) DCH offers a free improv class on the last Wednesday of each month. You don’t have to sign up, and you don’t have to know what you’re doing. You just have to show up and be willing to have fun.

4) Take more classes and learn to write your own material.After you’ve narrowed your focus to the style of comedy that you prefer, it’s time to get really focused and dedicate yourself to learning the craft. New courses begin monthly, including the upcoming Summer Improv Intensive for adults and Summer Camp for Kids. Classes meet weekly and culminate in a showcase of student work. Internships and scholarships are available to those who qualify. Courses include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

Improv: Learn how to get out of your head, think at the height of your intelligence, to listen, and to trust. Improv is a great way to improve your performance, your relationships, and your life.

Stand-up & Storytelling: Everyone has a story to tell. These classes will help you fine-tune your story in an easy-to-relay format fit for performance. Stand-up classes will help you write and polish a five-to-10 minute set, while storytelling helps you write and perform your personal narrative.

Sketch writing: These courses will show you how to take a character and build a story around them. Courses start with crafting for the stage and then, ultimately, for the screen. Prerequisites are required for all classes.

5) Perform, perform, perform! Each course culminates in a performance of some kind. These performances are gentle introductions in a safe environment to being on stage and putting your material out there. Take advantage of these opportunities to challenge yourself to be bolder each time you step out. Beyond the class showcases, DCH also offers several other opportunities to perform, from submitting a show to auditioning for King of the Mountain or being in an Ewing Troupe (DCH’s own improv method).

There are plenty of ways to hone your comedy skills, in and outside of the classroom. The very first step for all of them: Just show up.

Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa is a current student at DCH. She spends her days wrangling children, avoiding housework, and hustling for acting or writing gigs. One day she’ll make her life easier by changing her name to Shashana O’Shanahan.

(Top photo credit: David Allison. Bottom photo credit: Ryan Robins)

"5 Principles of Improv That Will Improve Your Life" by Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

I can’t promise you that studying improv will lead to fame and fortune. Chances are, it won’t. I can’t promise that studying improv will make you smarter, funnier, or more quick-witted. Although, chances are it will. What I can promise is that studying improv and applying its concepts to real life will make you a better person.

Here are my top five fundamental improv concepts that will improve who you are:

  • Yes, and. This is the most fundamental principle of improv. You create a scene from nothing by establishing a who, what, and where; agreeing to that information; and then adding more of your own. This is also called life. You don’t wake up knowing exactly whom you’ll talk to throughout the day or what you’ll say, but you create those relationships and conversations along the way. The key to success in life is taking these unplanned experiences, accepting them as gifts, and adding something new to the mix. Be open to where life takes you, agree to the unknown, and add some of your own life experiences.
  • Listen and respond. This is the most fundamental concept of conversation, yet it’s often the most difficult. We get so stuck in our heads, thinking of what we’ll say next, that we miss key information that can propel the conversation (or the improv scene). Stop worrying so much about what to say or do or how you’ll be received.  Instead, start listening for the gifts being given to you and then respond in like kind. After all, one of our most fundamental human needs is to be heard and acknowledged. Acknowledge your (scene/life/conversation) partner by intentionally listening and responding to them. Then watch the magic!
  • Trust. The great thing about improv is that you don’t work alone. Ninety-nine percent of all improv scenes consist of one or more other people who have your back, no matter what situation you may create for them. Trust them to not let you fail. Improv is not a self-congratulatory act. We get into real trouble when we start thinking we can do this on our own. It’s creating art by relying on the gifts of those around you. Similarly, life is not solitary; it is a symbiotic community, full of partners with gifts for you and for whom you have gifts. Trust others, and they will trust you.
  • Make bold choices.Successful improv scenes come, not because of realism, but because of an actor’s commitment to a character or emotional choice and selling that reality to the audience. In life, don’t waffle: Commit to what you’re doing. Sell it. Be an expert. Bold choices are memorable, compelling, and act as a driving force. Embolden yourself to make strong choices and stand by what you say and do. Put simply: Life’s short—Be confident.
  • There are no rules. This absurdly entertaining rule is a favorite of improv teachers. It basically lets them off the hook when they break the improv rules they are working to engrain in you. But far from simply being a safety net for screw ups, the concept demonstrates that while there are formal guidelines for proper techniques, mistakes in improv—as with any art form, including life—can be forgiven. At the end of the day, we’re all creating something from nothing. The key to becoming a better person is to laugh along the way.

Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa is a current student at DCH. She spends her days wrangling children, avoiding housework, and hustling for acting or writing gigs. One day she’ll make life easier by changing her name to Shashana O’Shanahan.