Tabitha Parker

The Improvised Horror Movie

The American horror movie. What cinematic legacy can claim special effects mastery, emotional poignancy, and raw camp in the same breath? Scary movies have done so much good for cinema that it’s sickening. And now that we’re in the season (oh goodness HALLOWEEN I’m excited are you excited I love Halloween like no lie it’s my favorite holiday and I’ve been planning my costume for MONTHS) – Ahem. Sorry about that. As I was saying, now that we’re in season – eeek – the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) has started a month-long series of holiday-appropriate shows. As is tradition, it opened the first weekend of October with a premier of the Improvised Horror Movie. Though the show stands as a tribute to the horror genre, it also exists in memorial to Del Close, creator of the format, and Jason Chin, former director at iO Chicago who perfected the show. DCH runs the Improvised Horror Movie through the month of October as a dedication to their work. Improvised Horror MovieJust like its parent genre, the Improvised Horror Movie takes a couple different forms – forms, mind you, not scripts, because then it wouldn’t be improv, duh. Each form spins off of a particular type of horror movie. The version I had the pleasure of viewing was based off of one of my favorites: the "Slasher," wherein innocent, dumb kids fall prey to a psycho killing machine. Now that’s what I call comedy! Hooray!

The way the shindig worked in practice seemed pretty simple: At the top of the show, the audience assigned each cast member a role, all inspired by classic horror tropes. There’s a jock, a nerd, a goth, a stoner, a popular chick, and the surviving girl who will, in the end, determine who the killer is. (Spoiler alert, most of the archetypical characters die in a spectacularly funny fashion.)

Even though the roles are pre-determined and assigned at the beginning of the show, this doesn’t make things easier for the players. If anything, this is crazy hard. “Here’s a point of view, now understand it, adopt it as your own, and think up stuff to say from that point of view on the fly in front of strangers. Oh, and by the end of the show most of you have to have died and you have to be funny in the meantime.” Like, what even!?! That’s hard enough for me to do on a good day.

“Emily, you’re dumb. Those roles are pretty much stereotypes, and aren’t those at the antithesis of what good character work should be?”

Um, first, how dare you, I’m hella smart. Second, no. Just because the role’s been given to you, there’s still tons of flexibility as to what constitutes that role. Sporty jocks don’t have to be bullies, and the brainiac doesn't have to be socially awkward. For instance, the stoner in the last show (played by David Allison) was far away from being dumb and slow – instead, he was an energetic conspiracy theorist who suspected who the murderer was the whole time. (He felt the perpetrator was George W. Bush, but whether he was right or not is hardly the point here.) The popular girl (played by Maggie Rieth Austin) was ditzy, peppy, and fun – not a sexualized antithesis to the surviving girl the character is usually reduced to. Thinking with that kind of originality takes skill and quick thinking that isn’t often matched.

“Well, OK, fine, so the characters are diverse despite being typified. You still can’t bridge the gap between cinema and stage acting!”

Au contraire! You forget that critical element of improv – scene painting! It’s a heavy and, in this case, a critical show component. We already know what will happen at the end of our “movie” – the audience sticks around for the journey to that conclusion. Performers primarily conduct scene painting through a series of different “camera angles,” wherein they call out cinematic direction you’d normally only read in a script. These camera angles double as edits and is what give the audience a cinematic effect, if an imaginary one. Cast members are given close-ups, split-screens, and even aerial shots that they have to make work and incorporate seamlessly into the ongoing scene. Half of the fun lies in players giving each other impossible views to pull off. (Have you ever seen a dead man fly in circles around two women standing horizontally? Well, I did! You might see it, too, if you buy a ticket). It’s a brain and body workout, to be sure, not to mention the lighting and sound tricks that the techs execute on the fly. (Props to Raye Maddox - you done good, kiddo.)

Boy. What a ride. In short, this show is a keeper. It’s one of those shows at DCH that’s a must see. You won’t get spooked, but you’ll certainly laugh, and any student or fan of improv will also get a great lesson by simply watching the cast. Oh, before I forget – that cast includes David Allison, Amanda Austin, Sallie Bowen, Noa Gavin, Jason Hackett, Tabitha Parker, Ben Pfeiffer, Maggie Rieth Austin, and Nick Scott. The whole shebang is tech'ed by Jua Holt (Raye Maddox was the technical director for the show I saw). They all deserve a big ol’ basket of treats minus tricks, allergens, and razors. For tickets, please visit www.dallascomedyhouse.com.

Emily Baudot is a DCH graduate and sketch student. When she isn’t at the theater, she’s drinking at one of the bars down the street and trying to justify ordering dessert for dinner.  Or, she’s on her computer pretending she’s a banished orc maiden, whichever one sounds healthier to you. If her crippling addiction to sugar and caffeine doesn’t kill her, she can be seen on stage with the soon to be world famous Wild Strawberry and the already-Internet famous Wiki-Tikki-Tabby (just kidding, they do go online a lot though). She’s also a Pisces because that means something.

Troupe Talk: LYLAS

LYLAS OMG. RTM. I mean, RTFM. Or just read Troupe Talk. This week. SITD??? SOL -- STBY! JK. LOL. RBTL, what I’m saying is LYLAS is up in Troupe Talk. You must be NUB, or something. NMP. DILLIGAS?? LMAO.

This week’s Troupe Talk is LYLAS. These GURLZ have a KAPOV that will make you ROTFLMAO. Enjoy, because IMHO, they're GR8!

SWAK, XOXO, B4N, BCNU!

OK LYLAS! For this interview, we are having a good old fashioned slumber party! What did you bring with you to my party and what classic sleepover trick are you going to play on the first girl who falls asleep? Lindsay:I brought the Ouija Board my parents won't let me use at home. I'll do that old classic trick where I summon an evil spirit with the Ouija Board and they murder someone in their sleep. So fun! lolrofl! Sarah A.:I brought chips and salsa - and probably Oreos and Twizzlers, because I need an excuse to eat them. And I don't play tricks, I TURN THEM. JKJKJKJKJKJK. Maggie:I brought sour gummy worms. I'm going to put whip cream on her hands and then tickle her nose so she slaps herself in the face lolz. Lauren: I brought Boone's Farm, and I'm gonna murder her. Tab: I brought Jurassic Park for everyone to watch. And I will freeze your bra. FREEZE IT. Lacey: I would have brought toilet paper -- so that we could sneak out of your house and toilet paper someone else's house, duh! As for the first girl who fell asleep? Probably prank-called her parents or boyfriend or something. I was an EXCELLENT prank caller. Averie: A roll of cookie dough. Trick: I'm going to eat the whole roll of cookie dough while watching everyone sleep.

Speaking of slumber parties, let’s go back in time. What is something that you would tell your sweet 16-year-old self? Lindsay: Sober up, bitch. No one's impressed. Sarah A.: Someday, it will all make since. Maggie: Posing for all photos with your tongue out is not flattering. Lauren: It gets better! Tab: That headgear is going to mess up your jaw forever, it's not worth it. Also be nicer to the boys you date, just because you know that it's unlikely you will be with the person you date in high school for the rest of your life doesn't mean they do. Lacey: Roll the windows down while you're hooking up with your high school boyfriend behind the middle school in your Toyota Celica. It's REALLY obvious what you're doing in there with the windows all steamed up. Averie: Eating raw cookie dough is dangerous.

What are you thoughts on the representation of women in the comedy world? Do you think women have equal opportunity? Lindsay: Women have busted some walls down in the last few years thanks to bad-asses like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and many others. Many years ago when I was auditioning for my first improv troupes, we had to be 10 times as funny as the dudes auditioning to be considered. Everyone was just looking for their "token female." Now the boys understand that girls came to play and the audience values our perspective. Lauren: Women have more obstacles to overcome, but people are becoming more aware of and sensitive to that and interested in representing our perspective. That isn't exclusive to comedy though, it's everywhere. Tab: I think right now is an amazing time to be a woman and a comedian. I have noticed that class ratios are starting to have more girls than boys. We have so many great role models to look up to right now, and the idea that women comics don't have a chance is dated.

I've also always thought it was strange to have the "women aren't funny" argument, because I grew up watching I Love Lucy. We watched it, our parents watched it, our grandparents watched it. The first episode aired in 1951, and the show was the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons and was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings. It is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the "Best TV Show of All Time" in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine.

All that, from so long ago, and you're telling me people still say women aren't funny? Lucille Ball is one of my heroes, and she was doing hilarious bits 64 years ago. Come on. Sorry to go on a rant. It's probably my period. Sarah A.: What Tab said. Maggie: Sure. Lacey: Almost all of my favorite comedians are women. Even though I've grown up loving female comics, I've definitely seen a change in representation and treatment in the last 30 years. However, if things were truly equal, Tina Fey wouldn't have had to make the joke on David Letterman's last show that "he finally proved that men are funny." Damn, that was a good joke though. Averie: The fact that we are still asking these questions is very telling.

Who is a funny lady you admire and why? Lindsay: OMG, every girl ever! My Grandma Helen (RIP), because she taught me how to bring that #realness and not give a WHAT. Kate Lambert and Erica Elam are some Chicago ladies who always inspired me, because creativity just pours of out them. And of course my LYLAS gals who blow me away all day errday. Sarah A.: Besides all the fine females in LYLAS?! I got a super mad crush on Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I want to be her. Maggie: My mother - Barb. Lauren: My mom's super funny and always on. I really look up to the chicks in this troupe, and honestly pretty much all the improvisers at the Dallas Comedy House, even some of the man ones. Tab: ALL OF THEM. Lacey: My memaw -- though I don't think she always means to be funny. She's at the age now where she says whatever she wants and doesn't give a shit because she's like, "I'm over 80 years old, whatareyougonnadoabout it?" I was visiting her a few weekends ago when she debated the merits of a walk-in bathtub and talked about how awesome it is that you don't have to shave your legs when you're a senior because you just stop growing hair...everywhere. Averie: Maria Bamford. She turns her pain into comedy gold.

Sing a line from a favorite hit song and pick someone to sing it to. Lindsay: "I'm just a girl in the world...cuz THAT'S ALL THAT YOU'LL LET ME BEEEEE" -- to all men, CUZ WE LIVE IN A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY!!!!!!!! Maggie: Ohhhh baby youuuuuuu... you got what I nee-eeeeed... and I would like to sing that to anyone who doubts themselves. BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF YOU. Lauren: "Who let the dogs out?" You know who you are. (You are the Baja Men.) Tab: "I am woman, hear me roar" sung by Maggie because THAT'S WHAT SHE WANTS. Sarah A.: Also, what Tab said. Lacey: I would absolutely sing "Friends in Low Places" to Garth Brooks. Averie: "Fuck da police!" Garrison Keillor.

LYLAS performs at the Dallas Comedy House on June 6 with Franzia and June 27 with .f.a.c.e.

Tori Oman is a Level Four 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.