The Harold

What We're Loving: Watchable Improv Videos, Suddenly Necessary Information, Fictional Fishing Trips

image (2)Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison digs for gold in a dumpster fire, Amanda Hahn decreases your productivity, and Ryan Callahan celebrates the return of the greatest thing ever.

Perfect Harold

Three facts regarding the last twenty years:

1.) An influx of new theaters has created an opportunity for more improvisational comedy performances than ever before.

2.) Websites like YouTube and FunnyorDie have made it easy to consume entertainment anywhere.

3.) The steadily decreasing cost of technology has made it possible for anyone to afford to create/upload videos.

Because of those points, it would make sense that the internet would be overrun with super funny clips from improv shows.  So much hilarity is being created every day on stages all over the US and the increased ease of posting these shows eliminates the excuse that improvisers are just lazy. People should be sending each other emails with subject lines like “Hey Auntie, check out this great organic opening by this team in Des Moines!”

Why doesn’t this happen?

BECAUSE IMPROV VIDEOS ARE TERRIBLE.  Like can’t watch past the introduction of the team terrible (BTW, no one wants to watch this segment, not even your parents).  I don’t understand how a festival organizer can sift through hundreds of videos in this dumpster fire of a genre. They’re the real heroes here.  With that said, there are a handful of good videos of improv shows that you can find online.  They’re passed amongst friends and fellow performers like a secret handshake.  “Oh, you’ve watched The Reckoning’s perfect Harold, you’re cool” or “Man, it sure was nice of that Ted Tremper guy to post all those great Middle Aged Comeback shows.”

Today, or whatever day you’re reading this (Time is CRAZY), I would like to introduce another entry into the pantheon of watchable improv videos.  In fact, I’m actually going to add a whole channel of videos.  The channel is NY Comedy and it’s a collection of great improvised sets from all over New York.  Most of them are good enough, but the real treat is watching the latest cagematch videos from UCBNY.  Cagematch is a weekly show in which two teams perform a set and the strongest one survives to perform the next week.  I’d recommend starting with the groups What I did for Love and F*ck That Sh*t because the confidence and true decisiveness with which each group plays is truly a pleasure to watch.  With a little hope, they’ll be more great videos where these came from. - David Allison

InternetThis is my fourth week contributing to this blog, and I feel like you’ve gotten to know me and my interests pretty well. You know I like awkward moments, learning, and weird people. So enough about me. What about you? What are you into?

…Okay, reader, no matter what you just answered, I have a website for you. One single website for anything you love. My dear reader, this week I am loving Internet is Useful (internetisuseful.com). In fact, right this very moment, I am loving this website. I just discovered it a few minutes ago, and I am already obsessed. Internet is Useful is simply a website to help you find other websites, organized by category. I’m finding websites I didn’t even know I wanted. No… needed.

- Want to find bands and artists that are coming into town and potentially discover new music? Check out gigfi.com. Just type in your city name, and it creates a Spotify playlist of artists that are coming to your city.

- Like documentaries? Find a bunch to stream at documentaryheaven.com.

- Want to know how to get one material stick to another material? (and freaking stay there!) There’s an entire website for that! thistothat.com

- And hey, are you a nerd?? Specifically, are you a nerd that wants to take a day trip?! Well, you’re in luck! Head over to nerdydaytrips.com. You can find a place travel back in time to the Victorian era. Or discover open stages for a variety show of magicians, comedians, dancers, and jugglers.Or you can keep it simple, and just remind yourself of all the Dallas museums you’ve been forgetting to check out or revisit.

Thanks to Internet is Useful, I have wasted so much time tonight bouncing from site to site, ranging from apartment finding websites to fitness websites to intentionally useless websites. Yes, many of the sites listed on Internet is Useful are already popular, but I am positive that you will find something new and helpful (or at least amusing) related to one of your interests. I’m so sure you’ll find something new, that if you don’t, I promise you one nerdy day trip – gas is on me. - Amanda Hahn

Gone FishinLet’s talk about something important. The NBA Playoffs are here, which means  the return of the greatest, most significant, most life-changingest television segment in the history of sentient thought: Gone Fishin' on Inside the NBA. It's back, guys! It's back!

For those unfamiliar with the segment, here's how it goes. When a team has been eliminated from the playoffs, the Inside the NBA broadcast crew (EJ, Kenny, Chuck and Shaq) send that team, and the city it represents, on a fictional fishing trip to signify the start of their off-season. EJ starts the boat, everyone puts on fishing hats, (EJ wears the captain's hat, Shaw a swim cap). They grab fishing poles and introduce a cheesy vacation photo which shows members of the eliminated team and celebrities and from that city, and Kenny Smith, always Kenny Smith,  packed into a boat.

The idea that all these people would actually go on a fishing trip together, all cramped into one little boat, fills me with such joy that I become a child again, giddy and happy, excited by the possibilities of the world. I am literally giggling right now as I type this. I am not kidding. That’s how much I enjoy this segment. I stay up late to watch it. I record it if I might miss it. I get excited right before they show the photo, wondering who will make the  cut.

The best part of the whole segment is that the guys have no idea who or what will be in the picture. Watching them see it, and figure it out, and get the jokes, is fifty-five percent of the fun. The other day, the Chicago Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs. Do yourself a favor and watch.

Between now and Monday six teams will be eliminated from the playoffs. That’s six boats. Six fishing trips. I haven’t been this excited about anything, ever, in my life. - Ryan Callahan

Q&A With Harold Teacher Tim Yager

Del Close is a genius. Or a jerk. Depends on who's telling the tale. What's undeniable, though, is that he created an improv form that's continually talked about and performed: The Harold. Tim YagerWe here are offering a special advanced class on The Harold. And to you get you excited about it, we asked teacher Tim Yager about the course, the form, and his experience with it.

How long have you been performing The Harold? How did you get interested in it?

I was learning or performing The Harold for most of my three years in Chicago. I went through the training center at the iO (formerly Improv Olympic) where The Harold is their signature form put together by the crazed and allured Del Close. When I moved back to Dallas, I got involved with DCH's FIAD, which was coached by my buddy Cody Dearing. I got interested in The Harold when I read about it in Truth in Comedy while I was taking classes at 4 Day Weekend in 2004.

What makes The Harold unique to improv?

Probably the fact that it's so fucking hard. It's incredibly simple to screw up and difficult to master. Its success is due in part to what improvisers call group mind. It does have a structure to it, but that can be messed with. Ultimately it depends on everyone in the group being on the same page, and that ain't easy.

Aside from that, I'd have to say the group games set it apart from other forms. There's a group opening at the top and then group games throughout, articulating each "movement" of the piece. People either love 'em or hate 'em, but it's definitely a big part of what makes Harold unique as most forms don't incorporate these unless they happen organically.

What skills from The Harold can performers learn that they can apply to other forms of improv?

This is precisely what I love about The Harold: it's an amalgamation of everything you've ever learned in improv and then some.

Probably the biggest skill one has to hone is listening. Loads of people think they listen, but for Harold to work, everyone has to be listening extremely carefully--superhuman listening. Listening for small bits of information, understanding deeper meanings behind initiations, watching for some interesting physicality or sound and having the gumption to bring things back.

The second biggest skill is: TAKE A FUCKING RISK!

Both of those will go a long way in any show you're doing.

Who are some Harold troupes that you recommend as great examples of the form?

The Reckoning, hands down. Carl & The Passions, Bullet Lounge, Cook County Social Club and Revolver. All Chicago teams at iO.

The Reckoning is truly inspirational to watch when they're all together, or even when they're not. They elevated the form and really enjoy fucking with it, making it their own.

What's the most difficult thing about the form and how do you overcome it?

For me, it was thinking thematically. Harold is a form that strives to find meaning in the suggestion. If the suggestion is monkey, we don't want to see a boatload of scenes about monkeys, we want to see scenes about evolution, animal testing or being 96 percent identical to some superior person and just not quite being "good enough." It's about taking an idea and exploding outward. To overcome that, you have to train your brain to be thinking this way. Luckily, it already does this, but we have to train it to be even more alert.

For others that I've taught Harold to, I feel like their biggest hang-ups are understanding that the structure of Harold is malleable and not as rigid as they think. Often people will be on the sidelines wondering what part of the show we're in and not paying attention to what's happening in that moment.

Thank you, Tim, for taking the time to answer our questions. Registration is still open for The Harold course for improvisers who have graduated from the DCH Training Center. The seven-week, three-hour course begins this Saturday, January 7, at 4:30 p.m.