Q&A With Production Guru Kyle Austin

I'm sure you're aware that not all comedy happens in a live setting, yes? Good, then we can proceed with information about an opportunity to learn how to shoot and edit comedy videos. Kyle AustinOur Level 1 Production Class begins Monday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m., and it will be taught by one of DCH's most technically savvy and always funny people, Kyle Austin.

If you've been reading the previous Q&A's, I'm sure you know how this works. We talked with Kyle to find out more about the class and his background. That's how this works. Q&A, take it away.

What is your background in production work? How long have you been doing it?

I worked for Baylor University for a total of six(ish) years. Three in college, and three after I graduated. I started as a simple camera op, and when I left I was directing the football games, (and did one year of sound). Lots of fun, not a lot of pay. I then took a job at White's Chapel UMC as the director of media.  Six-to-eight full-time employees, 15-plus part-time employees and I run a media department. Experiences include everything from making short videos, to putting on large concerts...and everything in between. I've been doing this for 10 years.

Why is it important for a performer to learn production, and how important is it for a show?

It's important for a performer to learn the aspects of it, just as it is a tech person to know the journey of the improvisers. It helps with a group mind, the tech person is a part of the cast, and it can make the experience better.

It can be as simple or complex for a show that you want it to be. Does your show call for videos, different lighting, sound...For example, the NYE sketch show was very "production heavy" compared to what you normally see there.

What skills can performers learn from production that they can use in their stage or written work?

One thing that comes to mind is the idea of knowing when to move, jump, edit, whatever the scene needs. For example, in a video we have the capabilities to "cut to" things and "cut back" when we want to. Why can't we do that in improv? Oh wait, WE CAN. I think that understanding different ways that a story is told can open your mind to the different ways an improv show can be told. It can also help develop formats.

Can you expand more on what will take place in the class? For example, will students be filming shows? Their own skits? Etc.

We're learning the basics of how to make a video, how to run sound, and how to do basic lighting. All of these are entry level tasks, and the end of the class will result in using all three aspects to shoot and edit a short video.

Who are some of your production/directing/editing influences?

Some of my influences...Editing: Bryan Bray - my old boss at Baylor who taught me how to tell a story through video.

Directing: James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow

Producing: Tim Georgeff, Jerry Bruckheimer, Walt Disney

Thank you, Kyle, for taking the time to answer our questions. For those interested in filming their own skits and getting famous on Funny Or Die or YouTube, registration is still open. Hop to it!

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.

Q&A With Comedy Writer Terry Catlett

From Aristophanes to Woody Allen, audiences have been drawn to comedy. Specifically, written comedy--staged, purposeful lines created to get people to laugh. It's the total opposite of improv, sure, but it is the one aspect of the craft that people think of most when they think of comedy. Terry CatlettWe here at the Dallas Comedy House embrace the written word, too. It's not all improv 100 percent of the time. Our goal is to get you to laugh, and one of our funniest performers, Terry Catlett, is also one of our best writers. He is teaching an Intro to Comedy Writing class, starting January 8.

Terry was kind enough answer some questions for us about the class and how he'll lead you by the pen into the world of comedy writing.

What is your background in comedy writing? How did you get involved in it?

I grew up watching shows like The Carol Burnett Show, Saturday Night Live, and the Kids in the Hall. Sketch comedy was a big part of my comedy education. I had never been much of a writer, but when I started taking improv classes at DCH, it seemed like a very natural progression to start writing. There was so much great material created in improv class, it just seemed like common sense to write some of it down. I was fortunate to get in a writing class with talented writers, and a teacher that was passionate about writing. It was easy to get hooked.

What are some of the difficulties with comedy writing? How do you overcome them? 

The biggest difficulty I face is finishing a script. Ideas are everywhere, but it takes real dicipline to sit down and really work through an idea. It took me a while to learn that sketch writing is a long process. It's very rare to have a perfect first draft. Sketches change so much during the creative process. I have found that it is best to get the idea down on paper in a simple form, and then collaborate with others. New perspectives and new ideas can really elevate the material.

What are some of the rewards of comedy writing? 

The most rewarding thing for me is seeing a script come to life. Watching people take the material and build off of it is fun for me. Seeing the finished product, and hearing people laugh gives me a good feeling.

What can improv performers learn from comedy writing that they can translate to their stage work?

I think writing sketches really puts you in touch with character dynamics. You learn how to work relationships in a comedic way. It also makes you focus on a character's point of view. The more you understand a character's point of view, the better the character. I have found that it has really helped my character work on stage.

Who are some comedy writers that you admire and why?

Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development) made one of the best series of all time. Great characters and episodes that are really dense with comedy. Tina Fey is setting the standard for writing now. I particularly enjoy her self depricating humor. Watching her assault on pop culture is a weekly highlight. Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) always writes great stuff. The Brits know how to do comedy. I'll throw in John Cleese and Connie Booth in for giving us Fawlty Towers.

What do you hope people will walk away with after taking your class?

If I can create the environment that I had, and give people a new outlet for their creativity, I will think that I have done a good job as a teacher.

Thank you, Terry, for taking the time to answer our questions. Spaces are still open for the Intro to Comedy Writing course. Please check out the registration page for more info.