What We're Loving: Comedy Canons, Televison History, Self-Loathing Doctors, Classical Open Mics

image (3)Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison laughs in his cubicle, Ashley Bright runs for her notepad, Ryan Callahan sees a reflection of himself, and Amanda Hahn finds hidden treasure. Time_Bobby

It’s the best week of the year!  If you’re asking why, then you’re most likely not familiar with Comedy Bang Bang’s yearly triumph known as “Time Bobby.” AND THAT MAKES YOU DUMB.  Comedy Bang Bang is a free weekly podcast on which host Scott Aukerman invites guests both real and fake to join him in conversation.  Each installment of the show is different,  save for some recurring characters and, occasionally, recurring episodes.  Monday, May 12th saw the release of the third “Time Bobby,” a fan favorite episode which pits a Bobby Moynihan voiced orphan child named Fourvel (One less than Fievel) against Paul F. Tompkins’ Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber.  PFT appears often on Comedy Bang Bang because of his quick wit, character range, and phenomenal rapport with Aukerman.  But even though we get to enjoy about fifteen appearances a year of Tompkins on the broadcast, he’s always at his best when he’s paired with Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan.  Most of the time that PFT joins in on an episode, he and Aukerman are against each other, so it’s a blast to listen to them band together against the Moynihan’s orphan boy.

I’d recommend taking a listen if you enjoy any of the following:

  • Mnemonic Devices
  • Knives
  • STARLIGHT EXPRESS (Note: I bought a sweet Starlight Express poster this week.  Jealous?)
  • Holding back laughter as you listen to podcasts in cubicles

Please remember that there have been previous episodes of “Time Bobby,” so if you’ve been unaware of the franchise until today, YOU HAVEN’T EARNED THE RIGHT TO LISTEN TO EPISODE THREE, SO DON’T ACT LIKE YOU CAN JUST WALTZ INTO YOUR PODCAST APP AND LISTEN TO THE LATEST ITERATION LIKE YOU OWN THE PLACE.  You need to be aware of canon.  The original was released on 3/26/12 (Episode 150), followed by the second on 4/22/13 (Episode 215).  Also, there was an appearance of both characters on season two of the Comedy Bang Bang television show, but Fourvel and Andrew Lloyd Webber were not on the same episode so THE TV SHOW IS NOT CANON.  Listen to them all and you’ll know what to do the next time you’re with a group of people and someone yells K.N.I.F.E. G.R.A.B.! - David Allison

urlThis week I watched America in Primetime on Netflix, a four-part documentary that originally aired on PBS.  The show is broken up into four episodes based on different character archetypes of television: "Man of the House," "Independent Woman," "The Misfit,"and "The Crusader."  Show creators, writers, and actors are interviewed, and most have the opinion that television is the greatest medium because the audience truly gets to connect with the character. (Except for David Chase, who created The Sopranos, who has a particularly sassy and refreshing opinion that 2 hours is plenty of time to get to know a character.)

In the first episode, "Man of the House," Norman Lear, the creator of All in the Family, said something that made me hit pause and run for my notepad: "I take life seriously.  I see the comedy in it.  I see the foolishness of the human condition.  I delight in it and I've used it."  Full disclosure: I ran for my notebook because the closed captioning said "abused" and I loved that, but after reviewing the tape, he definitely says "used."  I still love the quote enough to tell you about it, but I may not have ran so quickly for "used."  Each writer and creator has a similar sort of take on their creation.  They were writing human beings, fully dimensional human beings.  Carl Reiner talks about unintentionally pushing boundaries with The Dick Van Dyke Show because he wrote a character who actually respected his wife.

I'm going to presume that if you reading this on the DCH website that you have some interest in comedy as an art form.  If so, I recommend watching this series.  It's a real peak inside the minds of some of the greatest storytellers of the last 50 years.  It's a testimonial to the fact that character is more important than plot, which you may have heard from time to time in your comedy journey.  Note: DO NOT watch "The Crusader" episode, if you haven't yet watched The Wire.  David Simon lays down some beautiful truth bombs, but there are spoilers galore. - Ashley Bright

house-md-1024x768Recently I resumed an old, bad habit from my college days: falling asleep to TV shows. Instead of reading a book, or letting the stillness of the night watch over me, I've been drowning out my constant inner monologue with the scripted television's aggressive noise. After burning through the first season of Brooklyn 99 and catching up on Parks and Rec and Community, I needed something new to sooth my soul, something comfortable, something familiar, something like House, MD.  I've always been a huge fan of procedurals. They satisfy my inherent need for structure and closure. I loved the show when it first began, ten years ago, but stopped watching somewhere around season four, either because life got in the way or the show's formula (House gets it wrong three times before discovering a secret the patient has kept from him and nailing the diagnosis on the fourth try) grew stale.

Having never watched the final seasons, and wondering how it all ended, I decided to pick the show back up. Naturally, because I have a terrible fear of not knowing things, I started from season one. It's been ten years since I've watched these episodes, ten eventful years in my life. House is still a compelling show, (in fact, so compelling that's costing me sleep. I can always watch one more episode) but compelling for different reasons. When I first watched, I thought House was the coolest character on TV, a total bad ass, the smartest guy in the room playing by his own rules, destroying people with withering  sarcasm while getting high the whole time. Now I see the sadness. The way he pushes people away. The way his selfish actions harm the people who love him most. The way he takes out his self-loathing on everyone who comes into his orbit. Where once I saw so much comedy, now I see tragedy. And I see an accurate portrayal of an addict. The sarcasm is still funny, thanks to Hugh Laurie's delivery and timing. There are times when I see him cut someone down, or deflect a question with a joke and I think, "I should act more like that." Then I remember I did act like that. And it was really lonely. - Ryan Callahan


dariusOn Tuesday night, I needed to find a place to work. With my eyelids getting heavier by the minute and my bed seeming closer and closer by the second, I knew staying home was hazardous to my productivity. Around 10:00 pm, I decided to head to BuzzBrews Kitchen on Lemmon Avenue. I was hoping to find friendly waiters, endless coffee, and plenty of room to spread out my work. What I found was even better. I found live classical music – totally free. Initially, when I entered BuzzBrews, the first thing I noticed was that it was surprisingly crowded. The second thing I noticed was that it wasn’t filled with college students studying for finals. This was an older crowd of people in their late thirties and early forties. Almost everyone was drinking wine. Many men were wearing sport coats and fedoras. There wasn’t a textbook or computer in sight. The third thing I noticed was that the music playing in the restaurant was very pleasant. Quickly after this realization, I noticed the fourth and most important thing: the beautiful piano piece I was listening to wasn’t a recording. It was live. I didn’t know this before, but every Tuesday night from 8:00 pm until 12:00 am, BuzzBrews hosts an open mic for classical musicians. I’m so happy that I found this that I’m downright angry that I didn’t know about this sooner. The casual atmosphere with a touch of class was exactly what I needed to focus on work but still be relaxed. The music throughout the night ranged from a cappella singers to fiddlers to pianists. Some acts were mediocre, but others were fantastic. These hidden talents of Dallas kept my head bobbing, toes tapping, and heart tranquil as I pounded out all the work I needed to finish. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MncemQbYPpQ I know where I’ll start going every Tuesday night. But from now on, I hope to be accompanied by a glass of wine and a few friends, not my computer. - Amanda Hahn

Theater That Feels Like Theater

The following is a slightly shorter cross-post from my personal blog (www.pimplomat.com) in which I interviewed the director of the Un-Scripted Theater Company's "Act One, Scene Two" festival that I participated in. I've heard from several DCH performers that there is a great interest in longer-form shows, so I figured people may be interested in reading this on Rimshot!, too. Un-Scripted Theater CompanyEntering a world, creating a world, living in a world all made up on the spot is a delicate and powerful position for a person. The world's life is your responsibility. You are both creator and destroyer.

San Francisco's Un-Scripted Theater Company knows this intimately and handles improvisation with the skills of a wizard-like master. Their "Act One, Scene Two" festival pairs the art of improvisation with straight playwriting. Before a performance, the playwright is interviewed on stage and asked questions about themes, characters, props, etc. On stage, the improvisors read and act up to 10 pages of a script pre-written before abandoning it and improvising the rest of the play for up to two hours.

My play, "Meditate," was selected this year to be a part of the festival. I'm glad it was, because it offered me a chance to witness the type of improvisation that I've ached for for a long time. I do like the comedy aspects of improv; however, there's something refreshing to me when scenes and characters are given a chance to expand or deflate, reach out or be reserved. This is difficult to do in a 30-minute montage show. Given enough time, though, improvisors can properly explore relationships between characters in a well-rounded manner that is also pleasurable to performers and audiences.

Mandy Khoshnevisan"We are a company that pays a lot of attention to genre: finding the specific genre of our show, and really trying faithfully to figure out that genre and produce it accurately," said Mandy Koshnevisan, director of the "Act One, Scene Two" festival. "We had been gravitating gradually toward more theatrical genres—producing theater that feels like theater—with our shows Three and Theater: The Musical, where we studied existing playwrights, and that was work we really enjoyed. An earlier incarnation of the group (as the BATS Belfry) had done a baby version of this show (called "By The Book"), during our season planning meeting for the 2011 season, and we decided to try it again—only this time with local playwrights, and full-length plays."

Improvisation is a group mind art. It's up to the performers on stage to figure out what's going on with each added bit of information. Still, most improv groups have coaches, or in the case of Un-Scripted, a director.

"The director is the person who carries the vision of what the end product should look like, and designs the rehearsal process to make sure everyone else can see the vision too, and has the skills needed to get there," Koshnevisan said. "For example, for [the festival] there were some specific things that were very different from what we've often done as a theater company. I wanted it to feel very much like a play—hence, we had costumes, set pieces, real props, and a sound designer playing recorded sounds and music (as opposed to a musical improvisor on a piano, which we often have).

"We also had to train ourselves to improvise differently," she continued. "Because in improv so much is possible, and you're often working with space, improvised shows tend to be more like movies than plays. You can go anywhere in time and space, you can create as many characters as you want, you can solve all your problems. As the director, I had to figure out how to have us improvise in limited space and time, with set characters, and a different kind of story arc, that takes place in emotional space rather than 'plot' space.

The director is the person who sets the parameters for what kind of show it's going to be, and what lies inside the circle of expectations for any given performance, Koshnevisan says.

"I like to think of it as installing a tiny me inside everyone's head, since in the moment, during the show, people are essentially directing themselves—so it helps if their internal director is saying the same things I would say," she said.

As someone used to shorter shows, I was amazed how it all came together over two hours and how the performers landed on themes and elements I would have written into a longer script. The play ended similar to how I would have ended it, too.

"One of the hardest things for us to learn was how to find endings," Koshnevisan said. "At the beginning, when you're learning how to do it, you feel the need to tie up absolutely every single thing with great plot machinations, so the end becomes somewhat confused with everyone needing to tie up every offer in a neat bow, which leads to a lot of talking, and a lot of unnecessary justification.  What we eventually realized is that, the way you make it the end is to see how things have changed and be okay with it.

Meditate Act One Scene TwoFor a lot of performers, long-form improvisation (as defined by Koshnevisan as a single story) is difficult to grasp, or more often, scary.

"I'd say, first of all—just try it. I teach high school improv, and those student actors—some with very little improv or acting experience--managed to learn to do 40- to 60-minute single-story long-forms pretty quickly. I pretty much just threw them at it to see what would happen," Koshnevisan said. "Just like improvised singing, the easiest way to get yourself doing it is just to start doing it. We all consume so much media (movies, TV, plays) that these story structures are kind of ingrained in us already. If you can guess what scene might happen next when you're watching TV or a movie, chances are you're ready to try doing a single-story long-form.

"One thing to keep in mind is that, if you're going to be telling the same story for a long time, you can relax and enjoy the ride a little more," she continued. "In short-form improv, we're taught to establish CROW (or something similar—who/what/where) as fast as possible, so we can move forward. This can lead to incredibly labyrinthine plots. Your story has a lot of breathing room if it's going to be long, so you can take the time to give it color along the way."

And that's what I found satisfying about the two-hour improv set I saw. Much like the actors on stage, I, too, was discovering in the moment. It made me a part of the performance and not just an idle witness. That's true theater, one in which everyone has a role to play.