I’ve always enjoyed my own graduations. Dressing up and performing in what amounts to an extended touchdown dance before a party, how could I not? Graduating from the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) actually felt shockingly similar to graduating from college — where I first started performing improv. I got to see my friends and I felt proud; ultimately, it was a mile marker that I plan on leaving in the rear view.
I did not discover my passion for improv at DCH. I did not “give this comedy thing a try” over the past 10 months. I took classes at DCH because I wanted to perform at DCH. I already knew that this mattered to me.
The improv program was like a philosophy credit: I had to have it to get to the thing I actually wanted, which, like after college, is now abstract.
At the onset of my freshman year, I took the course curriculum for a food science degree and built a spreadsheet with it. I blocked out all of the classes I would take each term based on their availability. I organized my entire college course load three weeks into my first semester. Every time I finished finals, I could cross off another subset of classes. Checking boxes taps into a primal part of my brain; it's the part that’s supposed to get me stoked for red meat.
I had to have everything organized so that I could efficiently graduate school and then… Well, then I moved here, without a job, or even a plan really. I do a lot of odds-and-ends freelance work. I love it, but it’s a vastly different prospect than the full-time, salaried positions my engineering friends landed six months before graduation.
If I met myself from 10 years ago, he’d probably ask, “What are you doing, man? I’m putting in all of this work on the front end so you can putz around!?” And I’d be like, “Graphic tees are dumb.”
Your interests and motivations change over time. The mile markers — like a graduation — help you keep track of who you were and who you’ve become. I’m not dismissing my DCH graduation as unimportant, but just like my other graduations, the people involved make the memory valuable.
My class was amazing. You couldn’t have arranged a better group of individuals, even with a spreadsheet. Everyone cared about everyone else, and we were all happy to share a space for three hours, every week, for ten months. I will always remember going through classes with those people. Even after I started practicing and performing, class was often the highlight of my improv week. I’m happy to now have a free Monday night, but I can already feel the quasar collapsing in on itself and the black hole beginning to form.
After college, I learned that sometimes the next step is ambiguous. Once you’ve beaten the story mode, you’re just kind of left to wander the map, looking for extra heart pieces or a bigger quiver.
I’ll enjoy the memory of graduating from DCH. I’ll always have it as a personal timestamp, but it’s not a finish line. There is no finish line for this stuff. You don’t get a monthly check once you retire. You have to find a motivation beyond completing the course curriculum.
For me, that motivation is to get better. I want to be a can’t-miss performer in every medium. That's a lofty goal, and an ambiguous one, but it suits the next stage of my improv life. I'm out of school and into the real world.
Danny Neely is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. He works part time at a bakery and another part of the time as a freelance writer. You can see him perform as a member of Big Turtle, Clover, Coiffelganger, Empty Inside, and Warm Milk.
(Image: Mary Margaret Hundley/Facebook)