What do William Shakespeare and improvisational comedy have in common? While Willy Nilly probably didn’t partake in many improv scenes as an accomplished playwright, he may very well have shared his spotlight with the beginnings of the comedy form. Modern improv is attributed to the ancestor Commedia Dell'Arte, a group of travelling troupes who toured Europe from the 1500’s for about 200 years. No doubt, many of Shakespeare’s more classic lines, such as “Villian, I have done thy mother” [Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 2] and “…eat my leek” [Henry V, Act 5, Scene 1] would be repeated to the audience from makeshift stages. The result would be eruptions in laughter from a fishmonger named Geffrey, or two. The loss of something so wonderfully hilarious led to many (okay, just my completely misplaced and illogical) conspiracy theories that America was actually colonized to bring improv back into our lives.
Some of you have been around since the very beginning, some of you came somewhere in the middle, and some of you are brand new to the wonderful world of DCH. So, for this week's post—and in honor of seven lovely years—we take a look back at some highlights.
2009 – Dallas Comedy House opened in January in the back of Ozona's Restaurant. Six people came to the first class—four of whom were paying students and two people who Amanda bribed to come so that it looked like a legit class. The curriculum focused on short form improv and only introduced long-form improv (now the staple performing style at DCH) at the end of the third level. During Level 1 and Level 2 showcases, scenes were called by instructors because editing hadn't been taught yet.
2010 – DCH opened its doors on the Commerce Street location. The first Dallas Comedy Festival was held in the new theater with Joe Bill and Jill Bernard. Construction began on the Training Center, adding two classrooms and allowing for more classes to enroll. Man Dip and sandwiches were introduced on the menu... and shortly after being introduced, disappeared. This started a multi-year food menu desert – with only Chex Mix and Sour Patch Kids to satiate performer and student hunger. Having space and a year under its belt, DCH built a corporate team and booked some initial work, which has continued to grow over the years.
2011 - The Training Center opens adjacent to the Commerce Street Theater. Tim Meadows, a bona fide celebrity, came to the Dallas Comedy Festival. Buddies Season 1—an improvised sitcom—changed the game, routinely selling out shows and setting a new standard for comedy in Dallas. The original stage was changed from a pie shape to a flat back after several people fell into the corner of the stage. This change made the green room a little smaller, but also saved a lot of people from falling. In October, Amanda bought out her business partner and became DCH's sole owner.
2012 – This was a big year for food and flu. JELL-O shots hit the bar menu during the Dallas Comedy Festival. Unrelated, the festival was riddled with bad luck. Several important performers and employees got the flu. The soda gun burst open in the middle of a show, leading to syrup and soda covering the floor and slowly leaking into the theater. While trying frantically to clean up the sugar-syrup mess before customers let out of the show, the men’s restroom toilet began leaking, flooding the bar from the other side. Surrounded by what is quite possibly the most disgusting combination of liquids during the busiest week of the year, we did what we do best and improvised our way through it. Nothing a “Caution, Wet Floor Sign” and several mops and rags couldn’t fix. Later that spring, hot dogs are served in the theater and patio.
2013 – The 313, starring Keegan-Michael Key, Jaime Moyer, and Maribeth Monroe, performed at the festival. Their high energy show is still talked about and made it a week to remember. Jaime Moyer and Maribeth Monroe have continued their friendship with DCH and even came to Opening Weekend at our Main Street location. In the fall, the Improvised Movie debuted. A fun, new format, sold-out shows, and a haunted house to boot. It was a memorable October.
2014 - DCH celebrates five years. Troupes from past and present come back to perform in a joyous reunion! The fall launched two additions to our programming with the Family Friendly Show and our very first sketch revue, Charles Dicken's Great! Expectations. The first graduating class of our sketch program put on the first four-week sketch revue as graduates. This kicked off the steady growth of our sketch program and what has now become a consistent course offering.
2015 – We said goodbye to 2645 Commerce and moved down the street to 3025 Main Street. Our U-Haul got stuck on the middle of Commerce mid-way through the move. We held our first graduation at the new space. We gained a second theater, twice as many classrooms, and so many bathroom stalls! Our sketch program grew. We have food on the menu. Man dip is back!
2016 - We have a record-setting 280 students, classes registering every month, and our first sketch revue with paid performers in the works. Corporate bookings are at an all-time high, and we will hold our first auditions for corporate team additions this winter. Most importantly: You are here.
Let's make some memories for the next seven years!
Maggie Rieth Austin is a DCH performer and teacher.
To truly understand the art you practice, you need to know its history and those that helped shape it. Bernie Shalins is one of those people who you need to know about. Let's rundown some of his many accomplishments:
- Co-founder and former owner of Second City
- Discover of comedy stars such as Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, and Gilda Radner
- Co-founded, with Paul Sills, of The Compass Players, who invented the current version of improvisation you perform at DCH
- Co-creator of SCTV
"Known for a somewhat caustic sense of humor and a habit of jumping around on the stage while directing, Sahlins had a famous rivalry with the late improv guru Del Close," Chris Jones reported for the Chicago Tribune. "Whereas Close believed in the purity of improvisation as an art form, Sahlins always famously insisted that it was best used as a tool to create original material that later would become part of a script."
Sahlins died Sunday at age 90, and may his huge influence on improvisation and sketch comedy be forever remembered.
(Photo via Getty)
I love history. I believe by learning (and remembering) from the past, we can have a better present and future. So, lately I've been searching out early videos of improv shows. From now on, when I come across them (or you send them to me), I'm going to post them on here. The following video starts off with Avery Schreiber and Del Close performing a short sketch before going into a short history of Second City. I was particularly intrigued by the improvisers working on a suggested scenario backstage before performing it, something I'd never experience or knew about before now.
By the way, have you purchased your tickets to the Second City Does Dallas?
(Hat tip to Michael Golding.)