knowledge

Knowledge is Power

The More You Know Improv is the exploration of the unknown. In its most magical form, shows look like acts of God — preordained explosions of kinetic energy being directed at a single target. Performers’ improv mana comes from a variety of sources: good chemistry, an interesting format, loads of energy. However, one of the richest resources you have at your disposal lies within. I’m not referring to the heart, but rather its calculating counterpart.

Improvisors are terrified of being trapped in their heads, and that leads many of us to become afraid of our own brains. But you see, your mind is Dragon-type: it’s super effective against Dragon-type. By choosing to harness your own brain, you can avoid improv’s most common pitfalls.

House of Cards is at its best when the characters wield the power of knowledge against one another. One character is leveraging intel against another’s congressional clout that they earned by doing a favor three episodes earlier. The characters have confidence, and they make strong moves because of it.

Improvisors deal with infinite possibilities at the top of a scene. You’ll often hear the phrase “choose to know” coming from teachers and coaches. I endorse that phrase, but I want to take it a step further: “Choose to know that you know.” Or if you need something less contrived: “Choose to know the shit out of it.”

When you play the game “expert circle,” it’s your job to field an array of questions on a particular topic. You are freed from the burden of the unknown and you get to take on the persona of a trusted source. But you’re an expert on the topic. Don’t just swat uncomfortable questions away with short, defensive answers; share your knowledge. Your expert brain knows secrets about the topic. You get excited when you get to educate other people. Maybe you’re even a little condescending about how much you know.

Knowledge is complicit with agreement. Any time you choose knowledge, you support your scene partner, and finding your collective way through a scene becomes easier. A few weeks ago, Kyle Austin told our Level 5 improv class, “There’s no reason to ever be surprised in an improv scene.” When you choose to know, the scene can move beyond an explanation or a slow group decision as to what is going on.

What makes Ocean’s Eleven awesome? (Too tough of a question; too many answers, I know.) Certainly one of the reasons is that the characters pulling the heist know what they’re doing. They’re experts in their given fields. While each character has his quirks, each is a valuable team member.

Competency porn is fun to watch. For comedic purposes, we often choose to be bad at our profession in improv scenes. Wouldn’t it be funny if this mechanic couldn’t fix cars? Yeah, I guess, because I would usually expect a mechanic to know something about cars. But wouldn’t it be funnier if the mechanic could fix cars so well that the vehicles ran better than when they were new on the lot? What are the implications of that choice?

English teachers will tell you to eliminate phrases like “I think” or “In my opinion” when writing essays. Your writing reads better when you make an assertion. Statements that come with caveats usually become inherently weaker.

Treat your improv like writing. Have confidence that your spontaneous choices are as good as carefully selected words penned on a page. Knowledge fuels confidence and vice versa. Choose to know (the shit out of it).

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.

What We're Loving: Good Things Ending, In Car Giggling, Mile High Shopping, Fictional Assistants

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison faces mortality, Ashley Bright laughs at absurdity, Amanda Hahn explores the free market, and Ryan Callahan shocks the world. hqdefaultI’m terrified of death and want everything to go on forever. There, I said it! If I had my druthers all things that I enjoy would continue and it would be the law that they exist forever, or at least until I’m tired of watching them (RIP my interest in Dexter after Season Four). I was confronted with this existential crisis this week when I realized that a web series I’ve recently come to enjoy, Chicago Rats, is coming to an end after only three installments. Looking back, I should’ve realized that the warning signs were there all along. I mean, incredibly talented people like Saturday Night Live’s Mike O’Brien and Tim Robinson don’t waste their time on YouTube clips forever. And there wasn’t much of an arc that needed to be completed. And the first and second installments were literally labeled 1 of 3 and 2 of 3, but still, staring down that 3 of 3, knowing that something I enjoy is coming to an end, was not a fun realization.

If for some stupid reason you’re not aware of the random thing that I love this week, let me introduce you. Chicago Rats comes to us from The Above Average Comedy Network on YouTube. You may remember the online conglomerate as the same page that brought you Mike O’Brien’s  Seven Minutes in Heaven celebrity interviews these past few years. The same no budget production style is employed in these videos, the best of which is "Condo Nights". Nights is batting in the Empire Strikes Back slot in the lineup as the second of three and pits O’Brien, Robinson and fellow SNL writer Shelly Gossman as three clueless porn actors forced to improvise dialogue. Their cluelessness is perfect. The other two clips are worth checking out too, but realize, THERE ARE ONLY THREE. So if you want a reminder of your impending demise and the finality of all things, check out the entire three part series. - David Allison

Charles-Bukowski-Uncensored-CD-Bukowski-Charles-9780694524228I have not refreshed the stock of CDs (compact discs with audio files for you youngins)  that I keep in my car in quite some time.  I either hook up my phone, listen to 90.1, or select from the same slim rotation of CDs.  I'm simple and I have a short commute these days.  Heavy in that slim rotation is a Charles Bukowski Uncensored CD that I found at a yard sale a couple of years ago.  And when I put this CD in, I usually listen to the same two tracks on repeat.  The tracks are of him reading his poem, "The Genius of the Crowd."  First, I'll explain why I love this poem and then I'll explain why I listen to it repeatedly.  Aside from when he tells us to beware of folks who constantly read books, he strikes a lot of truth chords with me.  "Beware of the knowers" may be my favorite line because I am always leery of people who are strictly black and white with their beliefs - people who know what's right and wrong.  "Beware of those who are quick to praise for they need praise in return."  Not an absolute truth, but something that's true most of the time.  "Beware of those who detest poverty or those who are proud of it."  Again, he strikes on the absolutes. But here's the real reason I listen to this on repeat.  On the first reading, he pronounces absurdity as 'absurbity.' They let him read through without interrupting him. The next track they ask him to re-read it, but this time pronouncing it correctly.  He tries and keeps saying 'absurbity.'  He can't hear the difference.  Finally, his wife or ladyfriend attempts to walk him through the phonics.  He can do it slowly, but mispronounces it again when he tries to read the whole poem.  They all break up laughing.  I giggle every single time I listen to it.  A hard, raucous, alone in my car. giggle every single time.  If you ever want to listen to it, skip your Uber and I'll drive you home, and we can giggle together. - Ashley Bright

skymall3This week, I traveled out of town for work. Mid-flight on the way out of Dallas, I noticed something in the seat pocket in front of me that I had forgotten existed. It was the most entertaining magazine in the whole world. It was the SkyMall shopping catalog. I love SkyMall so much and laugh out loud every time I flip through it. I’m convinced the creators of the items look through the decoy gift boxes from The Onion and base actual products on those. Compare the pictures below. Based on the products themselves, it’s hard to tell which item is from The Onion and which item is a real product that you can actually buy with real money from SkyMall.

HahnWWL1

I’ll admit that some of the products are actually somewhat useful, just overpriced. However, most are ludicrous. Of the ludicrous, my two favorite categories are: 1) Tricking old people and 2) Is this for real?!

“Tricking old people” includes cleverly worded products (usually electronics) named to be appealing to old people that can be purchased far cheaper elsewhere. For example, you can buy a “VHS to DVD converter” (it’s a VHS/DVD player, and if you’re under the age of 75, you knew that already) for nearly $300 from SkyMall. The same thing can be purchased for about $200 less at…anywhere else. Don’t forget about the “Picture Keeper,” available for about $60. It’s nothing more than an 8 GB USB drive. As malicious as this trickery is, it has allowed for my favorite hobby of pointing at products with my mouth agape, looking around at my fellow passengers, mouthing “are you kidding me?”

“Is this for real?!” includes things like: boxes that are programmed to say “Lookin’ good, Bob” when opened. Or this giant gorilla statue surrounded by cheerleaders (it’s unclear whether cheerleaders are included with your purchase).

HahnWWL2

There is also this creepy bag that winks while you walk (it’s unclear why, why, why, why, why on Earth anyone would want this.HahnWWL3

Ladies and gentlemen, do not despair thinking you can only experience the joy of SkyMall on an airplane. I am happy to say that you can browse the SkyMall catalog online or have delivered right to your door, free of charge. If I haven’t convinced you to order it, then let the sole online review from six years ago do the talking: 4-stars from a guy with the username “justdoit.” And he recommends the catalog. - Amanda Hahn

clash18We've grown close enough over the past few months, dear reader, me sharing my thoughts on pop culture, you reading and occasionally acknowledging what you have read, that I'd like to think I can talk about professional wrestling again without fear of mockery or recrimination. Cool? Great, because the WWE Network now has every Clash of the Champions available for streaming.  Cancel my two o'clock, Miss Fletcher, I have some old wrestling to watch! (Miss Fletcher is the fictional assistant I pretend to call with the fake phone on my desk when I want my imaginary car brought around or I need to place a call to President Bartlet. Miss Fletcher is the best assistant a guy could have: smart, loyal, dedicated, and good with her fists. She's saved my life on more than one adventure. It's such a shame to see her slowly turning into a weremole.)

What was I talking about? Right, pro wrestling. For those who don't know, Clash of the Champions was an occasional live tv event put on by WCW from the late 80's through the mid-90's. They were  like Pay-Per-Views, but instead of having to spend twenty or thirty bucks to see them, you could watch for free. Simply amazing that this company went out of business. For my money (which is again, no money) the Clash shows are the most enjoyable wrestling broadcasts in history. They offer the full spectrum of the rainbow that is professional wrestling. There are all-time great matches (the Ric Flair vs Terry Funk 'I Quit' match from Clash 9), all-time terrible matches (Ric Flair vs Junk Yard Dog from Clash 11), hidden gems with wrestlers who never really got their due (Brad Armstrong, Butch Reed, Silver King), and, most important, some of the dumbest gimmicks and worst ideas in the history of storytelling.

I'm talking about the Ding Dongs, a pair of masked wrestlers, their costumes covered in tiny bells, who would ring a giant bell in the corner for motivation. (You're probably wondering, Did those tiny bells sewn to their costumes fall off all over the ring during the match? You bet the did!) I'm talking about the Master Blasters, a Road Warriors-knock off featuring Kevin Nash in a red mohawk and suspenders. And I'm talking about the Shockmaster.

If you've never heard about the Shockmaster, do yourself a favor and watch this clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7Q4EVpIFIk

That, dear reader, is the most famous flub in the history of wrestling. But it's not just the falling through the wall that makes the scene so wonderful. Every terrible part, from everyone standing with their back to the camera, to Sting's "shock the world" introduction, which someone thought was a good idea, to the mistimed explosion, to the fall through the wall, to the Shockmaster meekly grabbing his glittered  storm trooper helmet and putting it back on, to Booker T's "oh God", to the way time stands still while everyone wonders what to do, to the way the Shockmaster's movements do not match the piped in promo in any way, works together to create a magically awful whole. And now I can watch it over and over again.

Miss Fletcher, cancel my three o'clock with Leo McGary. And for the love of God, please stop tunneling through the office.  - Ryan Callahan