performers

Comedy Centerfold: Murad Al Haj

Welcome to Comedy Centerfold, where we feature a Dallas Comedy House (DCH) performer and get to know him or her a little better by using questions that Playboy centerfolds are usually asked.

Murad.jpg

Did you ever meet someone and feel like you've known him your entire life? That is exactly how I felt when I first met Murad in Level 5 improv class. He is witty, kind, and exemplary when playing the game of "Yes and." I've seen Murad play a rug, a toilet, and my favorite was an alien child. To know him is to love him!

-- Vicki Ferguson

Hometown?
Tripoli, Lebanon. 

Guilty Pleasures?
On rare occasions, I watch a show about people bidding on abandoned storage units. I feel bad afterward.

Ambitions?
"Make a dent in the universe." 

Best Concert? 
I am not a huge fan of big concerts. I love music in small intimate settings. Giulia y Los Tellarini playing in a tiny venue in Barcelona is one of my favorite music events.

Favorite Book? 
This is a very tough one. I love so many books in various genres. If I have to pick one, it would be Cities of Salt.

Favorite Movie?
The Man from Earth. However, Scar throwing Mufasa into a stampede is the greatest scene ever made.

Favorite TV Show?
It is a tie between The Office and Veep.

Pets?
No. Please no. I don't hate pets. I just don't like to exist with them in the same confined space.

Foods I Crave?
Boba tea.

People I Admire?
Multiple people in my family. They helped shape who I am.

Dream Role? 
Mufasa.

Favorite Song to Sing?
Whichever song is stuck in my head. The last one has been "I Walk the Line." 

Good First Date Idea?
First dates suck. Skip them. Date someone you already know. Start from the second date.

You can catch Murad performing with Fantastical Arts at DCH on August 13.

Comedy Centerfold: Vicki Ferguson

Welcome to Comedy Centerfold, where we feature a Dallas Comedy House (DCH) performer and get to know him or her a little better by using questions that Playboy centerfolds are usually asked.

Have you ever met anyone who bargained their way into free race car driving school when buying a Porsche? Have you ever received comforting, loving, and caring advice when you most needed it from the same person? I HAVE! That wonderful someone is miss Vicki (yes, she is single!).

TJ and Dave say it's our jobs as improvisers to lead rich and wonderful lives so we can bring those experiences and gift them to our scene partners. Vicki puts us to shame in that department! But make no mistake; she is passionate, committed, and always wanting more awesomeness on stage, however already awesome her life is.

                                                                                                                              -- Paco Giurfa Ley

Hometown?  
Dallas.

Guilty Pleasures?  
Red wine and champagne with just a splash of orange juice.

Ambitions?  
My ambitions change every day. However, in the end, I hope to say I have conquered most of my fears and was the best person I could be. 

Best Concert?
Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company at The Fillmore. 

Favorite Book?
How to Feng Shui Your Home.

Favorite Movie?
Titanic.

Favorite TV Show?
Outlander, but I'm enjoying The Handmaid's Tale.

Pets?
I have two, long-haired chihuahuas, Maddie and Mia, and a Pom-Chi, Bella. I also have a Grand-dog, Marley Mae. I  also have a mini pig named Elvis and a 7-year-old Beta fish, Sylvester.

Foods I Crave?
Chocolate and French fries.

People I Admire?
My grandmother for her infinite wisdom and the Dalai Lama.

Dream Role?
Lead in the 2018 remake of Pretty Woman

Favorite Song to Sing?
"This Girl Is On Fire."

Good First Date Idea?  
The Dallas Comedy House, of course!

See Vicki perform in the troupe Out of the Blue on August 3 and August 17. 

Comedy Centerfold: Shawn Mayer

Welcome to Comedy Centerfold, where we feature a Dallas Comedy House (DCH) performer and get to know him or her a little better by using questions that Playboy centerfolds are usually asked.

Shawn Mayer once took a golf lesson and scored a screenplay deal out of it. Shawn Mayer once banned bacon from the the Vatican. Shawn Mayer once hid under a table and listened to Churchill sing the blues. You may not know these things about it him, and they're all true. He told me so while we drank iced chai tea at a Seattle-based cafe. He's a man of the world and of the people. He's a great artist who captures emotions well. And you can see him perform in three troupes: Dad's Lap, Sunglow, and Wiki Tiki Tabby. He also irregularly performs in an impromptu one-man show called Corner Prov that no one has ever seen, but definitely exists despite its absence from the Dallas Comedy House schedule. It's totally real. 

Hometown?
I tell people Kansas City, Missouri, but really it's Blue Springs, Missouri, which is a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, but on the far eastern edge, so it's not technically Kansas City, Missouri, but basically it is. 

Guilty Pleasures?
I feel guilty about everything, and I don't take pleasure in any of it. That makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning, but it makes sleeping a lot easier.

Ambitions?
I wanna be one of those guys who buys an old school bus and turns it into one of those tiny homes out in the woods away from where the student loan people can find me. 

Best Concert?
I once played Robert Russell Bennett's symphonic arrangement of "Victory at Sea" in band during undergrad. I also played Schubert's "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen" for my senior recital. I messed up a lot, but I was really nervous. It's a really pretty piece, but don't take my word for it. I didn't sing it. I arranged it for clarinet and euphonium. 

Favorite Book?
I'm always in love with the last book I read. The last one I read was The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett.

“Because some stories end, but old stories go on, and you gotta dance to the music if you want to stay ahead.” 

Favorite Movie?
It changes all the time, but right now I keep revisiting Playtime by Jacques Tati. I don't think another film has ever had as much influence on me.

Favorite TV Show?
Home Movies. If you don't love that show, I have a hard time trusting you as a human being. That's not true, but it sort of is.

Pets?
I'm for them. 

Foods I Crave?
I'm a human garbage disposal. 

People I Admire?
I have a soap box for this one but I'll keep it brief. I admire people who are capable of admiring others who they completely disagree with. Sometimes I feel like we forget we can say "Yes, and" to people off the stage as well as on.  

Dream Role?
Has anyone ever played themselves in the dramatization of their own life? Cuz that would be awesome. I want to play me in the movie about me. We'll call it Shawn: A Story Untold... Maybe I could get Charlie Kaufman to write it.

Favorite Song to Sing?
"Mr. Blue Sky" by E.L.O. If you ever need to feel better, sing that song. I'm a doctor. I know these things. Yep.

Good First Date Idea?
To never have one. Dates terrify me. An intimate connection with another human being is the scariest thing on the face of the planet. What if they hate you because you're dumb and  stupid and you don't know how to react and they never talk to you and ... nothing scares me more than broken relationships. That's selfish. Don't care. Just hide in your room and watch old episodes of Diana Rigg run on The Avengers. Or pick up quilting. Quilting's nice. Like they have quilts in museums now. It's like contemporary art or something. Do quilting. Be alone and quilt. Or don't. Live your life. Don't listen to me. Oh God...Oh God. *heavy breathing*

Pumping Up the Improv Jam

The Jam It’s Tuesday night and there are eight improvisers on stage at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) pretending to throw up because someone brought a bad casserole to the housewarming party. Each person who walks on stage is introducing some new gross bodily function and it’s kind of a peak Jam moment - funny, weird, and everyone’s in on the joke.

I’ve been going to the improv Jam since my Level 1 class when Danielle Seright invited me. Of course, it took me several weeks to actually get the courage to go with her, then I spent a few months interning Tuesday nights. Now I co-host the Jam with Jason Hensel and Patrick Hennessy, so I’ve seen it from all sides.

I love the Jam. I love its weirdness. I feel like it gives you a chance to really test yourself, to see if you can play with beginners and also get experience playing with people who have been doing it a lot longer than you have. My student card got picked to do a set with Primary Colours when I was in Level 3, and I was so nervous I introduced them incorrectly and then didn’t go out in a single scene. We can’t be heroes all the time, which is maybe the point of the Jam.

If you’re unfamiliar, Jason, Patrick, and I give a few announcements, explain the rules, and lead a quick warm-up before breaking everyone up into groups for the night. Anyone and everyone can participate, but we usually have some people just there to soak up some free laughs. We start at 8 p.m., but people wander in and out throughout the night. Some people participate in one round, and some help us close it out.

I think the Jam is important at all levels, so I asked three improvisers with different Jam experiences to answer some questions.  

***

What's your name?

KS: Kaspars (occasionally using covers as Kevin, Karl & John).

JH: Jason Russell Hackett

TH: My given name is Tia Marie Hedge, but I go by a few nicknames: Sweet T, Tuba, Tina, T, SBT. All are accepted and still accepting new ones.

What's your improv experience?

KS: Just graduated Level 3 here at DCH. Never tried improv before!

JH: I started taking classes while they were still being offered in Denton in January 2013. Prior to that, my comedy experience was limited to some mediocre stand-up sets and some now embarrassing blogs that could probably be easily located through a Google search if one was so inclined.

TH: My improv journey did not begin until April 2016 when I signed up for classes at DCH. I actually had no idea what improv was until late 2015, in October, when an old friend introduced me to it. Prior to that, I have not had any other sort of theater or comedic experiences. I'm a baby in the scene.

When did you start coming to the Jam?

KS: May 2016

JH: I started coming to the Jam while I was still in Level 1 because I was super gung-ho about improv and wanted to get on stage as soon as possible. My first attempts were… not good. But those humbling experiences were so vital because it made the moments when I made the right moves and was rewarded with laughter a clear indication that the classes were working, and that I was one step closer to becoming like the performers that intimidated me every time they graced the stage.

The JamTH: I started watching Jams back in October when I got introduced to improv. I didn't start going up at Jams though until the week after I started my Level 1 class because I was terrified to be on stage. But after my first Jam, I fell in love with it. I immediately started going every week.

What does the Jam mean to you?

KS: Hmm, I keep coming and staying late, always late for work the next day. It’s fun. It’s challenging! Always different people and perspectives. I think I enjoy doing improv. Also, I’m from abroad, which makes it a great way to meet new people and hear local references. Jokes are tough to get at times. Not a Jam goes by that I learn something new and weird.

JH: The Jam is one of the most important components of the improv educational experience. Classes are where you learn the techniques needed to be a good improviser, but the Jam is the laboratory where you get to experiment with those techniques in front of a live audience. For a brand new improviser, I think it's essential to go at least once before your first showcase because it's the perfect way to get past the nerves of simply being on stage without wasting the precious few minutes of your showcase doing so. For the more experienced improviser, I think it's just as important. The Jam is somewhere you can help the new improvisers by leading through example. Having those experts interspersed through the rounds gives the newer improvisers an anchor and can be as instructive as actual class time. Additionally, there have been times when I've been down on myself as an improviser, and the Jam has been key to shaking those feelings away. I can go there, play with people I've never even met before, focus on the basics of improv that I've been neglecting, and try out new techniques I haven't had the courage to try elsewhere. Anyway, that's a very long-winded way of saying it's important for everyone.

TH: The Jam to me is a great way to expand your play styles and knowledge of improv. It forces you to learn how to play with a variety of different players, seasoned and beginners. It's a great place to practice things you want to work on getting better at or to go to have a fun time. Other than improv stuff, Jams were the way I connected with most of my friends that I have now.

Favorite Jam memory?

The JamKS: I remember “find the killer” game a while ago, where the group marked the dead person laying on the floor using “numbered cubes with antenna (?!)” from the tables and conducted a murder investigation! Awesome!

JH: I have two. The first is from when I just started, and I ended up hanging out until the last rounds of the night, where the only people left were myself and the experienced people who intimidated me. Also, we were all drunk. I remember this one scene where everyone was on stage and the scene was this orgy photoshoot, and I was standing behind Ashley Bright, who was bent over a chair, for what felt like an eternity, saying nothing but watching the scene grow around me. I could feel the scene coming (heh) to its natural conclusion, and decided to ask the question I'd been keeping in my pocket the whole time… “Hey, can I pull out?” I made those intimidating improvisers laugh, and I think I've been chasing that feeling ever since. The second has been watching my girlfriend, Veronica, begin her own improv journey and to see her at the Jam, full of nerves and excitement, creating her own friendships with her fellow Level 1s. Although this has also had the effect of making me feel old as hell, improv-wise.

TH: Besides the numerous amount of absurd and hilarious scenes I was able to be a part of, my favorite Jam memory was a certain Tuesday night after class. I was in Level 2 at the time with a new class I had just joined that term. We were all basically forced by our teacher, Sarah Adams, to go to the Jam together. Also, I've never seen any of my new classmates at a Jam before. So it was a little exciting for me to see them do their first Jam. My favorite part of that night was seeing all of them laughing and smiling on stage and having the time of their lives up there. They didn't care who was watching. They were just playing with their friends!

Advice for anyone nervous to Jam?

KS: I did hear “Just get out there!” many times, and while it’s very true and one should have it under your sleeve at all times, I found that having just a slightest tip can make a huge difference especially for folks like me who are not natural "go-getters"... and usually brain drains to alarming levels (probably blood runs down all the way to butt!) once getting anywhere near the stage. So, once I saw this YouTube video… (long laugh). So here it goes: “Just get out there.. AND try (when appropriate) matching (doing the same as) your counterpart (preferably twice as hard).” The few times I tried, it reduced some of the fear and got me into silly and fun scenes (at least for me), with some initial idea and an illusion that you know something. And, of course, extra trouble if others pick up on the fact that you are “up for shit!” (long evil laugh). Obviously, Jams are a ton of fun, and the hosts are always there for you!*

JH: I'm sure everyone is going to say “just do it” in some form or another, and I agree. But that's easy to say and hard to do. I would say, go to the Jam at first just to watch. You don't even have to get up there, just observe what's going on. But, since you've come all that way, you may as well get up and do the warm-up and get assigned a number. If you want to bail after that, no pressure. But since you have a number, you may as well get up on stage and at least watch from the sides. Just feel what it's like to be on stage in front of a crowd, and realize that it's not as scary as you thought. And since you're up there on the sides, you may as well at least try to walk out at the beginning of one of the scenes, even if you don't have anything to say. You can pretend to be an inanimate object, and just stay in the background. But since you're out there in the scene, you may as well give it your all and use the skills you've learned in class to make the scene as good as you can. And then get off stage, walk straight to the bar, and buy yourself a drink. You've earned it.

TH: My advice for anyone who is nervous about going to a Jam: Don't be. I was, and I regret that. It held me back from growing as an improviser. Most people are scared about screwing up or saying something stupid on stage. Well, THAT'S WHAT THE JAM IS FOR! It's where you get to screw up and learn from it. You get to be the silliest or weirdest you can be, and the people standing on stage with you are going to be just as silly or weird as you. (And they might possibly turn into your best friend.) The Jams are a place to have fun, and that's exactly what it is, fun! I smell butts. I fart 24/7 (This is was Shahyan's answers. Also accurate.).

***

So there you have it. You’re fully prepared to spend the night at the DCH Jam, or just watch, or maybe you aren’t prepared at all and that’s kind of the point.

*Kaspars, please, you’re embarrassing me.

The Jam

Darcy Armstrong is a graduate of the Dallas Comedy House Improv program and a Sketch Writing student. She writes for feminist comedy website superglooze.com, walks her dog frequently, drinks chardonnay at the DCH bar, and performs with Glistlefoot.

(Photos: Jason Hensel and Darcy Armstrong)

Troupe Talk: Wiki Tikki Tabby

Wiki Tikki Tabby This troupe talk is dedicated to and written in loving memory of Jake Malnaughty.

If there’s one thing you should know about the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) troupe Wiki Tikki Tabby (see also Wikki Tiki Tabby, Wiki Tiki Tabbie, or Wifi Tiffy Tubby...spelling varies), it’s that first and foremost, member Byron Dow will do anything for free. And he means anything. In fact, he agreed to participate in this troupe talk for free. In addition, you name it, and Byron will also gladly f*** it or eat it, as long as he has the proper instruction to do so. Well, on one fateful day, the name Jake Malnaughty was whispered in hushed tones around the dark corners of DCH, as Dow was instructed to sacrifice the late great Malnaughty to the almighty gods of improv. Fortunately, the sacrifice appeased the gods, so they bestowed improv powers of passion, courage, whimsy, support, and bold choice-making upon Wiki Tikki Tabby. Thus, from that day forward, they were forever bonded in solidarity. Wiki Tikki Tabby (Emily Baudot, Byron Dow, Joe Halbouty, Houston Hardaway, Shawn Mayer, and Danielle Seright) is a troupe that always brings the unexpected, the outlandish, and the wildly creative to the stage. Like the love children of Lewis Carroll and Willy Wonka, a Wiki Tikki show is a delightfully trippy experience, full of laughs and lots of love for the craft and each other. It’s like a meticulously woven tapestry or an intricate mandala of colorful scenes that each seem bizarre on their own but somehow all come together in a mesmerizing and mind-blowing arrangement. A Wiki Tikki show is truly a one-of-a-kind...and probably would not be possible without the sacrifice of Jake Malnaughty.

Beyond Byron’s human sacrifice to the gods of improv, Jake Malnaughty may he rest in peace, how did Wiki Tikki Tabby originate?

Danielle: It was a cold, rainy day...

Emily: ...We were all in Level 3, and Byron came up to us, either together or separately, and he had this grand vision, and I think his vision was...(Byron starts grinning) well you know what, Byron, I don’t want to speak for you.

Byron: (Still grinning) No, go ahead.

Joe: Byron had a vision?

Shawn: Let’s all guess Byron’s grand vision. I got a text message like, “Hey, you wanna be in a troupe?” And I was like, “Yeah. OK.”

Byron: Yep, that’s actually the whole story.

Emily: Really? I got a face-to-face invitation.

Danielle: Darcy asked me.

Shawn: Wow. I got a text, man.

Byron: I was probably like, “Hey Darcy, can you ask Danielle?” I don’t think I knew you very well.

Emily: Then Byron said, “I think you guys will all play well together.” And I think we do. ...So that’s that story.

Houston: I agree. We all came up in the same levels together, not necessarily the same class. And we all had the same energy level and passion toward improv. We kind of just gravitated toward each other based on that and became friends that way.

Danielle: I knew who you all were, except for Joe really, but I guess we met at Jams and through interning and being at DCH all the time.

Houston: I knew you [Danielle] through interning.

Shawn: I had Danielle in my third level class, but I didn’t remember. When you [Danielle] came and talked to me after your open mic, I was like, “Who are you?”...in my head. But, now I know. I know your name.

Byron: What’s her name?

Shawn: Don’t put me on the spot.

Byron: Hey, you guys wanna make a troupe?

Houston: Yeah.

Joe: Yes.

Danielle: Yeah.

Emily: Yeah, that’s a good idea.

Shawn: We can form another troupe.

Byron: It’ll be Tikki Wiki. Reverse it.

Shawn: What would we do differently?

Houston: It would have to be everything opposite. Right?

Wiki Tikki Tabby

Speaking of Tikki Wiki’s and Wiki Tikki’s, where did the name Wiki Tikki Tabby come from?

Emily: Well, the original idea was that we were going to get a suggestion from the audience like...

Joe: ...Like, “What was the last Wikipedia page you visited?” And then we came up with the name based off of that...and then we dumped that idea.

Emily: Yeah, but we still kept this idea, or concept, of being on a Wikipedia page and clicking blue links until you’re like 3,000 steps away from where you started and still relate it somehow. I think we’ve still maintained that.

Houston: Well, we went through a bunch of “What should our name be?” and stuff like that, and I think it came from when we were in earlier levels, we were all interested in pushing boundaries and seeing other weird stuff we could do. What are some other formats and other weird things we can do that we haven’t been doing in class? And we thought, “Let’s do a Wikipedia thing for the suggestion.”

Danielle: I don’t know where the “Tabby” part came from?

Joe: Browser tabs, but we kept it as “Tabby” because someone made a bunch of posters of us with our faces on cats.

Houston: Also, I’m not sure any of us spell it the same. I think we all mess it up all the time.

Emily: That’s kind of like us, too, though. It’s [correct name spelling] not really a rule, more like a guideline. It’s a conceptual thing. I’m OK with that.

Since you guys took inspiration from the dark hole that is Wikipedia, what’s been the weirdest Wiki rabbit hole you’ve found yourself traveling down recently?

Emily: The Bell Tower.

Houston: Like the guy who shot people from the bell tower?

Joe: What?!

Emily: No! Jesus Christ!

Houston: Sorry! I didn’t know what we’re talking about! We were talking about Wikipedia rabbit holes, and then you said “The Bell Tower.” And I was like “What could be an article about a bell tower?”

Danielle: It was a scene. Did you forget our improv?

Emily: I was talking about a performance inspired by a Wikipedia thing. I’m sorry, I misunderstood the question.

Byron: Well, the last Wikipedia page I visited was an article about a torture device called the brazen bull.

Emily: Ooooh! I love that!

[All laugh]

Emily: Hold up. It’s a cool thing.

Byron: It’s a bronze bull, and you put someone inside it, and you heat it up, and basically...

Houston: They’re cooked inside.

Byron: And they get cooked. There’s also a horn that comes out of the bull’s mouth and as they’re getting cooked they start screaming...and it sounds like a bull. (making bull noises) I don’t know.

Is that what happened to Jake Malnaughty?

Emily: Well, that’s one thing that happened.

Byron: That is what happened to Jake Malnaughty.

Danielle: And then Byron ate him.

Byron: And then I ate him afterward, because they asked me too. I f***ed him, too. I got right up in there!

Joe: Before or after?

Houston: While he was in the bull?

Wiki Tikki Tabby

What’s Wiki Tikki’s style of improv? Do you guys have a format?

Houston: We’ve kind of evolved. We were trying to incorporate a bunch of different styles into one, but now, I think our main focus is having organic, playful shows and going wherever it takes us. Not placing any restrictions on ourselves.

Byron: It’s like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole. That’s how we like to view it.

Emily: Exactly. It’s like Alice in Wonderland meets Donnie Darko meets I don’t know...

Byron: ...A drug trip?

Emily: Is that pretentious?

Joe: Very pretentious, but that’s what we’re about.

Byron: I’m totally cool with being pretentious. I think it’s hilarious.

Shawn: We’re pretentious meets...

Joe: ...Mongooses. Or is it Mongeese? How do you pluralize “Mongoose?”

Emily: Mongeese. I’m pretty sure.

Houston: I hope it’s “mongooses,” because that sounds stupid.

Shawn: Couldn’t the plural and the singular just be the same?

Byron: Yeah, it could. But what if it was like “Duogooses?” Like you got two of them?

Houston: (Googling) The plural form is “mongooses” or rarely “mongeese.”

Emily: So once again, as is the usual, both Joe and I were correct.

Houston: Oooh a group of “mongeese” is called a “mob.”

Byron: Anyway, I think, and we’ve kind of all talked about this, we do scenes and we do super organic stuff. I have this challenging question: “Can you do a successful improv show without doing any scenes?” Non-scenic improvising. So, can we make the parts where we’re not in a normal scene more interesting?

Houston: I think it’s interesting with our group evolving because we’ve been trying to figure out what we want to do as a group. And Byron was gone in Chicago for a little while, and then we had some group changes, so now we’ve been trying to get back on our feet and figure out what direction to go in. I think Danny has been really helpful in pointing out, “Here’s things that seem fun that you’re already doing, so here’s the direction you might want to go.”

Byron: Shawn describes our style being like a dream.

Shawn: A fever dream.

Byron: A fever dream. It’s very weird. If you try and recall your dreams, they’re strange and weird things are happening, but they’re sometimes connected. You can go from one place and then have it magically transform into another place.

Shawn: Sometimes you can remember dreams exactly and recount it to somebody, but other times you can be like, “I was talking to my mom, but she had my dad’s face...and popcorn kept falling out of her mouth.” And I think that could be a scene. I’m cool with that.

Houston: I think we definitely have a stream of consciousness type vibe, where we’re using the show to build on each other and connect the dots. And wherever it's fun, we’ll follow that.

Byron: My favorite thing about a Wiki show is that it’s out there, it’s pretty unique, and we take a lot of risks.

Joe: I think it works pretty well...except when we forget we can edit.

Houston: That did happen. We had a 30-35 minute mono-scene once...I don’t know if it was really that long, but it felt that long. It wasn’t until the end of the show that someone edited and I was like, “Oh yeah! We can edit!” ...Anyways, to answer your question, I don’t think there’s a name for our format, but we take what we have and build on it.

Emily: I think we joked around calling it [our format] “Fever Dream Machine” at one point. Or some iteration of that, I guess.

Byron: I think it’s closer related to a Courtesy Sleeve. It’s very similar in that we follow rabbit holes down to interesting, unique scenes. Our scenes are out there, but they’re cool.

Wiki Tikki Tabby

What do you dig about performing with each of your fellow Tabbies?

Houston: Joe, I love that you are always super patient in scenes, which is something I’m not good at. You always have such witty things to say. You have some one-liners, where I’m just like, “Motherf***er! Damn you, that’s really good.”

Emily: (to Joe) Quality just leaks out of your mouth. I don’t know how you do it. Well, probably because you don’t just say the first thing that pops into your head.

Joe: (Wiping the quality from his lips) Is the quality still there?

Emily: Yeah, I don’t think you’re ever going to get rid of it.

Joe: I’m sorry. I probably need a handkerchief.

Byron: You [Joe] probably have an economy of words that’s like better than a lot of other performers. Like you choose words carefully.

Danielle: You got good words, Joe.

Houston: And you know when to say them.

Joe: Rad.

Emily: Houston is like a little pinball...

Danielle: Set on fire.

Joe: Or a super ball that you bounce and it goes higher and it shoots off all the walls.

Danielle: And is set on fire.

Emily: But not the shitty kind [of super ball] you get at Chucky Cheese, but like the good kind you get at Dave & Buster’s.

Shawn: I was thinking Houston is like a wet noodle covered in cocaine.

Danielle: Set on fire.

Joe: I would say he’s al dente.

Danielle: Yeah, cooked, not wet.

Byron: I don’t have any clever analogies, but I just love Houston’s use of emotion. I think it’s better than a lot of other performers out there. You’re not afraid to make something.

Joe: You’re really good at angst.

Danielle: Taps out like a motherf***er.

Emily: You’re an edit ninja.

Byron: I like Shawn’s analogy best about you, though.

Shawn: Oh, and he can mirror anything. (Houston mirroring) He’s that! He’s you!

Houston: Danielle, you always think of these really funny, goofy things that I would never think of. Whenever you’re on stage, I’m super excited to see what you’re going to say and what you’re going to do. You’re just so good. I’m always excited to see what happens.

Emily: When I go out into a scene with Danielle, I know it’s going to be a good time. I’m not worried about anything. Sometimes you go in to play with somebody and you get anxious because you’re trying to figure out what to say to them, but with Danielle it’s very natural, and I’m just like “Thank you!” You’re very grounded energy-wise.

Houston: You have great physicality, too. And you always surprise me with your choices. There was one time in class you had a scene with Joe, and you didn’t like the drink he had, and you just straight up poured it out. Like I would never think to make that choice, and it was such a great choice.

Shawn: I don’t know what to expect.

Byron: Yeah! Surprising, most definitely. A little goofster!

Shawn: Your face during the show-and-tell bit during the graduation show, so perfect. So beautiful.

Byron: Classic goofster!

Danielle: I feel really comfortable playing with Emily, always. She’s so creative, the things Emily comes up with, and her initiations are always awesome. She’s so good at that. I like her energy. Her characters are always really good. I like her little kid characters.

Emily: (using a little anime child voice) Thank you very much.

Houston: You [Emily] are always so bold and confident. More than anyone, you are always out in the first scene. You’re out in a lot of scenes. When you make a choice, it’s bold and big. You are so confident. That’s something I admire and try to emulate. You just go out there and f***in’ do it!

Byron: Courageous. Very courageous and brave. It’s inspiring to me because I still get super scared walking out into scenes and I’m hardly in the first scene of a set ever, and Emily consistently gets out there. (To Emily) You don’t let the stage be empty, you attack it.

Joe: I think you [Emily] have grown a lot too, since Level 1. You’re really good at being in the scene and building the world. The thing you did at Block Party was really good.

Danielle: You always make 100 percent choices. Bold and confident and awesome. You stick to your shit.

Shawn: You commit.

Byron: You do stick to your shit. A little sticker! OK, now Shawn...I’m going to start this out and it’s not going to sound like a compliment. Shawn, you are NOT balanced! You are not balanced. You are like a scale and every single thing you are really good at is on one side...and it blows my mind. Why is that guy so smart? Why is that guy so bold? Why is that guy...not me?

Emily: Why does that guy look so much like Gene Wilder?

Shawn: It’s the hair.

Byron: I do think you are good at everything. Not just good, amazing.

Joe: I don’t think you [Shawn] really look like Gene Wilder, but you act like Gene Wilder. Not mimicking him, but you’ve got a similar feel to the way you act in scenes.

Emily: I feel like we give each other a hard time, but I feel like that’s because you’re like my improv brother, my big brother. I try to emulate the way you think on stage because it’s so good. I wish I could crawl in your brain and live there. It’d be such a weird, wacky place.

Shawn: It’s a dirty place.

Joe: You did a really good bit about truck nuts last night.

Emily: Truck nuts?

Shawn: I was fondling nuts all over the place.

Houston: You’re so whimsical, Shawn. And playful. Even when you’re playing a character that’s pissed off, there’s still a sense of fun to it, which I think is so important in improv. You’re always having a good time, and you bring that energy to whatever you’re doing on stage. Interesting, quirky, unique, and it’s not something you can learn, it’s something you have.

Byron: You’re just a little curly whirly.

Emily: If Houston is a super ball, then Byron is like a nuclear power jet. He’s got so much energy, but like in a great productive way.

Shawn: Like the Kool-Aid® Man.

Byron: Thanks! That’s who I aspire to be.

Joe: Smashing through stuff. Also, you [Byron] went to Chicago.

Houston: Yeah, he went to Chicago

Shawn: He went to Chicago.

Byron: Yeah, I went to Chicago. Make sure you put that in the article. I went to Chicago and studied at the Improv Olympics...you know, the iO.

Emily: Yeah, he was there for a week, and then they got sick of him and sent him back.

Houston: You [Byron] have a lot of knowledge about improv, like way more than I do. Like way more than a lot of people I know do. You’ve opened my eyes to a lot of ways shows can be built. And you play with a really good intensity. You make really big, strange moves, but they always completely work within the structure of what we set up.

Joe: The first time we ever played together, I knew I wanted to be in a troupe with this guy. You [Byron] initiated with “Timmy have a seat”...and I was thinking in my head “Have a seat, Tim” I had the exact same idea in my head as you.

Danielle: I love how passionate about improv Byron is. Byron subbed in my Level 1 class, and he was the guy with the notebook out.

Emily: I don’t think there’s anyone as committed to improv as you [Byron]. You bring a passion that’s remarkable. When you perform, you can tell you love being there.

Let’s end this Troupe Talk with some fond words of farewell and a moment of remembrance, for the one and only, Jake Malnaughty, Wiki Tikki’s first sacrifice to the improv gods.

Joe: Poor uh...Johnny...uh what was his name?

Danielle: Jake.

Shawn: You’ve already forgotten?

Byron: Jake Malnaughty.

Houston: You know Jake Malnaughty. His name.

Joe: Yeah, that sounds right. That guy, oh how I miss him.

Emily: I think it’s good to distance yourself, you know, and dehumanize it. He served his purpose well, and that’s the kind of thing I can say about him. The reason we picked him to be our sacrifice was that he was a bit of a dick.

Shawn: He was an asshole.

Danielle: He did improv in New York.

Shawn: We weren’t havin’ none of that!

Houston: Also he fit in the bull really nicely. It was a small bull.

Joe: He was a petite man.

Emily: Except for the pot belly.

Houston: He was petite with a belly.

Emily: Well, you know, I don’t remember him well. But if I could go back and sacrifice somebody again...I’d do it.

Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.

(First three images: Tom Halbouty; last image: Darcy Armstrong)

Comedy Centerfold: Ryan Vicksell

Welcome to Comedy Centerfold, where we feature a Dallas Comedy House (DCH) performer and get to know him or her a little better by using questions that Playboy centerfolds are usually asked. Ryan VicksellThe malfunctioning TARDIS lands in a quarry and Ryan Vicksell immediately senses that something is amiss. Soon, he realizes that history is being altered and he must intervene to prevent a disaster. As he begins to investigate, his companions in the troupes Encyclopedia Moronica (performing at DCH on October 26) and Learning Curve (October 5) all sprain their ankles and he finds himself captured and put in a cell where he is subjected to a mind probe by his captors.

Meanwhile, Ryan's companions writhe on the floor screaming "Tractators! Tractators!" but they are in worse danger than they realize because several of their new friends are traitors.

Elsewhere, Ryan has convinced a wimpy bad guy to change sides and after a tense period of running back and forth down the same corridor is shocked to learn that the aliens have zips down their backs and the tension comes to a peak until, at the last minute, he saves the day by helping the rebels overthrow their oppressors.

Hometown? Carrollton, Texas. Really though, I spent most of my time as a kid and as a teenager on the Internet, so in reality I come from a land of dank memes, flash videos, immature weirdos, and lots of stuff about video games.

Guilty Pleasures? I wouldn’t say I have any guilty pleasures because everything I do is pretty damn awesome (like me), but I guess I can pick a few more questionable ones: collecting Star Wars Legos, die-cast starships, and other nerdy stuff I have no room for. Sleeping for 18 hours straight because I love sloths. Eating too many Raising Cane’s chicken strips.  

Ambitions? I’ve only had one big “ambition” in life, and that’s to find some awesome gal to spend some time with in that whole romancey way. You know, she doesn’t have to be perfect. Genuine, someone I get along with, funny, wants what I do out of life, wears apple bottom jeans, boots with the fur. It’s the only thing I’ve wanted that relies somewhat on chance, so I just keep trying to be a better person and hope for the best.

Besides that, I want to become a better teacher, comedian, and continue to challenge myself creatively. Preferably while cuddling with an adorable sloth, because sloths are perfect and adorable creatures and if you disagree with me you are wrong.

Best Concert? Trans-Siberian Orchestra puts on the most impressive shows you can imagine. Each year, it’s a new whirlwind of lights, flames that you can feel from the top rows of the American Airlines Center, giant platforms lifting musicians above the audience, and of course, amazing yet meaningful symphonic rock. Plus, they’re just classy as hell.

Favorite Book? All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque really piqued my interest in history freshman year of high school. It was written simply, but packed with so much emotion, despair, and depth. I realized then that history wasn’t a bunch of dates, but the story of people – real people, struggling with things far beyond my imagination. Despite the fact that pretty much everyone dies [Editor's Note: Spoiler alert!], I found the perseverance and humanity of the characters inspiring during a time when I was on the brink myself.

Favorite Movie? It’s not one movie, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy is probably my favorite. I’m a big sucker for big, sweeping dramatic epics on an epic scale, and the 12-hour runtime probably helped (I’m one of the five people on earth who think they should be even longer). I like to see characters evolve over long periods of time, and movies rarely allow that. It’s the only movie that I’ve ever thought was better than the books. They didn’t change me on any deep level, they are just really really good.

Fun Fact: The first time I asked a girl out on a date, I listened to the "Charge of the Rohirrim" from the Return of the King soundtrack as I walked up to her to gather courage. Unfortunately, my dreams ended up like king Théoden – trampled to death by giant elephants in a muddy field [Editor's Note: Spoiler alert!].

Favorite TV Show? Unlike most people at DCH, comedy TV/movies never particularly tickled my fancy. I grew up on a steady diet of Star Trek, Stargate, and anything else with “Star-“ in the title. Really, my favorite shows are often ones that either teach me to be a better person, have some emotionally-crushing drama, or both. There’s a lot of great TV, but I have a couple of favorites, though. Battlestar Galactica (the new one), taught me that every single one of us is pretty messed up in some way and that even though I’m no different I can still be a great person. Doctor Who taught me to embrace my weirdness, and that an Oxford jacket, bow-tie wearing nerd who rambles endlessly CAN be the coolest guy ever.

Pets? I love dogs and would love to have one, but between work, comedy, and other stupid grown-up responsibilities, I feel like I wouldn’t be able to give the poor thing enough attention and would just feel guilty constantly. Instead, I just longingly look at cute dogs on the Internet and instantly fall in love with any dog I happen to walk past.

Foods I Crave? I don’t crave food that often, oddly enough. I sort of eat because I have to, but usually, I’m not hankering for anything specific. I do love me a good steak, though. I’m very much a carnivore. Mostly, I need some caffeine.

People I Admire? People who are genuine and honest about themselves. Too many people hide behind masks and are afraid to be vulnerable. I understand it, but I feel like the world would be a much better place if we could be honest about, and help, each other with our flaws. I would rather be open about and laugh at my flaws than hide them and be miserable all the time. I admire people who can do that.

Dream Role? Playing the Doctor on Doctor Who. He’s full of life and energy, dashing about and rambling on about things nobody understands. He’s full of wit, humor, yet also carries a lot of darkness inside of him and is a truly caring, complex character that would be so great to play. Who wouldn’t want to dash around time and space saving the world while being a complete weirdo at the same time?

Favorite Song to Sing? Most of the music I listen to is instrumental, so often I’ve got some big dramatic orchestral flourishes, screaming choirs, or taiko drum beats in my head. I’ll go with “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan because A) It’s manly as hell B) Was the first Disney song I didn’t hate as a kid.

Lately, I’ve been singing “Yoghurt” by Ylvis, which is literally about nothing but yogurt, and yogurt is great so I approve strongly of the song.

Good First Date Idea? In the first spaceship to Mars. That way, you have plenty of time to relax, get to know one another over some freeze-dried peas, and if it doesn’t work out you can spend the time pretending to be captain of the Enterprise and playing the Star Trek theme on repeat and there’s nothing she can do to stop you! Win-win situation!

In reality, I would guess somewhere where you have plenty of time to talk, get to know each other in a stress-free environment, and determine if your date likes roller coasters. Anyone worth dating should like roller coasters. This is mostly theoretical since I have far more experience with roller coasters than dating. I’ve actually been on a roller coaster in the last three years.