philosophy

If You Want to be a Comic, Be a Philosopher

George Carlin If you read the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) blog, it’s probably safe to assume that you’re into this stuff. You look forward to every practice, class, and performance with giddy anticipation. If you could, you’d probably even do this for a living. Most of us are smart enough to know that comedy as a full-time career isn’t the highest percentage choice.

And it’s not as though had we known at age 16 that we would develop a passion for comedy we could have been taking the right standardized tests and applying to universities. Improv and stand-up classes at places like DCH are the closest things we have to a technical school for comedians. Only experience can truly make you better at an art form.

However, academia is not entirely secular for members of our religion. Comedians tend to punch up at institutions — and higher education is one of the most pompous — but any field of study that challenges you to be a better thinker will ultimately bolster the quality of your comedy.

When I was in my fifth and final year of college, I took a philosophy course because I had to. A friend endorsed the Intro to Social and Political Philosophy class taught by a particularly engaging teacher. Pre-college instruction, philosophy seemed to me like a convoluted world of high diction and pedantic pontificating. I still kind of feel that way after taking the course, but the nuggets panned by my professor were eye-opening. I’ll spare you my hot takes on John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hobbes, but analyzing the works of these writers changed the way I looked at the world. Verbosity notwithstanding, it also improved my writing.

Comedy and curiosity go hand-in-hand. Observing the world around you and asking “why?” is the root of many comedic premises, but it also helps you evaluate your own behavior. In class, we would build rational cases for why philosophers’ arguments were or were not strong. I realized over the course of the semester that while we may agree with an idea about the way things should be, we often work counter to that end. That’s comedy in a nutshell: Calling attention to, or even trying to rationalize, irrational behavior.

No matter your medium, as a comedian, you comment on the human condition. Because most comedians acknowledge the grandiose difficulty involved in trying to surmise the meaning of existence, they are self-aware. This makes comedians more accessible than, if not more reliable than, philosophers.

Look at the stand-ups who were able to achieve both critical and commercial success. Comedians like Pryor, Carlin, and more recently, Louis C.K., are essentially contemporary philosophers. They use punchlines instead of a works-cited page, so we enjoy listening to their albums more than trying to dissect a Jean-Jacques Rousseau essay.

Sometimes when writing this blog, I feel like I’m talking at, or even condescending to, my audience. If I didn’t come across to you that way before, now that I bring this up perhaps my writing will be forever artificially inseminated with the tone I was seeking to avoid. The neuroses that would cause me to stop and include this paragraph are the same neuroses that allow me to practice comedy. I’m insecure. I place too much value in others’ esteem of myself and the end products/reception of my work, rather than the quality of said work. But I believe that acknowledging flaws improves your self-awareness and makes you a better comedian.

Philosophers try to rationalize the workings of the world and their place within it. Audiences respond to honesty. There’s nothing more honest than someone just trying to figure things out.

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: Thought Catalog/Creative Commons)

What We're Loving: Other People's Mix CDs, Dream Composing, Non-Educational Educational Shows, Failures of Language

image (1)Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison rescues dying media, Ashley Bright welcomes whimsy into the world, Amanda Hahn discovers comedy that speaks to her, and Ryan Callahan finds improv lessons in an unlikely place. 

Used-CDs When it comes to buying used media I always strive to be aware of the market.  I’m like the Jim Cramer of thrifted content.  For the longest time, the best value in this realm was, obviously, VHS tapes.  The medium had an eight year run of being the best bang for your buck if you wanted some cheap entertainment.  That’s no longer the case as the continued march of time has rendered many VHS players useless and many VHS tapes dated.  It’s the end of an era.  So what are you, as a consumer, supposed to do?  Where do we as a society go from here?  I’m here today to issue some direction; used CDs are a BUY BUY BUY.

Recently, I spent very little money on a handful of CDs from a local resale shop and have been reaping the benefits ever since.  But David, why?  To me, used CDs are an excellent opportunity for entertainment because you have a chance to listen to them everyday (In your car) and their availability litters the shelves of every thrift store.  Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the content isn’t streaming
    • You probably have a subscription to a service like Spotify or Slacker that allows you to stream most music on the go.  If you see something you like on the shelf, check to make sure it’s not streaming. I don’t want to see you waste your money!  I recently made this mistake with the soundtrack to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.  I’m a dummy.
  • Soundtracks are a hidden goldmine
    • I went over this in detail last month herehere, and here.
  • Mix CDs are the best
    • I know we all loved a good mix cd (Or mix tape if you’re like a billion years old). You can find people’s personal CD-RWs at most thrift stores.  They are definitely hit or miss, but that’s why we buy stuff used, we’re all chasing the magical dragon of a good value.

Since I’ve gone on my recent CD buying spree (I’ve purchased five CDs in 2014 alone, which places me in the top 1% of CD purchasers) I’ve discovered that I really enjoy Taylor Hicks, Space Jam’s soundtrack belongs in the pantheon of all time greats, and that music producers in 2008 thought that autotune fixed EVERYTHING. They were wrong.  Learn these lessons and more by joining me in making 2014 the year of the CD! - David Allison

BluebearI don't get enough whimsy in my life. So, this week I finally started reading Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. Years ago, I read and immensely enjoyed Moers' The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear. I'm actually going to tell you more about Bluebear because I've yet to make a significant dent in the nearly 700-page Rumo. We first meet Bluebear when he's tiny and floating in a walnut shell precariously close to a whirlpool. He is saved by tiny Minipirates, but is left on his own when he outgrows their ship. He learns to the art of speech by some talking waves, the Babbling Billows. In one of my favorite of his 13 1/2 lives, Bluebear finds himself in the head of a giant and lands a job of a 'dream composer' to keep the giant's brain occupied. He makes his way out of the head and into Atlantis, where he makes his way to be the King of Lies and keeps his title for a year. The King of Lies is a Congladiator tournament in a colosseum, where instead of fighting, the congladiators much weave fictional stories to the audience and the audience crowns a winner. Bluebear encounters the character Rumo on his travels. Making Rumo the Mork to Bluebear's Happy Days. These books do ring of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but feel a little less sardonic. If you're a fan of Douglas Adams, fantasy, Vonnegut, or just good stories, I encourage you to give a world created by Moers a go. - Ashley Bright

BlastoffI love learning and school. I love it so much that being a professor is my #1 dream job. I also love comedy. Being a comedian is my #1.1 dream job. So what did my friend recently recommend to me that combines both learning and funny? Professor Blastoff! I’ve only listened to the first episode of this podcast so far, but I’m already hooked. It’s hosted by her-great-goddess-of-comedy-forever Tig Notaro, along with Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger. The three of them talk science, philosophy, math, theology – whatever interests them, under the premise that a Professor R.L. Blastoff used to host a radio show in the 1940s in the basement of Kyle’s house. He got transported into another dimension (I don’t remember why, and it doesn’t matter). Now the three of them are filling in until Professor Blastoff comes back. I didn’t learn anything new from the episode I listened to, but I didn’t care. The three of them are friends (Tig and Kyle are BFFLs and writing partners), and it really comes through in their interactions. They ask each other questions, share what they know, and joke around (they’re just like us!). I felt like a fly on the wall of a funny person’s living room. If you like talking about stuff that interests you but don’t know much about with your friends, you will love this podcast. They have guests every week, and the next episode features Nick Offerman talking about bees. I doubt I’ll learn anything meaningful about bees, but I’m sure I’ll have a blast (get it?!) listening to the four of them muse and wonder about them. - Amanda Hahn

51xUIEAv0aLKate returns to her typewriter from time to time. She writes memories, anecdotes, observations. She makes and misses connections, struggles to remember and express her thoughts. She goes mad. She might be the last woman on Earth. This is the plot, in its entirety, of David Markson’s brilliant novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

Like all of Markson’s later works (Reader’s Block, This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel) Wittgenstien’s Mistress is told entirely in a series of one to two sentence paragraphs, without chapter breaks or time stamps or any indication of where we are. Yet the story draws in the reader with its cyclical structure, looping around and around the same themes, the same stories, the same moments, each time adding an element or introducing a new detail.

The themes are the themes of humanity: disease, madness, and the consistent inability of language to communicate what we truly mean to say. This book is a must read for those who love literature, those interested in philosophy, and, most importantly, those who study improv.

Like a great long-form improv show, Wittgenstein’s Mistress relies on patterns, connection, callbacks to create a fully formed whole out of a series of seemingly disparate parts. Every statement is an opportunity for exploration. Simple anecdotes evolve into complex games. Scenes 100 pages apart mirror each other. The end is in the beginning. - Ryan Callahan