sketch

"The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Sketch Shows" by Chad Richards

It was the beginning of a new term and my six Sketch 3 classmates and I were waiting in the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) lobby for the class to start. There was a table with nametags out for us. On top of the bar were stacks of Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within with a sign indicating they were for sale. We were trying to figure out what was going to happen next when we heard a booming voice come over the P.A.

“ARE YOU READY TO SKETCH?!”

We were confused.

“ARE. YOU. READY?!” The voice repeated.

We heard movement above us. Suddenly, noted motivational speaker, business guru, and life coach Tony Robbins rappelled from the rafters and met us on the floor.

“ARE. YOU. READY?!” He exclaimed again. His headset microphone shook as he emphatically pointed at each one of us. We looked at each other, began a slow clap, and knew we were ready. We followed the spray-tanned genius into Tharp theater, where he presented us with a life-changing lesson: "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Sketch Shows." I am now humbled and honored to present these lessons on to you.

  • Take Things to Extremes

    • The smallest kernel of an idea can turn into the most delicious piece of sketch popcorn. In general, I’m a pretty reserved person. Pushing things to the extreme is something I struggle with in improv and when I’m writing. But when you can really commit to a sketch and get to those extremes, it’s magical. Push the people you’re writing with to get there.

  • Find Fun Takes on Common Things

    • Everyone wants their comedy and writing to be relatable. Everyone also wants to come up with the most original and creative idea ever put on stage. Let the latter come from the former. Relatable things are relatable because they happen every day. Relieve yourself of the pressure to come up with grand ideas by looking at the day-to-day from a new angle.

  • Be Positive

    • This is something you hear over and over from instructors and performers at DCH, but sketch is where this has really clicked for me. Our Level 2 and Level 3 sketch shows have started with a very rah-rah opener. That energy and enthusiasm carry over for the rest of our shows. I can see it in my cast mates’ performances, and I can feel it in my own.

  • Weird Works

    • When someone pitches an idea that’s a little strange, find the fun elements and run toward it with your arms wide open. It may very well turn into one of your favorite sketches if you embrace it with the right attitude.

  • Be Aware of Your Resources

    • DCH performers are more than just hilarious comedy brains. Sometimes, they have an intricate knowledge of a particular topic. Sometimes, they are prop masters. Sometimes, they’re willing to buy lots of wigs and costumes to help the jokes land. Use your full toolbox when you’re writing and planning your sketch show.

  • Have a Pudgy Guy Take His Shirt Off

    • No need to mess with a classic. A pudgy guy without his shirt on is vulnerable, yet whimsical. That’s really what good writing is all about.

  • Enjoy the Process

    • Putting on a sketch show is a lot of work. There has been lots of writing, rewriting, rehearsing, and memorizing. I have caught myself feeling the work weighing on me. Thankfully, my cast mates; Jonda, our teacher; and Cody, our TA; have been there for me to bring back the fun and silliness every step of the way.  

I’m not sure how Tony Robbins made some of those of points so personal to me, but I suppose that’s just part of his wonder. Thanks to Tony Robbins, and all of our teachers and TAs, for guiding my classmates and me through this program. We can’t wait to perform Frisky Business three more times. We would love for you to come see it.

Chad Richards is a graduate of the DCH improv program and is currently graduating from the sketch program. In his free time, he likes to tell people that he likes writing. He performs with Sunglow and The Big Short. Frisky Business runs July 12 at 7:30 p.m. and July 13 and 14 at 7 p.m.

(Photos by Jason Hensel)

"Fall in Love with 'A Brief, Endless Love—a Sketch Comedy Revue' by Matt Lyle" By Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

I almost didn’t make it to Dallas Comedy House for opening night of A Brief, Endless Love, the latest work by award-winning playwright, Matt Lyle. The Texas sky had opened, dumping several inches of summer rain across the city, but I decided to buck up and venture out anyway.

During my 15-minute commute, I saw at least four accidents, even more emergency vehicles en route to other accidents, and—inexplicably—a man standing on the side of the street dressed only in a zipped-up, hip-length raincoat and wellies while holding an umbrella. That is to say, the man was not wearing any pants. I wondered if this was an omen; thought maybe this was a sign for the oddities of things to come, concerned that this would be the highlight of the night. But, I am pleased to report that it was not. In fact, the night only got better from there—much better.

A Brief, Endless Love fires on all cylinders. Its touching real-life perspective creates poetry in comedy, and leaves you laughing until you cry.

“I grew up basically an only child. It was just me and my dad,” said writer Matt Lyle, who also wrote Hello, Human Female and The Boxer to much acclaim. “I’m married now, and I have a child, and life is full of love, but nothing can pull at me like the search for love. I’ve always looked at everything I’ve written from that very real human place.”

That essence of humanity is embodied in his ensemble cast of seasoned performers, most of whom Matt has known and worked with for years—he’s even married to one of them. Steph Garrett, Kim Lyle, Jeff Swearingen, and Jeremy Whiteker bring to life the joy found in every dark corner and depict the loneliness found in each scene with a lightness of life that makes them instantly endearing.

From the mad scientist answering an ad on Match.com to parents questioning their preteen’s professions of love by describing—in very real terms—what goes into real love to the Stanley Sisters, which features Dot (my favorite character of the bunch, artfully portrayed by Steph Garrett), I could not imagine better players in these role or better performances by these players. And that’s for good cause. While a cast typically writes its own sketch shows, Matt Lyle already had much of the material for A Brief, Endless Love and then cast and honed that material to the strengths of the performers. What results is a cohesive, hilarious ensemble that will keep you on the edge of your seat and laughing from your belly.

Fortunately for us, belly laughs will not be in short supply. Matt Lyle likes to write—a lot. Writing is his creative outlet, which juxtaposes nicely against his IT job at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. He imbues his characters with such refined and unexpected comedic relief that it inspires performers and writers alike to embrace their own humanity and push themselves farther. With luck, we’ll have many more opportunities to see his take on the human condition.

“Always start with the most recognizable, true-to-life thing and go from there,” he said.

And fortunately for us, that is something Matt Lyle is damn good at it.

A Brief, Endless Love runs at the Dallas Comedy House every Friday & Saturday night at 9 p.m. now through June 24. You should go—like me—come hell or high water.

Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa is a current student at DCH. She spends her days wrangling children, avoiding housework, and hustling for acting or writing gigs. One day she’ll make her life easier by changing her name to Shashana O’Shanahan.

(Top image: Matt Lyle. Middle image: Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa)

"Comedy Debut: How to Get Started in the Funny Business" by Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

So you want to try your hand at comedy, but don’t know where to start? Here are five steps to take to get you to the laughs.

1) Go see shows.To find the style of comedy that suits you the most—improv, stand-up, sketch, or a combination—you first have to see the varying types and styles. Fortunately for you, Dallas Comedy House (DCH) has all three types on rotation from Tuesday through Saturday each week. Check out the DCH monthly calendar to find something you’d like to see.

Bonus: Free shows happen weekly, too! Check out the free King of the Mountain show on Wednesday nights and the free Improv Playground on Thursday nights.

2) Go to a free Jam or Open Mic.Now that you’ve seen a few shows, you’re probably thinking, “Hey! I can do that! That looks easy and oh-so fun!” Well give it a go at a Tuesday night Jam. Improv Jams are come as you are, do as you do. They require no sign up and everyone can participate, from the passerby off the street to the seasoned performer. Open Mics require a bit more forethought: You must sign up by midnight the Sunday before and you must have three-to-five minutes of prepared material. Both are a great way to practice what you’ve got.

3) Take a free class.What, more free stuff? Yes! (We don’t want you to be held back from your dreams.) DCH offers a free improv class on the last Wednesday of each month. You don’t have to sign up, and you don’t have to know what you’re doing. You just have to show up and be willing to have fun.

4) Take more classes and learn to write your own material.After you’ve narrowed your focus to the style of comedy that you prefer, it’s time to get really focused and dedicate yourself to learning the craft. New courses begin monthly, including the upcoming Summer Improv Intensive for adults and Summer Camp for Kids. Classes meet weekly and culminate in a showcase of student work. Internships and scholarships are available to those who qualify. Courses include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

Improv: Learn how to get out of your head, think at the height of your intelligence, to listen, and to trust. Improv is a great way to improve your performance, your relationships, and your life.

Stand-up & Storytelling: Everyone has a story to tell. These classes will help you fine-tune your story in an easy-to-relay format fit for performance. Stand-up classes will help you write and polish a five-to-10 minute set, while storytelling helps you write and perform your personal narrative.

Sketch writing: These courses will show you how to take a character and build a story around them. Courses start with crafting for the stage and then, ultimately, for the screen. Prerequisites are required for all classes.

5) Perform, perform, perform! Each course culminates in a performance of some kind. These performances are gentle introductions in a safe environment to being on stage and putting your material out there. Take advantage of these opportunities to challenge yourself to be bolder each time you step out. Beyond the class showcases, DCH also offers several other opportunities to perform, from submitting a show to auditioning for King of the Mountain or being in an Ewing Troupe (DCH’s own improv method).

There are plenty of ways to hone your comedy skills, in and outside of the classroom. The very first step for all of them: Just show up.

Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa is a current student at DCH. She spends her days wrangling children, avoiding housework, and hustling for acting or writing gigs. One day she’ll make her life easier by changing her name to Shashana O’Shanahan.

(Top photo credit: David Allison. Bottom photo credit: Ryan Robins)

"The Wit of Serafinowicz" by Jamé McCraw

English actor and writer Peter Serafinowicz might be most recognized from films and guest appearances on British TV for almost 20 years. An emphasis is nearly always placed on his character’s height, physical features, and vocal traits. He is an irritable roommate in Sean of the Dead and Tim’s ex-girlfriend’s new beau, who the protagonist just can’t quite measure up to, in Spaced.

In 2002, he and his writing partner, Robert Popper, created the satire series Look Around You, which was lovingly styled as an homage to schoolroom educational videos of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A seven-episode sketch series called The Peter Serafinowicz Show aired in 2007 showcasing the actor’s adept impersonations and absurdist characters in a carefully curated realm of commercially recognizable parodies. He was recently cast in a reboot of Ben Edlund’s series, The Tick.

Sassy Trump videos, a pet project of Serafinowicz, have been trending since last summer. The president’s exact words are repeated verbatim in an effeminate snarl that is dubbed over originally televised footage. He has been making and editing short video projects for years.

What follows is a list of my favorite bits of comedy, but I recommend further exploration.

Brian Butterfield Karaoke Bar Brian Butterfield is a portly, bumbling man who always manages to promote one failure or another. I like this for the sheer joy of seeing this character harmonize with himself while singing ABBA and Queen.

Basil Fawlty Impersonator Chat A late-nite chat service where you can be berated by a wound-up misanthrope without reservations.

Who Would Like To Win £100 This black-and-white WWII-era game show parody is slowly paced. Perry Rogers croons about suicide while the contestant “telegrams a friend” for help. The show is cut short by an air-raid.

Buy It Channel A QVC parody where the hosts (Serafinowicz and Catherine Sheppard) face unusual difficulties and are brutally honest about the quality of their products. In one instance, they go so far as to suggest the Sapharina ring, which costs much less to produce than they are selling it for, and resembles “a discarded boiled sweet in a nest of broken glass.”

Paul McCartney "I’ll Kill" Peter Serafinowicz has several sketches where he takes on the role of each of The Beatles and does song parodies, as well. In this morbid re-imagining of "I Will" Paul offers to murder for his new love admitting to her, “Although I’ll be in prison, I’ll be thinking of your kissing.”

Acting Masterclass with Michael Caine Did you know that sausages look like cigars on camera and vice versa? The Acting Masterclass series of videos feature lessons from Kevin Spacey, Ralph Fiennes, and Al Pacino, as well.

Markets of Britain A marketplace where you can buy discarded weapons from an old murderer and giant pencils.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

"DCH Snapshots Presents: 2017 Dallas Comedy Festival" by Shawn Mayer

DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017

DCH Snapshots is a webcomic where Shawn Mayer watches improv shows and then draws what he remembers. Please click the images to enlarge them.

DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017
DCH Snapshots DCF 2017

Shawn Mayer is a DCH graduate who performs with the troupes Wiki Tiki Tabby and Sunglow. He plays euphonium in a polka band, is an avid lover of Patrick McGoohan, and avoids social interaction by pretending to read notifications on his phone.

DCF2017: How to Prepare for the Dallas Comedy Festival

Dallas Comedy Festival
Dallas Comedy Festival

It’s Go Time! Dallas Comedy Festival 2017 is here. For those who have attended in the past, you know what this means: Jello shots, comedy from around the country, long-lost friends reconnect, every form of comedy known to man, and did I mention Jello shots!?!? For those who have never attended before and are thinking, “Wow, this looks incredible, where do I start?,” here are some tips to get you ready for #2017DCF

Make a plan. Improv comedy is always made up on the spot. At least that is what they tell me at the beginning of each show. But you will need a plan for what shows you are going to see this week. Grab a schedule and map out your week. Nerds rule at this type of festival. If you bring a highlighter and a loose leaf notebook, you will receive head nods and looks of admiration from fellow festival goers.

Always go support out-of-town performers. They drove to Dallas, or took a bus, or maybe a boat to get to the festival to show you their funny. Let them know we appreciate their effort and show them that Texans are known for three things – Hospitality, BBQ, and big cowboy hats. (Note to self: Open up a Texas BBQ place that strives to have the best hospitality and serves all of its food in plates shaped like cowboy hats. Big cowboy hats. If anyone steals that idea, please credit the Ghost Watcher.)

Add some variety to your night. One of the great things about the DCF is that it will showcase improv, stand-up, song, Shakespeare, and sketch comedy. To make any night complete, make sure and check out one of each. It is like eating the perfect meal with apps, main course, and desserts, but in a mix-and-match order. You will not be disappointed.

Three stages! You may be saying to yourself “What!?!? Three Stages?!?! How in the hell does that work? I thought there were only two stages.” The amazing crew at the Dallas Comedy House has built a new stage in the Training Center just to the west of the main entrance. It is not a secret entrance that requires a handshake with a wink-wink, tip the doorman type of Dallas thing. It is a regular, welcome to the funny, entrance. Did I mention it has a bar? Well, it does. I have heard from good authority that it will be serving the coldest beer in the history of the training center bar.

This is a special week, always one of my favorites. A week to just let loose and have fun. Enjoy the 2017 Dallas Comedy Festival and make sure you buy Jello shots for everyone. Even me.

Ghost Watcher is a regular, DCH audience member.

(Photo: Jason Hensel)