stand up comedy

"Lenny Bruce: Mask Man" by Jamé McCraw

This weekend Dallas Comedy House hosts the debut of Lenny Bruce is Back starring Joey Folsom. The play was written by Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein and directed by Nathan Autrey. There will be subsequent performances in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

More than 50 years have passed since the death of Lenny Bruce. He died of a drug overdose August 3, 1966. For many he is revered as an influential comedian and brilliant satirist. Yet, in his time he was reviled by mainstream society for openly critiquing flawed social constructs. He was arrested multiple times for obscenity.


Actually, No, Improv Isn't Stand Up

By Sarah Mowery I’ve been doing improv on and off for about 6 years now, and over time I’ve began to notice that people’s reactions upon learning I do improv typically fit into one of two categories: Either they know what improv is, or they think improv is standup.

No matter what the situation, casually mentioning having been at improv the night before usually arouses quite a bit of interest and curiosity. In my experience, if you tell someone you do improv, you’re probably about to turn into their “friend who does improv.” It’s kind of like being the “girl in the group” or the “really athletic friend” or the “strange neighbor who’s into tentacle porn”, except different because everyone knows what those things mean.

Jerry Seinfeld: A guy who writes jokes. Sarah Mowery: A girl who makes up jokes. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE!

With improv, unlike with being a girl or athletic or inexplicably attracted to tentacle porn, I find there’s a surprising amount of explanation involved. People say, “Oh, will you do something for me?” or “Tell me a joke” or “So it’s, like, standup?”

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. There will always be that woman you meet who started an improv troupe in college and wants to talk all about it, but she sucks because now you’re not the only fascinating and mysterious one in the conversation anymore, so we try to stay away from her and stick with the group of people who are confused by the fact that we don’t write jokes.

Then comes the awkward part of trying to explain what, if not standup, improv actually is.

Uh, well, it’s this group of people and we get a suggestion from the audience and then we make up scenes with each other... Yeah, OK, I guess you’re right, that doesn’t sound all that funny but I swear it is! We practice every week so that we’re really good, trust me... No, we don’t meet to plan anything ahead of time, it’s just... Agh OK, fine, we do write it all, stop interrogating me! Wait, come back, that was a lie – See! Improv!

The explanation dilemma always gets me wondering – why don’t more people know what improv is? Hell, maybe I’m the odd one. Why do I know what improv is? Have I been living in a weird former theatre kid bubble my whole life? And why is the most accessible popular culture reference anyone can use to explain it Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The most popular Stand Up Comedy Chain is called the IMPROV. Why do we make things so confusing? It's like naming Dunkin' Donuts the Hamburger Palace.

I mean here we have perhaps the rawest, purest, most vulnerable form of comedy, and unless they live in a place like Chicago or LA where it’s a cultural fixture, a huge chunk of the population hardly even knows it exists. People love a good laugh, whether it’s from seeing a funny movie, reading the Sunday comics, or watching SNL, but why is it that when improv comes up, they expect to see a standup comedian? It’s sort of like if my friend bought us tickets to go see a live cooking competition, but I understood that to mean that we would be having a nice sit-down family dinner prepared by her grandmother. The food would obviously be delicious either way, but they’re two completely different things. One takes a lot of preparation with delicate care and crafting to perfection. The other is likely to be a huge mess of loud noises and mysterious spills during which something is likely to go horribly wrong, but it will be all the more satisfying because of it.

Just like improv, people on those cooking competitions know all the techniques and what a good dish tastes like, but they don’t know what ingredients they’re going to have to throw together to get that final product. Just like improv, I didn’t really have any idea where this article was going when I started it, but it has now become clear to me that I have already raised awareness of improv by associating this article with the Internet search results for “tentacle porn”, a thing that several people apparently know and like.

Now, someone ask me if I do standup.

Sarah Mowery is a level 3 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She lives alone with her cat and in her free time enjoys applying dialogue from The Lord of the Rings to real life situations. You can check out more of her comedy stylings HERE!


DCF 14: Grant Redmond

9192418Grant Redmond performs many times at the Dallas Comedy Festival. You have literally no excuse to miss him. The other day, Grant took the time to talk with us the other day about his comedy origins, his philosophies on life, and his thoughts on fictional Michael Bay films.  How did you get started in comedy?

I was in a writing group with Christian Hughes (my now roommate and fellow local comic) in high school. We would write and perform sketches for the entire school every Friday. After we graduated, I had no real creative outlet aside from writing competitions at the worthless college I was attending. A friend of mine, who was also in my high school writing group, posted a video of him doing an open mic in Austin, TX. I had no idea that just anyone could try stand-up. Google informed me of an open mic at the now deceased Hyena’s in Arlington. So, I stayed up all night and wrote 5 horrendous minutes of “material”. You can imagine how it went. People were nice, but I was no George Carlin. Shit, I didn’t even know who Carlin was. Open mics became something I would do whenever I was in town from college. Not very often, but it kept me interested. Years went by and suddenly I decided that college wasn’t as important to me as stand-up was. This coming August will mark the two year mark since I moved back to DFW and really hit the stage hard. I’ve found a group of like-minded comedian friends and a club that feels like home. The aptly named Dallas Comedy House.

Who were your influences growing up, and who influences you now? Whose work excites you?

The first comedy album that I ever listened to was Mitch Hedberg: Mitch All Together. I wouldn’t say that my material was influenced by him, but he is definitely the reason I started listening to stand-up. I’d say I’m most influenced now by Louis CK. In the sense that I talk a lot about myself and all my physical and social deformities, I can clearly see where he has guided what I like to talk about.

As far as whose work excites me, no one can beat Rory Scovel. Every time I see him, he is doing something different. Rory is very “in the moment”. He can riff unlike any stand-up I’ve seen in person. Amanda Austin was nice enough to ask me to host both of his shows during The Dallas Comedy Festival this year, marking the happiest moment in my short stand-up “career”.

What makes festivals special?

Festivals are special because it isn’t just a show. It’s a week of comedy. That rush that we get right before a show starts gets to last all week long. Whether it be before I am on stage, or about to watch a show that I’m excited for.

What is your philosophy of life?

People love to say that life is short. Well, it’s not. It’s long. It’s stupid how long life is. I’m 25 right now and I feel like I’ve been here forever. But, why not fill that time doing something that you love? I’ve never understood people who just settle for anything. Your job, your significant other. That is so much time that you have to spend doing (ha) both of those things. Don’t settle. Chase! I don’t know much. But I do know that I’m not going to turn 50 wondering about the “what ifs” of life. I’m going to reflect on the “I did”.

If your act was a Michael Bay action movie, what would be the name and plot of the movie? 

At the moment, it would be called “Untitled Michael Bay Project” because I’m still early in my development. I’ve got a general idea, but also have a lot of tuning to do. Thus far, the plot would be a lot of clips of me deleting my Google search history.

See Grant perform at the Dallas Comedy Festival on Tuesday, March 18th (shows at 7:30PM and 10:00PM,) and on Wednesday, March 19th at 9:30. Get your tickets here.

What We're Loving: Comedy Legends, Angry Neurotics, Grammy Mistakes, Low Production Values

What We're LovingEach Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Nick Scott praises a comedy legend, Sarah Wyatt celebrates anxiety, David Allison has a problem with the Grammys, and Ryan Callahan revisits an old obsession.


Albert+Brooks+Drive+Premiere+2011+Toronto+KM80ZsXRt5plMost of you youngsters probably know Albert Brooks from one of three things: the voice of the title character's dad in Finding Nemo, Paul Rudd's father in This Is Forty, or as the mob boss who soothes Bryan Cranston while murdering him in Drive. Originally I was just going to write about his latest novel, 2030: The True Story of What Happens to America, but I realized this wasn't enough. He has done too much great work that is almost completely overlooked by the current generation of comedians and comedy nerds. Brooks got his start as a stand-up comedian, deftly playing on audience expectations of what they were normally used to seeing from a stand-up set. His "completely improvised joke" bit using audience suggestions is one of my favorite bits of all time. He was hired to make short films for the early years of Saturday Night Live (all of which are worth watching) before moving on to become a filmmaker himself. The first film he wrote and directed, Reel Life, displayed one of his greatest skills: the ability to see trends in society and predict where they will go. Reel Life predicts exactly what television would become in the age of the reality show decades ahead of time. His next film, Modern Romance, is one of my favorite movies about relationships. Lost in America, a movie which has Brooks playing a man who along with his wife attempts to drop out of society and drive across America in an RV, is in my top 10 favorite movies. He's even recently embraced the modern age, as his Twitter account, @AlbertBrooks, is consistently funny. Throw in some great acting performances in Broadcast News, a small part in Taxi Driver, and his voice work as Hank Scorpio on The Simpsons and you've got an incredible body of work that deserves to be more widely appreciated. RUNNER UP PICK: For Colored Girl Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Not Enuf by Ntozake Shange. - Nick Scott

MV5BMTUwMjkxMTI5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTU0NDAwNA@@._V1_SY1200_CR85,0,630,1200_Marc Maron is on one. The polarizing comic is having the most success of his career at an age when most comedians are making terrible romantic comedies or sad stand stand up specials that make you wish they'd stop. Instead, Marc Maron is filming season two of his IFC show, Maron and killing it on his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. The show follows the troubled and contemplative Marc as he deals with fictionalized situations in his day to day life involving love, addictions, and recording his podcast. On his podcast, Marc interviews comedians, musicians, actors, anyone about the story of their life in a compelling and honest way that you don't normally hear. I learn a life lesson every time I listen to it and so recommend that you subscribe. Many of his famous friends that have appeared on his podcast are featured on Maron. People like Dave Foley and Dennis Leary fuel Marc’s anxiety and neurosis to a frenzied, hilarious peak. This show and this man make me laugh and give me hope that my life won’t end up as pathetic and spinstery as I sometimes imagine it. I often struggle with some of the same thoughts and issues that Marc does on the show. Sometimes it feels like he’s reading my mind. It’s messed up. I love it. I’m not sure if my current obsession with Marc Maron stems from wanting to be with him or wanting to be him. We both have huge hipster glasses, own multiple cats, and find it incredibly difficult to stop making the same mistakes over and over again. I’d like to think he’s reading this right now, thinking about sending me an email but then never following through. Because that’s what I would do if I were him. - Sarah Wyatt

tiglivemockup9-1.jpgThis past week, the Grammy’s made a gigantic mistake.  No, I’m not talking about this mistake.  I’m instead speaking of awarding best comedy album to Kathy Griffin instead of Tig Notaro.  Now, this isn’t going to turn into a piling on of Kathy Griffin, I think she’s underrated in the comedy community and tends to be marginalized as more of a reality star than a great stand up.  She’s very good at what she does.  But Tig Notaro’s album Live one of the most important comedy albums to come out in some time, is in a different league. If you’re not familiar with the legend of this album, it comes from a set she did at Largo in LA on August 3, 2012.  Tig was given the news that she had cancer (Among many other pieces of horrible news) about ten days beforehand and this was her first time going up after hearing the news.  After the show, Louis CK said “[Tig’s] was one of the truly great, masterful stand up sets.”  It was so good that CK released the album days later using his gigantic comedic social network and giving 80% of the gross dollars to Tig/Cancer Research.  This album alone cemented that the success Louis CK experienced wasn’t just a fad.  It also set in stone the idea that the public wanted honesty from their comedians, not just bits.  One thing I love about Live is listening to her apologize over and over again for just not being able to do routines like a bee passing her on the 405.  That’s not to say the set isn’t funny, it’s consistently hilarious. The biggest reason you need to check out this album though is because of the way Tig opened herself up for this show.  Even if you’ve listened to it before, it’s worth revisiting just to show how badly the Grammy’s screwed up.  Live is  streaming on music services like Spotify and Slacker, or you can just buy it for like $5 and support cancer research. - David Allison

The_new_Channel_101_LA_LogoA recent discussion about the improved quality of Community since the return of Dan Harmon led to a discussion of the talents of Dan Harmon which led to a discussion of some of his earlier, pre-Community work which led to a discussion of Channel 101 which led to me going down the Channel 101 rabbit hole, binge-watching old shows until 5 in the morning. For those who don’t know, Channel 101 was a TV-station-on-the-web created by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab in 2003 as a place where writers and directors could bring their work directly to the audience without the interference of TV executives. New pilots, which had to be five minutes or less, were screened each month for a live audience. The top five shows were picked up for another episode and the rest were cancelled, their creators encouraged to submit again. The shows that resulted are some of the funniest, most original, comedy pieces I have ever seen. From the Harmon created Computerman, in which a drop of blood turns a desktop computer into an inquisitive, helpful, kung-fu fighting man-computer played by Jack Black, to The ‘Bu, a pastiche of The Hills from The Lonely Island in their pre-SNL days, to my personal favorite, Yacht Rock, which features the fictionalized exploits of Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, and friends, each show abounds with an exuberance, an obvious love of comedy, so often lacking from bigger-budget, made-by-committee efforts. In the mid-00’s, these shows were my obsession. The creators and performers clearly had a blast making these shows, and that enthusiasm comes right through the screen. Do yourself a favor, set aside twenty minutes and dive in. The Wastelander. House of Cosbys. Kicked in the Nuts. You won’t be disappointed. - Ryan Callahan

It's cold and dumb outside, why not curl up with some Cosby?

cosbyBill Cosby, arguably  one of the best comedians of our time, is still at it. At 76. And he's still amazing. While some comics are transitioning to more storytelling instead of strict joke telling, Cosby's been doing it since day one. One of the greatest things about Cosby's comedy is that it's timeless. With the exception of some out of date clothes, you'd never be able to tell his material is 20,30,40 years old. He's a classic.  The Huffington Post had a great interview with him, so go check it out!  Then curl up and get a good dose of Cosby today.