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?
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?
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?
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!
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?
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.
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.
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?
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)