There’s a climactic scene where our four intrepid Ghostbusters realize that crossing the streams of their separate proton packs will produce enough energy to close the door to the realm of the god Gozer, the original bad guy in the original (and best) film in the series. Doing so brings an impressive conflagration that consumes both the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the roof of a high-rise building. It’s a classic example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts, or as Cody Dearing would put it, going deep rather than broad.
That was the theme of Cody’s recent workshop held at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) Training Center. Cody is a former teacher and performer at DCH who discovered the seeds of his improv career at Austin’s ColdTowne Theater, nourished it through the Chicago collective of iO, the Annoyance, and Second City, and again took root at ColdTowne, where he currently serves as artistic director and education director.
So, how do we get from closing the door to Gozer’s temple to a DCH stage? It’s really not very far. But you have to start with a few basics. Cody is a big believer in thinking as little as possible on stage. For those of us who struggle with being “inside our heads,” a bane of almost all newbie improvisers and many veterans as well (see my previous blog post on the subject), those are reassuring words indeed. Every exercise he chose for his workshop was designed to encourage us to react to just the last thing we heard. From a classic word association drill and “Yes, and” through a rousing F@#$ Yeah! to his rendering of Crossing the Streams, where each member of a small group “Yes, and”-ed a suggestion until it blew up:
My dog is a closeted superhero. Your dog is a closeted superhero, and he has a way cool cape. He has a way cool cape, and he flies at the speed of sound. He flies at the speed of sound and shoots lasers from his ears. He shoots lasers from his ears and can blow up stray cats with his thoughts. (not really.)
In addition to his emphasis on reacting to the last thing heard, Cody’s approach encouraged building positive scenes rather than adding conflict too soon. It was extremely refreshing for this student to hear many examples of how scene partners can add elements that build a positive and—dare I say it?—pleasant base reality on stage rather than a your basic “I’m leaving you, Harold” scene (which I actually did last week in class and was mildly successful with, thanks to my excellent classmate and scene partner, Darrin Larson).
In my last post, I described Cody’s ultimate illustration of how we can count on someone finding life itself funny when he had us sit in groups of five to talk about sleep and sandwiches until the audience couldn’t stop laughing. All designed to show us that we are much better off not thinking, but instead reacting, because when we do, we’re funny as hell.
Cody’s current project is one that all of you can enjoy without making the treacherous drive down Interstate 35. Many of you know and enjoy Cody’s popular podcast, Got Your Back. Got Your Back recently invited 13 improvisers, teachers, and other great comedic minds from Austin to come speak at length on a topic of their choosing. These interviews, along with some excellent Austin music acts, are collected as a project called appropriately Comedy Nerd-out. Here’s Cody on the inspiration for the project:
"The idea in part came from wanting to make our content more accessible to a larger audience. There are a lot of people with passionate opinions and interesting points of view in the Austin comedy scene, and we figured it would be interesting to give them longer than normal to talk about a specific subject.
"The idea also came from wanting to do more projects beyond just the one-off fleeting improv show. We're always trying to encourage our listeners to have a DIY and take matters into their own hands. We love to point out that the resources we have at our disposal now with the Internet as a platform, the cost of recording equipment, the deep bench of talented actors and comedians who are friends of ours...all of this makes creating content more of an attainable reality than ever.
"Going through all this, I feel like I learned a lot and gained some new perspective on the reality of content creation that I can share with our audience...and hopefully we can come with a way to do that in a future episodes that will be both helpful and engaging for people to listen to."
You too can have access to these great comedic minds by visiting Cody’s podcast website at gybpodcast.com/cno. The content is stellar, and I guarantee is worth more than the donation you will offer in exchange, so pony up, people.
And for those who are feeling the want and wondering why they didn’t sign up for this fantastic workshop when they could, you may be in luck. Cody promises a return trip near the end of the year to visit relatives in North Texas. I bet we can entice him to once again teach us the value in Crossing the Streams.
Carron Armstrong is a Level 5 student in the Dallas Comedy House Training Center, where her husband, Gary, is in Level 2 and her daughter, Haley, is in Level 1. She is pleased that they form DCH’s first improv family dynasty (as far as she knows). Their legacy will be a new house format called the Armstrong.