1998 was a big year. Snoop Dog released his single, "Woof." Oprah Winfrey is found not guilty. (Way to go, O.) The FDA approves Viagra and Dallas Comedy House (DCH) veteran troupe, Pavlov's Dogs, was born. This week in Troupe Talk, we catch up with P-Dog's seven improv veterans.
Wow. Pavlov’s Dogs has been in existence since 1998. That’s almost 20 years ago! Describe who you were as a person back then so that we can be introduced to the late 90's P-Dog team.
Cameron: Well, I came on board a little after the group was founded. So I've only been around since 2002 (13 years). Back then I had no idea what I was doing, but we had a ton of fun performing together. Improv as a whole was much more "novel" and a lot less of it existed in Dallas, so that had its ups and downs. Emily: I think I was in this weird place of post-college, pre-rest of my life. As an improviser, I was still green but gaining experience. And since spouse, household responsibilities, and children didn't exist for me yet, I probably had more energy and was more available. Dale: The short answer is that I was probably drinking tons of Crystal Pepsi, adding to my compact disc collection and worrying about Y2K. The long answer is trying to get my advertising career going, continue to woo my then girlfriend Emily, and being humbled going from routinely performing for 750 people in college to five people at a defensive driving place in Hurst. Yeah. Chad: *Chad pulls up to interview in DeLorean. He perfectly parallel parks and the butterfly doors fly up - The Cars are blaring from the speakers...a heavier version of Chad steps out wearing a t-shirt with Monica Lewinsky holding a cigar and winking* Amy: I usually still worked my hair in a side ponytail, big bangs, leg warmers...a lot like me in the 80s...and me today. Todd: Angry. Danny: Back then I was 14 so it was all about being awkward. And doing well in French class. And girls. But mostly being awkward.
Once a month you guys feature a student from your home base, Dallas Comedy House. Where did that idea stem from?
Cameron: Not sure where it originated from, but we have been doing our standard end-of-the-month show for a while now and wanted to do something a little looser and more casual for our Wednesday shows. We thought that having a student perform would be mutually beneficial. We would get to know some of the newer improvisers a little better, and they would get a chance to perform with some older veterans that have been around the block. Emily: Do we do this? Wow, we're so nice. It must be one of the shows I don't attend on account of married improvisers not wanting to pay a sitter. Dale: In the spirit of improv, I think someone just mentioned the idea and we all supported it. To mix in a sports metaphor, it can be hard as a student to ʺget the ballʺ with some consistency when everyone else on stage is yelling ʺOoh, Ooh, pass it to me, I'm open!ʺ The nature of this spotlight show is that we're able to enjoy the art of passing the rock to a student who is driving the paint so they can get some of that boom-shacka-lacka. Chad: Since improv is all about making each other look great, we wanted to make a student feel like a star for a night. That's the goal. I remember as a young improviser that I looked up to veteran performers and wished I could have gotten a chance to play with them, so I loved the idea when Todd proposed it. Amy: Chad? Cameron? Todd? Group mind? Not sure, but I loved the idea, too! Because I'm not currently coaching at DCH or performing with other DCH groups, this is great exposure to new people who have joined the theater. I've really enjoyed getting to know these new talented individuals! Todd: We wanted to give people stage time who might not otherwise get the opportunity all that often...and due to the fees we charge the student to be on the same stage with us, it’s a good way to make money. Danny: One of the first things I remember from learning improv is that it's not about you, it's about everyone else. And if you go into it with the goal of supporting your group members the laughter becomes a byproduct of that philosophy. We wanted to feature a student and practice support at the same time. Win, win. Laugh.
While P-Dogs was born at Texas A&M and now calls the Dallas Comedy House home, many of you have trained and performed all over the country. What’s the improv world like in other places you’ve been?
Cameron: I lived in Chicago for six years between the years 2007 and 2012 and improv is everywhere there. I'd say the biggest difference between Chicago improv culture and Dallas improv culture really comes down to volume and history. Improv and sketch comedy have been around in Chicago for 50 years, and comedians from all over the country move there to hone their chops. Dallas' scene is still up and coming, but the community has grown by leaps and bounds. I think improv and comedy in general will only become more popular, and hopefully will see the numbers of performers in Dallas continue to grow. Emily: Performing on Mars was probably my favorite. They're so ripe for improv, and they totally embraced long form. Dale: There are definitely some cities where improv is more a known and respected art form. You get away with some forms and onstage moves in other hub cities that might not have the same reaction here. But, DFW is coming around. Places like Four Day in Ft. Worth and the DCH here in Dallas have done a great job cultivating a community of performers and audiences. It's worth noting, however, that people who hop on stage should recognize that they might be performing for people who have never seen a show, and this performance might be the deciding factor on whether or not they give improv a second chance. So be smart, have fun, and be professional. Chad: Community is a powerful word. Everywhere you go, egos get in the way for true community and I was to the point where I didn't think it could happen. It's not perfect in Dallas, but what has been established by the DCH founders is as close to perfect as I've ever seen. It'll always be a work in process, especially as things get bigger but I love our community. Amy: I've performed in front of a rough crowd at a cage match in L.A. and an indifferent crowd in N.Y., but both were great experiences. Todd: Good improv is universal, doesn't really matter where you experience it. Chicago and L.A. are teeming with people who are trying to make some type of performing (writing, acting, etc...) a major part of their careers. This leads to a higher volume of shows and venues and a larger community. However, larger does not mean better, because when it comes to people, there is no place like Texas. Danny: I remember doing a fun show in St. Louis that was one of the friendliest and most generous crowds I've performed for.
The world would be a better place if everyone followed the _____ rule in improv.
Cameron: Know each other, like each other. Emily: Well, ʺyes, andʺ, of course. Also, the rule of threes. It's a good lesson in moderation. Dale: Metric. Chad: Learn them rules, then learn what type of performer you are, then know your fellow players' strengths, then play within that. But mostly, hold a gun and a phone right. Amy: The world would be a better place if everyone followed the ʺListenʺ rule in improv. At work and in life, people want to talk...or at their best, wait their turn to talk. Few people in my life really listen. At DCH and with other improvisers, I feel we are able to give each other that gift out of habit. I LOVE that about this community. Todd: Bloom where you are planted. Danny: Support is key. It takes everyone working together to create the environment around you, and when everyone is on the same page with that it's magical to watch.
Pavlov did an experiment on dogs to prove Classical Conditioning. What experiment and theory would YOU prove if you were super smart Russian physiologist rocking a sweet mustache/beard combo?
Cameron: I would set out to prove that mustaches aren't creepy, but are actually really cool and sexy. (I have a moustache.) Emily: I would prove my untested theory of how holding your breath for 17 seconds after someone sneezes will lower the likelihood of getting sick by 71 percent. Dale: I would focus on a military theory where Russia could plausibly invade the United States by paratrooping soldier and military vehicles into the greater Michigan area. And that a ragtag group of teenagers would in fact pose little to no threat. Chad: Growing the mustache part would be a big part of it. I'd love to have the ability to grow a sweet mustache. I'd totally trick my face into doing that. Amy: I guess I would research how women are able to use more of their brains than men. I would experiment by moving a subgroup of men to a deserted island with only one female to observe their behaviors. And for the sake of the research, let's just say the subgroup is single, intelligent men in their early- to mid-40s (with a sense of humor, of course)...and I guess I would have to be the female...you know...because I'm doing the research. Anyway, we could just set-up this environment and let the experiment run its course...for a decade or so. Todd: I would create a fart-scented vape flavor. I would then wait for someone to blow their Cinnabon/Milk Dud flavored vapor into my airspace and say something like, ʺWhy are you so freaked out, it’s just water vapor.ʺ Then, I would blow my fart flavor into their area. I would then retort with, ʺYou were saying?ʺ Is that a theory? Danny: I would do an experiment on cats and prove they really just don't give a s**t.
What’s your favorite thing about DCH’s new digs?
Cameron: Tommy Lee Brown Man Dip. Emily: Super cool box office. Wait...doors on stage. No...comfy, couchy green room... Dale: The men's room situation has been improved by 10 to sixth power. Oh, and the two stages. And the lights. The themed drinks are nice, too. The panhandlers on Elm seemed to be more hospitable, too! Chad: I love walking in the door and feeling the excitement/nervousness in the air from a bunch of people that find this stuff to be as fun as I do. Amy: The bar area! I love the set-up and that it's become a gathering place before and after shows with plenty of space for large groups to share a drink and/or riveting discussion. Todd: Old or new, there is no place like home. Danny: We are given the chance to MONKEY around on a great stage, to be KING for a day and use our NOODLE with a talented COMPANY of people. (I was trying to say something profound but hide my secret real answer in the words. Shhh.)
Tori Oman is a Level Five student at DCH. She’s trained and performed with the Second City and iO in L.A. and Chicago. Favorite pastimes include being irrationally competitive at Monopoly, eating an apple in every country she’s traveled to, and being the sole person on this planet that thinks Necco Wafers are a delicious candy choice.