Jul 28, 2016

My history in comedy

Over the years, since the early 2000s, I have performed in a variety of comedy troupes and related acts. There was sketch comedy then improv. Ensemble work, then solo improv. Live shows now podcasts. I have learned a great deal from each troupe, even (or especially) when the troupe featured volatile interpersonal dynamics. I have discovered over the past 20 years that I like to be in charge, that I like virtuousity and experimentation and that I am comfortable not being the "funniest guy on stage," but the most dependably skilled craftsman. 

Below is an overview if the many comedy troupe/acts I have been involved with...

ESTRANGED BEDFELLOWS
Santa Fe, NM (1996-1998)

In college, me and a classmate named Walter Wong put together a sketch comedy troupe on campus. We had about seen members and ran for three years (I left after 2 to study aborad in London).

I had my first taste of running a performance troupe as well as writing and performing comedy. As a group, we clashed internally a few times, but the shows were always awesome.

MOLOTOV COCKROACH
New York, NY (1999-2000)

MILD DEMENTIA CONTINUOUS-PLAY VARIETY HOUR
Dallas, TX (2000-2005)


FRENCH CLUB DROPOUTS
Dallas, TX (2004-2006)


Last show of FCDs... March 25, 2006 at the Pocket Sandwich Theater

In 2004 Mild Dementia was performing at the West End Comedy Theater in Dallas. A Canadian guy named Brandon Enriques was working there as a bartender and approached me about being in an improv group he was putting together. Since I hadn't performed much improv up until that point, I said "sure."

It was a lot of fun at the beginning, though I quickly grew to hate the short form games. Brandon proved to be an inefficient leader and was often high while doing the actual sets. He drifted off after a few months and I kept the troupe performing under the same name for another year, expanding our gigs to the Pocket Sandwich Theater and to the Out of Bounds Festival in Austin. 


French Club Dropouts at the 2005 Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, Austin TX

The troupe was composed of Brandon, Victoria Hines, Angie Epley, Jeff Swearingen and John Rawley. The French Club Dropouts came to an end with a show at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre in March of 2006. Brandon came back to do the final show.

FUN GRIP IMPROV
Dallas, TX (2004-2014)


Fun Grip at the 2010 Big Sexy Weekend of Improv (Addison TX)
Jeff Swearingen and I had worked together for several years and as Mild Dementia wound down, we decided the put together an improv duo. We also did French Club Dropouts on top of this, but they came a bit later.

Originally, we were called Fun Dip, but changed it a few years in. Jeff and I look like a comedy duo: he's wiry and short, I'm tall and heavy. We morphed into a good team over the decade we performed together. We would give each other a hard time on stage or try to crack each other up, all while maintaining a reasonable forward-moving narrative filled with off-kilter characters.

We traveled and performed widely. Unfortunately, we didn't do well when it came to workshops. Jeff and I differ on our teaching methods and our views on storytelling. Eventually, the thing ran its course, precipitated by a disasterous weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma where we missed the first night, taught a confusing and aggressive workshop and then bombed during our final show. To top it off, there was an ice storm on the drive back to Dallas.

We just kind of stopped booking gigs (well, I did. I was the organizer of the troupe. Jeff just showed up and performed). This was 2014. I also started turning way from improv around this time period as well, no longer finding it as fulfilling as I once had.


Jeff and I performing as Fun Grip at the 2013 Improv Festival of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City OK)


DRIBBLE FUNK SOLO IMPROV
Dallas, TX (2005-2014)


Dribble Funk is a completely improvised (i.e. NOT scripted) solo performance format I developed starting in early 2005. The piece usually lasts anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes - sometimes longer. It starts with either a short, informal Q and A with an audience member or a one-word suggestion. This chat or suggestion becomes the fodder for a spontaneous act of theatre. During the Dribble Funk, the solo performer portrays multiple characters in a cascading, interrelated network of improvised scenes, songs, monologues, abstractions and audience interactions that evolve into an unexpected multi-arc storyline. The structure and techniques of the format continue to evolve with each performance, but the Dribble Funk essentially surfaces in that crossroads between traditional theatre, long-form improvisation and storytelling.

A HISTORY (of sorts)...
Before I performed improv, I did a great deal of sketch comedy. Booking sketch groups into festivals and venues around the country became a pain in the ass. Sketch involved coordinating rehearsals with everyone, supplying travel and lodging for multiple troop members, including transporting and storing props, setting up tech rehearsals, and a hundred other logistics that had nothing to do with the actual performance. Improv groups were the same (except for the props). People inevitably complained, caused friction or refused to pull their weight and the shows suffered. I began searching for a very portable alternative that would also offer more challenge for me personally. What could I do with no props, and for that matter, nobody else on stage? I began doing traditional scripted solo theatre work around this time. I'd heard of Andy Eninger and his Sybil format in 2003 or 2004 (I later directed one of his plays). I never saw him perform solo, but I figured hey, if someone is doing it... About this same time, my friend Bearded Lamb also began doing solo improv. Then, a few years later I stumbled upon Jill Bernard and her wonderful format Drum Machine. I discovered the actual sub-arcana of solo improvisation is pretty scarce. After all, who'd be crazy enough to actually do this stuff? Improv is rough enough with a whole group of people. But to do it alone?!

Solo improv brought with it lots of technique/performance problems regular actors/improvisers never have to deal with. I figured the best thing to do was workshop it. I believe in process and experimentation and by running the beast in front of live audiences I could constantly tweak, rearrange, re-develop and whittle away at it. 


I had the opportunity to work on Dribble Funk over the course of numerous performances in order to create a completely original solo-improvised format. This format includes multiple characters, multi-pronged story arcs, unique interactions with the audience, live music, and interactive artworks. The goal was to develop a fast-paced, utterly original hybrid theatrical event: a unique celebration that is an abstraction of ordinary long-form improvisation and traditional static (i.e. storyteller sits in chair) storytelling. This new hybrid would be a pure and true act of theatre! 

A TOE IN THE WATER...

Picture

For a time, in late 2005 and early 2006, I teamed up with a kick-ass guitarist, Mr. Jaymes Gregory (who's a performer in his own right). Mr. Gregory accompanied the performance with an improvised score as I unfolded a refracted, cascading improvisation. Mr. Gregory and I took this version of the Dribble Funk to various venues in the Dallas area. Then, Mr. Gregory bailed on a show and I realized in order for it to be truly solo improvisation I'd have to keep developing the format. The addition of live music, especially as an opener to the evening, however, proved fortunate. In the summer of 2008 I finally had a chance to work with Andy Eninger at Chicago's The Second City and absorb some of the techniques of his format SybilSybil shares some performance techniques with the Dribble Funk. There seems to be some necessary overlap, though enough differences to make them each distinct formats (Dribble Funk for example, uses a Narrator/Presenter character that is separate from the other characters or the performer of the piece, while Sybilfocuses exclusively on the characters themselves relaying the incidents of the scenes). 

I have had the pleasure to perform Dribble Funk in places as disparate as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Hong Kong, with many venues in between.

As of autumn 2008 development of Dribble Funk has slowed considerably as other projects have popped up to fill my plate. Then, a concentrated focus on Dribble Funk re-emerged in mid-2010. Currently, I perform the piece occasionally, as it fits in with a wider body of artistic work I am pursuing.

In 2013 I performed a 380 minute (over 6 hours) Dribble Funk set alone onstage, in celebration of my 38th birthday. It was called Dribble Funk 380
In the summer of 2014, I performed the Dribble Funk for the last time (for the foreseeable future).

THE VICTIMS IMPROV
Dallas, TX (2007-2008)



I joined John Rawley, Ben Bryant and Jeff Swearingen in the improv troupe they put together a few months before a returned from living for a year in Hong Kong.

The troupe did short and long form improv. Over time, I disagreed with the direction I wanted the work to go. I wanted more "giant robot" scenerios and absolutely NO short form. Rawley, who was acting as makeshift leader, preferred grounded, realistic interactions and a mix of short and long form. Also, they expanded the troupe to nearly nine people at one point. Stage time became minimal with so many people. 

I parted ways with the troupe amicably and occassionally still perform with them. They are good people, just weren't doing the kind of improv I wanted to do. Coincidentally, they dropped short form and leveled the troupe at five members later on (Ben also moved on, but James Chandler, Kyle Bradford and Brian Kinkade stepped in). They also leaned more and more towards bizarre and non-realistic scenerios in the years that followed.

MONOLOGUE JAM
Dallas, TX (2011-present)


Here's the idea: a lone performer on the stage takes a suggestion given by the audience and then simply tells a compelling story or monologue, in character, based on that suggestion. I have been interested in this precisely because of the apparent simplicity.

Anyway, before the holidays in 2010, I brought the idea up to my friend John Rawley, who runs the Alternative Comedy Theater as a possible project and new format to work on. He liked it, so we gathered up our friend and colleague (and all-around improv guy) Jeff Swearingen and rehearsed the format a a few times.

The Monologue Jam is a simple (perhaps new?) format presented in two possible sections. 


Section one involves individual performers taking a stab at improvised story-telling based on an audience suggestion.

Section two - the optional one - is a "round robbin" (or "jam") session where the performers tag in and out continuing  a single storyline based on an audience suggestion.

The Monologue Jam continues to evolve. It recently became its own stand-alone evening with the addition of games, contests, give-aways, etc. 
GIGS:
» February 2011 at Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) First Annual
» January 2012 at Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) Second Annual
» June 2012 as part of the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv, Dyer Street Bar (Dallas TX)
» July 2012 at the Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) as part of a fund-raiser
» January 2013 at Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) Third Annual
» May 2013 as part of the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv, Pocket Sandwich Theater (Dallas TX)
» March 2014 at Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) 4th Annual 
» July 2014 as part of the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv, Margo Jones Theatre (Dallas TX)
» November 2014 at the Margo Jones Theatre, Fair Park (Dallas TX)
» June 2015 as part the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv, Pocket Sandwich Theater (Dallas TX)
» Starting in 2015 the Monologue branched out to Austin, Texas as well.


THE RUMBLESHANKS TAPES
Online improvised podcast (2015-present)

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