The Directors of the Dallas Comedy House Sketch Revue Now Streaming Explain Why You Should Tear Yourself Away from Netflix to See a Live Show About Netflix.
Welcome to Humor Us, a column in which local comedian Alex Gaskin interviews other local comedians about the ol’ funny business in order to help introduce DFW at large to the burgeoning comedy scene blooming right under its nose.
The sketch revue Now Streaming – helmed by directors Jason Hackett and Jade Smith, and playing through the end of the month at Dallas Comedy House – is about the shows we watch, and the platforms that make them so easily accessible. Meaning? They’ve produced a show that’s about what is arguably their biggest competitor for their live audiences.
The idea of making a show about how we watch shows (and what we watch) can feel like an odd choice, but it’s an opportunity to lovingly skewer popular programs, and a way to examine the thoroughly modern ways in which we entertain ourselves. Hackett and Smith make an ideal pair when it comes to directing a show that traipses freely through pop culture landscape, while also pulling back and looking at what our entertainment can say about us.
Smith performed and directed her troupe FCC in The Wrong Party (though she says in the interview troupe member Julia Cotton was considered the unofficial director). The show was spirited and incisive, and they were able to pull exceptional comedy from divisive topics. Hackett’s previous directing effort, Jason: the Musical, was a loving, fevered send-up of an iconic horror franchise that provided terrific, savvy fun for horror fans, while still delivering fantastic comedy that could win over those people who shy away from the genre.
Smith and Hackett also benefit from having years of experience working together, and with the writers/performers on Now Streaming. They’re both quick to note that a strong collaborative spirit with and among those writers/performers helped bring their ambitious concept into reality. I talked with the pair about the making of Now Streaming, the move from performing to directing, and the many outside projects that keep them busy.
Let’s talk about Now Streaming first – what was the inspiration for this particular show?
Jade: During the inspiration, or the pitching, part of our meetings, the first couple of weeks or so, we started talking about something that would be interesting but relatable to a broad audience.
Jason: If we’re trying to follow up – not follow up, but have the same sort of reach as Trump’d did, or SVUsical, then we wanted to have something that would have broad appeal. So we started thinking about what are the sort of things that would maybe be a more universal…maybe not theme, but a topic? When we started getting pitches in, on the first day there were three in a row that were all related to different TV shows. We thought, “OK, how do we tie all of these together.” We started thinking about, how do you start watching these? People aren’t really using TV anymore, cable, cutting the cord. Just using the streaming aspect as a through line to tie it all together. There were shows that were [on different platforms]. Not everything’s on Netflix. We were throwing around the idea of switching around to a bunch of different things, but we just kind of threw everything into all of our sketches being watched on Netflix. And then we thought about having a through line of people actually watching the shows.
Jade: There was a lot of conversation about, “What are you guys watching these days?” And I think that helped set the tone.
Jason: We said it exactly like that.
Jade: “Whoa! What are you guys watching these days?” But that’s a conversation being had by multiple people.
It feels like you created a show based around your biggest competition for audiences.
Jade: That’s interesting, yeah, pretty much.
Jason: We kind of thought about that when we were trying to think about how to market the show. How do we reach those shut-ins?
Jade: That’s our key demographic, shut-ins, basically.
Jason: Who knows how to get them out of the house?
Jade: Leave your couch, and your house!
Jason: That was kind of our pitch. But, yeah, hadn’t really thought about it that way. We made a poor decision.
Jason: We made our show aimed at hermits.
Do both of you have previous directing experience?
Jason: I directed the Jason: the Musical. David Allison and Daniel Matthews wrote the show, then brought me in to kind of help direct it. My experience before was just teaching some of the sketch classes [at DCH]. But the musical was my first time I fully directed something.
Jade: I mean, I never directed – I mean, with the exception of our FCC show, but we all like to say Julia [Cotton] was kind of our unofficial director. But we all kind of…do stuff around it. [to Jason] You were there.
Jason: I was.
Jade: Yeah, this is kind of my first sketch show I get to direct.
What’s the transition like going from performer to director?
Jade: It’s kind of surreal sometimes, because I’m like, “That’s right, I have feedback.” And, “Hey, maybe try it this way,” and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t land.
Jason: Yeah, a lot of the ones that haven’t landed have been my idea. [Laughs.] For some reason, audiences aren’t that into playing pranks with circumcised foreskins. I don’t know. For me, I’ve been doing more teaching and stuff in general. I feel like I’ve taken a step away from performing a bit. I still do improv and stuff, but I haven’t done sketch performance in a while. I guess I’ve been more in the mindset of directing and instructing, taking more of the backseat role. But in this show, I felt – building the show from the ground up with the group, it’s been nice because it’s been less of a…there’s not a clearly defined line, where it’s like, you go do all the work, and we’re going to tell you what was good about it. We try to get involved. We want to have them be the writers and performers, so all the sketches and things were coming from them. I feel like our role has been to kind of nudge things in the right direction.
Jade: I agree. It’s been a lot more collaborative, I feel like, working with this group. They’re very diverse. Some of them are great at writing but haven’t performed as much, some of them are great at performing but haven’t written as much, but a lot of them have kind of grown.
Jason: Come out of their shells?
Jade: Come out of their hermit [crab] shells, since we were talking about hermits. It’s been an awesome process.
You’ve both trained, and performed in shows at Dallas Comedy House, so there are people in this show you’ve maybe already worked with in the past – is it weird directing people you’ve worked with as fellow actors?
Jason: I haven’t found that. I mean you [Jade], you’re on a troupe with Marilou [Canon].
Jason: I haven’t…let’s see, I’ve instructed Jonathan [Motney] and Olivia [Frasher] in a sketch class, I was a TA for Collin [Brown] before. Lauren [Levine] has been my TA multiple times. So I’ve always been in kind of an authority role? [Laughs.] I try to put up an authoritative…I don’t know what I’m trying to say.
Jade: That’s why he comes to our rehearsals with a briefcase every time.
Jason: Yeah. I open up my briefcase, there’s nothing in it, I close it, and then we get to business.
Jade: That’s an interesting question, because I’ve been in a troupe with Patrick, and I’ve also been in a troupe with Marilou. And going into this, I was like, “Oh man, I get to work with people I’m used to working with!” It’s kind of interesting to tell your friends, “Hey, can you actually work on that sketch you said you’re going to work on?” “Wow – really, Jade?” “I’m sorry, you just gotta do it.”
Jason: I think it’s good that they can throw it back at us. I don’t want to be an authority figure. It’s been more of a collaborative experience. I want it to not feel like, “Jason and Jade are gonna come in and kill the fun and try to make us get to work.” I mean, we have to do that.
Jade: We do have to do that.
Jason: But we want it to be…it’s never felt like, “Oh boy, here they come again.” It’s always felt like everybody’s on the same page. I’ve appreciated that.
Jade: Plus it’s more fun.
Jason: But, yeah, directing your friends is kind of strange. It’s like, “Yeah, I’m telling you my idea.” It kind of feels like I’m telling you my idea is better. So trying to figure out how to get better at having that line of communication, instead of just being like, “Hey, do it this way,” explaining where I’m coming from, that’s something – especially on this show – I’m trying to get better at.
Jade: Plus, everyone’s got a lot of different perspectives and ideas. I mean, I’ve been a performer in a couple of different sketch revues, but this is my first time on the other side. But because we are so collaborative, there’s no problem in hearing different ideas from Jonathan, or Patrick. Like, “Hey, I know we’re doing things this way, but what if we punched it up like this?” That’s a great idea, let’s do it.
Jason: Nobody’s ego’s gotten out of check. Everybody’s been so positive and on board. There’s times where you have to cut a sketch, and you could have people be like, “Well, that was my sketch, this sucks,” and checking out of the show, but instead, everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, we just want to what’s good for the show.” It’s been really good.
How much experience had the two of you had working together before this?
Jade: We were in the FCC show, and Jason humbly agreed to be in it along with Tyler Simpson and Sarah Wyatt, it was really exciting, being in that process. Plus, you were one of the first people I interned with at DCH when I started interning, at the old place. I was in Level 2, I think, and you were like, “This is a great place, read this comedy book.” I feel like you probably don’t even remember this, but it was you and Jessica Dorrell.
Jason: I don’t remember that…but no, I remember when you started interning there. We’ve known each other for years. Doing the FCC show was great, but it was kind of just, you guys had the show, and you were kind enough to bring us on. I got to watch you guys do a great show every night, and then kind of bookend it with my whiteness. [Laughs.]
Jade: In a nutshell. But now Summer Girls.
Jason: Now we’re in a troupe together, and that’s gonna be super fun once we start practicing and performing.
How’s it been working together as co-directors?
Jade: He’s been the worst, such a diva! No, it’s been super great. I’m really grateful to have been involved in this process.
Jason: It’s been a very smooth, easy process. I can tend to be more robotic, I guess is how I’d put it. I can be more…I’m not the most emotive person, I’d say. It’s very nice to have someone like Jade there, especially pre-show – I’m not the best pep talker, I’d say. You get back there, and I’m like, “OK, well, you guys, there is a crowd. Please perform well. Lots of energy.” I don’t have that, “Guys, you’re gonna go out there and you’re gonna do great!” It’s not natural to me. So it’s good to have Jade there, who has a lot of the skill sets that complement mine. It’s been really, really good. Plus she’s more organized than me, and that helps a lot. Because I’m more, “Hey, let’s do this, let’s do this.” And when it comes to, “Hey, did you write that down?” you’ve already gotten that down, and I don’t have to realize, waking up in a cold sweat, that I forgot to do a thing, because somebody was listening. So that’s good.
You mentioned Summer Girls – do you have any other projects outside the show that you’re involved with?
Jason: I’m not working on too much. I perform with Tyler Simpson in Boink Bros, that’s super fun. Always a dumb show – we had a fun one a couple of weeks ago with some very drunk women right up front.
Jade: I was there for that show.
Jason: They did not stop talking the whole time. And Tyler’s really great with crowd work, so he started incorporating them into the show basically, and talking back to them. I was just kind of there for the ride at that point. They loved him, I think they hated me. [Laughs.] I was just wanting them to shut up the whole time.
Jade: What can you do?
Jason: Those shows are always fun. I also do The Rift, which is Tyler Simpson again, David Allison, Ashley Bright, Robert Howe, and Gabriel Vasquez. That’s super fun as well. Then Summer Girls, which is now…
Jade: He just pointed to me.
Jason: We’ve gone through some lineup changes, but it’s now myself, Jessica Dorrell, Tyler Johnston, Jude Sutton, Andrew Plock, Paulos Feerow, and Jade.
Jade: Things I’m working on…I’m directing the next sketch revue after this one. There will be a brief break, but it runs from August through September. We’re doing things different this time, we’re not doing auditions.
Jason: You’re not?
Jade: We’re not. I just get to pick people.
Jason: I was going to audition…if you want to pick me, feel free to pick me.
Jade: [Laughs.] Duly noted. But yeah, I’m just picking people. FCC’s writing another show. Gotta plug that. We also added Byron Stamps and De De T. Both hilarious people, dream to work with. I think that’s everything I’m working on right now, I’ll probably remember as soon as I leave. But yeah, doing improv, doing sketch, I have not done stand-up in a minute.
Jason: Me either. I should do that.
Is stand-up something you guys have done, or is it just that last frontier of comedy for you?
Jason: That was the first thing I ever did. I did it out in Denton years ago. I’d do a couple open mics, and then there were these shows that some friends of mine did, Icky Antics. I did three of those? Maybe four of those. Those were super fun. I did one the day I had given my dog to the SPCA, so I did a set about that-
Jade: That’s so sad!
Jason: -and I almost made some people cry. So that’s why I don’t do stand-up. [Laughs.] I’ll do it like once a year, I’ll do my…
Jade: Your annual tour?
Jason: My five minutes, my annual tight five. I’ll go up, and it’s a lot of awkward one-liners. My whole schtick is saying a really bad joke and then just kind of staring at the audience until they laugh.
Jade: I don’t think I’ve seen you do stand-up.
Jason: Because I’ve only done it twice in the last two years.
Jade: I’ll have to keep an eye out. As far as me doing stand-up…I keep trying, saying, “OK, I’m gonna get back into it. I’m gonna sign up for open mic at least.” Still haven’t done it. It’s probably been six or seven months. I know Magen King keeps trying to get me…my schedule just hasn’t lined up, but she puts on this really great showcase in Krugerville. I just haven’t had time, but I love Magen. I like doing stand-up, though, it’s kind of cool. Kind of scary at the same time.
So you’re doing a show about streaming and competing with online streaming – can you give me your biggest push for people to get off the couch and go to a live show?
Jade: Hey guys, so…let’s see. You’ve watched so much different media, different TV shows, movies, things that are really great. But now come experience it live, interactive, on a stage, with your friends and family. I guarantee you’re gonna relate not only to all the sketches, and all the shows they’re satirizing, but also the narrative that’s running throughout the whole thing. It’s relatable, it’s great, come see it!
Jason: One thing we tried to do with the show was make it so that it wasn’t just, “Here’s a sketch, now here’s a sketch.” We tried to make sure there was an enjoyable story to kind of buffer all of those sketches. Not just buffer, but give it an arm. We put a lot of thought into this to make sure that there was…you’re not just going to see a show that’s just sketch after sketch, there’s a story there. There’s fun for the whole f– no, there’s not fun for the whole family.
Jade: It’s definitely not for families.
Jason: It’s a blue show. But there’s something there – if you are hesitant because you think, “There’s probably gonna be shows I don’t know, I’m not gonna get the references.” We tried to make it as non-reliant as we could, while still rewarding in some ways if you have seen the shows. Why should you get off your couch and see the show? Because it’s live, and anything can happen, and anything does happen. It’s a different experience. You get to see people in your community doing something that takes a lot of balls to do, and they’re doing it well. And if you don’t see it before the end of the month, you never will.
Jade: For a limited time.
Jason: And then it’s going back in the Disney vault. The DCH vault.
All photos by Jason Hensel.