Scriven Bernard And Brian Harrington Talk Forming Let’s Get Busy Tonight, Dallas’ Hit LGBTQ Improv Group That’s Helping Area Performers Come Out On Stage.
Scriven Bernard and Brian Harrington recognized they had a strong rapport onstage relatively early into their improv training. So, when they graduated Dallas Comedy House’s improv program in 2015, they decided to make the most of their easy dynamic and formed the two-man troupe, Tabooze.
As discussed during our interview, performing improv as a duo demands a remarkable degree of quickness and consistency. Fortunately, they both possess the creativity, intelligence and charm needed to surpass the demands of the audience, and they deliver strong comedy throughout their performances.
The team of Tabooze has also been part of a bigger project of late: Let’s Get Busy Tonight, an LGBTQ improv group that’s become both an ace attraction for Dallas Comedy House and a means of providing encouragement and visibility for LGBTQ performers. Harrington and Bernard are excited to see the group’s positive effect, and how it’s been so supportive for LGBTQ performers — but, as involved as they are, they’re quick to make it clear that a robust group of dedicated participants beyond them have helped make Let’s Get Busy Tonight so successful and vital to the Dallas comedy world.
Before their next Let’s Get Busy Tonight performance this weekend, I spoke with Bernard and Harrington about the development and purpose of that show, their efforts in Tabooze, and what it takes to cultivate, and sustain, a successful show.
Tell me about the formation of Let’s Get Busy Tonight.
Brian: The first person to have an idea for it was David Allison. I’d been thinking about making a group – not necessarily an improv group, which that’s what it’s become, not a performing group, but a community group. But then David came to me – his mom is gay – and he came to me with the idea for the show, so then I just put the feelers out, and basically gave [Scriven] point after that.
Scriven: You mentioned it to me, and I fell in love with it. I was like, “Oh my God, I want this to happen so badly!” I didn’t think this could be a thing, or whatever. And yeah, then I kind of took the work off you at that point. I loved that part of it.
Brian: We also were kind of worried, because when we started in class, it was really me, Tyler [Johnston] and Jerrell [Curry] who were the out gays there, but when you start thinking about it there’s a lot more. So we thought when we first started this that there would be, like, six [performers] — but the first show was 19, I think. And it’s grown since then.
Scriven: What’s been so cool about this is that for me personally, I kind of had this thing where it’s like, “Oh, I’m gay!” But then I got to Dallas and was like, “I’m gonna go back in the closet for a minute,” and then, “OK, wait, I can come out.” So I kind of had that phase in there, but seeing Jerrell being open at the theater and being openly accepted, and seeing Brian and Tyler do the same, made me comfortable with it. Which is why when Brian pitched this idea, I was like, “I am 100 percent on board with that, because that makes other people see this, like for all of us.” I’ve even had people reach out and message me just to talk about it, but they’re not ready to come out yet. So it’s been very cool and supportive, as a community thing outside the show.
So it’s having a positive effect?
Brian: It’s definitely had a very positive effect, and there’s been a lot of outreach. There have been people who are later in life, that never felt comfortable with it, and because of this, they started talking about it. With DCH being especially improv-heavy, such a supportive community, it’s easy to think that everyone’s going to be like, “Oh, it’s such a supportive community, I’m gonna be supported, why not just be out?” or whatever it is. But if you don’t see that group, it’s much less obvious than race or gender or anything like that. So if you don’t already see that group you identify with as a group performing, it can be daunting for people. I think that’s what this has done, it’s been a springboard for people to be comfortable.
Scriven: Because I think that’s the other thing that people don’t realize. When you go into the improv community — obviously everybody there’s really supportive — a lot of people are very liberal and progressive and whatnot, so chances are you’re going to be accepted by everyone. But you don’t know 100 percent. You can walk in and think maybe there’s a person that’s gonna walk in who isn’t accepting, or I’m gonna have to explain myself to them, or have to put energy into, like, putting up a facade or something, and with this group you don’t have that. It’s exposing all of the allies and everybody in the overall community, who might be straight, or whatever. It’s exposing that, too. So, to Brian’s point, now people are going, “Yes, it is OK for me to let this out.” Does that make sense? Because even though we think we’ll be supported, this is 100 percent.
That makes total sense. But how have things changed from preparing for the first performance to now?
Brian: Well, we’ve done it. [Laughs.] That’s one big thing. When it first started, we met here [at Cold Beer Company, where the interview is taking place], actually, with as many of us who could. There were 12 or 13 people. We just talked about what everyone would want from it. Of course, everyone had 20 different ideas that for the first time doing a show, we couldn’t really jump into it. The biggest idea was sketches — pre-written sketches — but with so many people, getting together to make a sketch show, even if there’s just a couple of sketches involved, it’s a lot harder than getting together and doing improv. So it ended up becoming two halves — one being short-form, one being long-form. I guess one of the biggest things was how we navigate that. Do we have a host? And then the idea was brought that Scriven would host in drag. And… had Miracle been-
Scriven: No, that was Miracle’s birth.
Brian: So that was the birth of Miracle, who’s hosted the two [shows] that we’ve done.
Scriven: She’s done Local Honey. Well, we’ve technically done three [Let’s Get Busy Tonight shows] because the second was two shows back-to-back. And she’s done a couple of other things on her own, and she’s kind of becoming her own thing, where I’m working on that. And the other thing, structurally, we didn’t really expect the turnout, and how many LGBTQ people would join this. And so we established a committee just to make show decisions and stuff, really. So we’ve got a group of us — the ones who have the time and energy to make decisions and stuff who make less important decisions on behalf of everybody so we can speed things up. So that’s been a major structural change.
Brian: Like, for marketing.
Scriven: Right. Not like, “Who’s allowed to be gay in this town?” [Laughs.] Not like that, but, “What theme are we going to do?” and things like that.With an improv format, you can’t really predict too much because of the medium, so I was wondering how that would affect what you could bring to the stage.
Scriven: The very first one was right before Pride Week started in Dallas, so that was very much a Pride-themed show, and it was advertised as for Pride. Even though the improv is unpredictable, the level of energy that starts in that show, with the amount of support that’s in that audience, it starts at a different level than other shows do because of that. It’s kind of at the point that, yeah, it’s a bunch of different people getting together to do improv, which doesn’t always work on the first try, but because of that energy, and everyone’s so supportive… we’re there to support each other, for the audience to support us, and that sets the improv at a certain level to begin with. And I’m not saying, “That’s what’ll make us the best troupe ever!” It still takes practice.
Brian: It’s a lot harder to fail if you have a lot of energy from the audience up top. I also think, to your question, whatever our theme is, generally that wouldn’t really be what the improv is about, necessarily. One thing we did want to avoid was [just saying] this is a group of LGBTQIA people getting together to do improv and we’re doing scene after scene after scene of “gay stuff,” or whatever you want to call it. It goes that direction a little more, probably — or at least blue, it goes blue. So it might not be as family-friendly as some–
Scriven: It’s not at all family-friendly. [Laughs.]
Brian: But a lot of that, actually, we’re kind of geared not to do that. A lot of that comes from the audience, especially if we have any sort of audience suggestions, audience participation. They’re ready to go, and hear about, like, dicks and stuff.
Scriven: But they also see us doing real improv, and seeing us being real people onstage, and not just LGBTQ people. They see our real selves onstage – except for me in drag. [Laughs.] But it’s another good message to say, “Oh, we’re real people.” They can see it and say, “Oh, they don’t just do gay improv,” or whatever.
So you [Scriven] said Miracle’s debut was on the first show. Had you done anything like that before?
Scriven: That wasn’t the first time I was ever like, “I’m gonna try drag.” I’ve always had this interest in it. When I was a kid growing up, I was jealous of women getting to — understanding the double standards now that I didn’t then — dress up and put on makeup and wear all these things men couldn’t wear and stuff. So that’s been true for me always, I wanted to explore that more. So I would dress up in drag in other situations with wigs, things like that. But that was the first time I officially did drag as that art form. Which, it’s been an incredible experience, really freeing.
It sounds like it’s really caught on. Like, I saw Miracle for the first time outside the Let’s Get Busy show.
Scriven: Oh, was that at Ladies Night? Where she did the cat thing?
Yes! That was really fun. I did want to ask, you guys had been working together before this, right? You’ve worked together as the two-man group Tabooze?
Brian: Still are! We’ve been doing that for… well, from Level 2 Improv through Level 5, we’ve been together. And after Level 5 we formed Tabooze, and have been doing all of that since the beginning of 2015.
Scriven: We formed Tabooze in August 2015, but we’d been doing improv together from the start of that year. In classes, we really enjoyed playing together. I always thought he was a very smart improviser. I loved being in scenes with him, and he pitched the idea of Tabooze to me one day, and I was like, “Absolutely.” We’ve always enjoyed performing together, and so we’ve stuck with that.
What helps make you realize that this person is the right person for you to really bond with onstage?
Scriven: I think for me, it was like… first of all, we’re pretty close in age, we’re both in our very late 20s-
Brian: Very late. [Laughs.]
Scriven: There’s a lot of people in the community in their 20s, young 20s, and it’s like, absolutely nothing against that, but we’ve gotten past that hump of 25, so we have similar outlooks on maturity, that sort of stuff. I enjoy doing improv with somebody I’m on the same page in that way. Plus he’s smart, he’s funny, and we just have a natural friendship, too. You feel it when it clicks. It’s, “I want to be around this person more, I want to perform with him more.”
Brian: It’s funny. Whatever qualities I can say about Scriven are true of so many other people-
Brian: Well, I mean–
Scriven: No, no, I get it. [Laughs.]
Brian: It’s just that, you’re smart — but there’s other smart people. You’re funny — there’s funny people. But it really is us happening to be in the same class, and performing together so much. Something just clicks that you can’t really… I can’t really put my finger on it. Obviously, we support each other. We support each other, we have good chemistry and group mind. We understand each other. We’re good about understanding what the other one is doing onstage, what kind of moves they’re doing onstage. Transferring that from Tabooze to Let’s Get Busy Tonight just seemed natural. Scriven is very driven. Outside of DCH he’s a project manager, so he tackles this from a project manager standpoint. Whereas I was tackling it more from the community part of it — not that [Scriven] didn’t, but those two things coming together made the show possible. It made it — alongside everyone else who was involved — successful. There’s so many projects that don’t get off the ground, or fizzle when they happen, because there either wasn’t a lot of effort or love put into it, and we have a lot of both in ours.
Can you talk about what makes two-man improv different from the standard group format?
Brian: Well, one big thing is you’re onstage the entire time. You get no break to kind of run off on the side and gather yourself. So it does force you to throw yourself in the thick of it. You have to have something, at any given moment, you’re onstage.
Scriven: And I think it’s nice to know… to some people, it’s intimidating to do two-man improv, because all the responsibility’s on you. But it’s also freeing in a way, because I don’t have to balance all of these other points of view, I just have to balance with his. If you can get over the nervousness of it just being the two of you, then it’s like, “Oh, I know that every idea comes from me or him,” and that makes it easier in some ways, as far as figuring out how the show’s going to work.
Brian: It’s fewer balls in the air. If you’re in a group with even four or five people or something, if you go out and make a move, part of you is thinking, “Who’s going to support this?” Of these four other people, who’s going to do it? And they’re thinking it too. They’re thinking, “I’m gonna let the other person do it,” and nothing happens or whatever. But with this, it’s like, if I make a move, there’s only one person to support it. And that’s when it comes down to trust, I know he is going to support it. Which comes into coming up with new ideas for the show, because I know he’ll either support it, or he’ll say, “That’s cool, but…”
Scriven: “That’s stupid.” [Laughs.]
Brian: But in a constructive way.
We maybe touched on this indirectly, mentioning you weren’t sure, coming to Dallas, if you could really be open. What are your thoughts on performing in Dallas?
Scriven: Well, it’s the first place where I’ve really performed. I’m from Amarillo, which… being gay in Amarillo is a little different than it is here, because it’s a lot more black and white there, like you either have to be gay or straight, and people kind of put you in those labels. So you don’t feel comfortable being bi, or exploring all that sort of stuff. Coming here, it’s very accepting. I can do drag onstage and not worry about being chased offstage or anything like that. It’s just, it’s a more progressive community and audience, people are totally on board with everything, and I just feel a lot freer being myself and who I want to be in front of an audience in Dallas than I would… not that there’s anything wrong with Amarillo — wink — but, y’know, that acceptance makes a huge difference there.
Brian: I came from a smaller town than Amarillo, but just an hour away from here. It wasn’t the ideal situation growing up, but immediately after high school I was in Austin. And that’s when I came out, almost for the same reason as what we want to establish with Let’s Get Busy Tonight, seeing that there is, in Texas, this oasis of support for it. I was like, well, why wouldn’t I come out? It’s fine, no one cares. And then after five years there I came back to DFW. I was living in Plano, it’s a little more suburban-y. I didn’t really make my way to Dallas, especially the gay area, Oak Lawn. But once I did, it’s like… it makes me wonder what everyone else thinks of Dallas? We went to Nashville with Tabooze a few months ago, and I didn’t realize that Nashville is like a little Austin of Tennessee. There are so many places in Texas besides Dallas and Austin — like, I wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable going two hours outside of Dallas and performing, or even half an hour, sometimes. But Dallas itself sometimes is like Austin; it’s a little oasis, and especially in Deep Ellum. We are the most Austin-y area, probably. Or how Austin used to be. So overall, same, I didn’t really perform anywhere until Dallas. But I’ve never had a problem, I’ve always felt supported anywhere I am here.
Beyond the next Let’s Get Busy Tonight show on the 8th, do you have anything you’re planning?
Scriven: We have a Tabooze show that night, an hour after Let’s Get Busy.
Brian: So Miracle will still be performing.
Scriven: In drag, in the Tabooze show.
Is that the first time you’ll perform as Miracle in Tabooze?
Scriven: In Tabooze, yes. I’ve done improv with Local Honey. It adds a layer, it’s a little bit trickier. It’s a matter of figuring out if I’m doing improv as Miracle, or am I doing improv as me dressed as Miracle. Miracle comes out on her own, but Miracle as a personality doesn’t herself have improv experience outside of that one show. So I’m still getting used to that. So, essentially, yes, she has limited improv experience. But she likes it! [Laughs.]
Brian: As far as specific projects go, no. We’re getting the shows and everything, and it’s been a success all three times that we’ve put it on — but those three times and this upcoming one are probably more about getting a following, and what we want to focus on, marketing-wise, is partnering with any sort of LGBTQ communities around here. We’ve talked about doing charity shows, maybe even doing cross-promotion between us and a club. It’s more of the following than the show itself. We’d love to do a full sketch show, or online content, but I think that comes later.
Scriven: We’ve talked here and there about doing more than just Tabooze and Let’s Get Busy Tonight — possibly sketch things, whatever. We’ve talked about doing that stuff, too. But I agree, we’re trying to build our foundation now solidly with those two groups. Get those really off the ground and running, put all our work into that foundation, and then we explore from there what else there is.
Brian: And I just want to say: You’re interviewing the two of us, we’ve definitely spearheaded the show, but it wouldn’t have been anything without the 18 other people that performed. We’ve had people perform one show or the other, or all three. I’m just really proud of the people who did come out, not — well, in a sense, I guess some of them, yeah, it was them coming out — but the people who did show up and put in the work, and did the improv. The other nice thing is, we’re not limiting it to people who’ve graduated or people who’ve been performing for over a year. We’ve got people who are Level 2 performing with people who’ve been doing improv for five years. It’s a good mix.
Scriven: Our role has been kind of keeping people inspired and enthusiastic about continuing this. With my project management, it’s like, keep it going, keep it going. I think that’s our main role, keep people excited about the idea. We kind of hand off a lot of it to people who have real talent, like Paco [Giurfa Ley], who does our marketing, and Corey [Whaley], who does a lot of the treasury stuff currently, and other people with great ideas about the stuff. It’s just a matter of, y’know, sometimes people who have those skills, their skill isn’t necessarily project management, or getting people excited about an idea, and that’s totally OK. That’s ours. That’s what we really bring to it, keeping it going. And they do the real work, and we kind sit back and watch. [Laughs.]
This might be a really dumb question.
Scriven: Ask it.
You said something that makes it sounds like there’s a different kind of coming out specific to the stage as opposed to in life. Is that accurate at all?
Brian: I think so. There are people, like he said, who reached out to us — some who still haven’t performed with us yet. But there were people who reached out to us and said, “I am gay or bi or whatever it is, and I want to do this, but I’ve never told everyone en masse.” So there’s a difference between — and that’s what we want to accomplish with the show — being comfortable with a few people at DCH versus being able to go out onstage. We do ask that everyone who’s performing identify as LGBTQ – we’ve got plenty of allies at DCH, and they would do a great show, I’m sure. But, basically, if you come out onstage, you’re telling everyone, “I identify with the rest of [the performers].”
Scriven: It goes back to what I was saying about how when LGBTQ people are surrounded by LGBTQ people, you don’t have to put on that facade. You don’t have to worry about how much energy it’s going to take – and it’s not that other people are going to be hateful about it, or anything like that, but it’s just, you don’t even have to let your guard down completely. And so that’s what we get in that community. That’s primarily what we want to foster is that comfort, so even if people want to join our group but don’t want to perform, cool. We want you to be a part of it. You get resources along with the rest of us, you can talk to us about stuff. But the show itself – coming out in the show is kind of like making a relationship Facebook official. People kind of know about the relationship a little bit before, or maybe it’s private, but that’s when I’m making this choice to put it out there. And we’re never gonna force anyone to go out onstage if they don’t want to — we keep it anonymous within the group. That’s a big choice for people, it’s their Facebook official moment of saying I feel supported, and I’m gonna be fearless about letting everybody know about this. And that’s kind of a second kind of coming out from like, “Oh, I’ve already come out to the people I know will support it, the close people to me, or even just friends. Now it’s an advertised thing. That’s empowering, but it’s also very scary, and in some places potentially dangerous. I admire people who do it.
Brian: I’ve enjoyed the feedback from it from people not in the group. They’ll be like, “Oh, I didn’t realize he was,” or, “I didn’t know she was.” And that’s really where it stops. They’re like, “Oh, I didn’t realize, and then I saw them onstage, and I was like, ‘OK.’” And that’s just where even more support comes in.
Scriven: The person who’s coached us is Christie Wallace, and she’s straight, and married, but she’s a powerful ally. So in that sense, the performers are going to be LGBTQ, but we’re not trying to create a super-exclusive thing. She’s a strong ally — she’s proven that time and time again — so we absolutely want her involved, we love her feedback on the show. She donates all her coaching fees to LGBT groups, or we do it for her. So we’re not trying to keep this to just us.
Let’s Get Busy returns to Dallas Comedy House on Saturday, April 8. Head here for more information.
Photos by Allie Trimboli.