On a television screen that only the audience and improviser Scriven Bernard can see, the word "Titanic" flashes, starting a wave of giggles from the audience. Brian Harrington, the other improviser onstage, has his back turned and cannot see the word, and it’s Bernard’s job to create an improvised scene for Bernard to guess the word. Bernard becomes the ghost of Jack, berating Rose for not making room on the floating wreckage of the doomed ship, and the laughs ensue.
The show is called Tabooze, and it’s one of two Bernard and Harrington have created at Dallas Comedy House. The other is Let’s Get Busy Tonight, an improvised hour of comedy, showcasing some of the many talented performers from Dallas’ LGBTQ community. While Tabooze is a game show of sorts starring only Bernard and Harrington, Let’s Get Busy Tonight incorporates multiple formats of improv on a stage shared with a large cast.
In a tiny green room within the depths of Dallas Comedy House, Bernard and Harrington look at ease as they talk about their comedy experiences and backgrounds as two openly gay performers. Their relaxed demeanor suggests they’re about to grab a drink, not perform a two-person improv show for a sold-out crowd. Any nerves the duo might share are downplayed by the familiarity of their surroundings; they’ve been taking courses and performing at DCH almost since the club opened.
“We had just a small number of us that were out, like officially, in the theater,” Bernard says. “And then you had some people that, like, knew, and they weren’t necessarily hiding it, but they didn’t want to get up on a stage and say it. So part of it is people seeing how well this show is supported, and they’re seeing people come out and being OK with it. There’s not immediate danger here in coming out, and that’s made some people say, ‘OK, I’m OK with being on a stage and showing people this is true.'”
Created in September 2016, Let’s Get Busy Tonight is half short-form, game-based improv and half long-form improv, in which the performers create longer scenes with recurring characters and a more fully developed story. The show was a result of the rapid growth of students training at Dallas Comedy House and having enough open LGBTQ members present to celebrate their community. The success of both the show and the comedy house have introduced even more new members looking to express themselves, necessitating a need to expand Let’s Get Busy Tonight to include stand-up, storytelling and other forms of comedy.
"This has kind of become a full-blown school in the sense of having support groups and different things like that,” Harrington says. “When this first started it was, you know, a ragtag team of eight comedians and those were the people, that was their common thread they were trying to find. 'Oh, you like comedy; I like comedy.' Then it grew into this whole thing, and now it was like, OK, all thousand of us like comedy so now you’ve got to find your tribe within that. And I think that’s kind of like what this group has become.”
Let’s Get Busy Tonight doesn’t have a set cast for each show, but core members have been instrumental in making it one of the longer-running shows at DCH. One of those members, Corey Whaley, has been performing on the show since its first night.
“I think it might influence people’s perception of LGBT presence in life in general,” Whaley says. “We promote it like any other show and it’s not some secret there’s an LGBT group. I don’t want to overreach and say it changes people’s minds, but I would think it normalizes it for people that might think it’s something unusual.”
While Bernard and Harrington are focused on honing their skills as performers and creating the best quality show, they still serve as an ear for other LGBTQ members who’ve seen their work and want to talk. Bernard speaks of many messages he’s received from people struggling with their identities. They see someone like Bernard, who openly performs as a gay man, and they have a resource they otherwise wouldn’t have known about.
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“I don’t think any of us see it as a weight,” Bernard says. “I mean yeah, there’s the side of it that’s like, we have a responsibility to the community, but I would absolutely do that. It’s helping somebody to get to the point where we’re at, those of us that are fully out, and the freedom that comes with that. And yeah, there’s all of the negative stuff as you go through that struggle, but I don’t see it as, ‘Ugh, I have to do this thing’ — more of, 'This person gets to have this experience of owning themselves.'”
Harrington picks up the thought as Bernard finishes speaking, the shorthand of two performers trained to know what the other is thinking on display.
“Yeah, it’s more of a matter of — we would have wanted that when we were going through the program,” Harrington says.
See Let's Get Busy Tonight at 8 p.m. Saturday at DCH. Tickets are $10.