A community that embraces your eccentric interests is a must for many. Whether you’re a LARPer or sports fanatic, it’s great to have a squad to share all your fun-loving antics. And nothing beats the energy of the Yolks on You crew.
An event geared towards silly attitudes and naughty jokes, what really struck me about YOY is the inclusivity in their shows, and how the companions produced a loving practice toward humor. From body positivity to multi-cultural exuberance, D.C. variety shows like YOY’s are a space for community building.
And after speaking with Dentata and Dandy about the ins and outs of slapstick humor, District Fray is proud to present the D.C. beginner’s guide to variety shows.
District Fray: Can variety be just goofing around with friends?
Delilah Dentata: You can absolutely figure out your performance style by playing around with friends. I would recommend going to as many shows as you can. It’s so helpful to watch other performers in the area. You can further refine your opinion on the styles and art forms you like. And if you want to start performing, it’s helpful to meet producers and performers so they have some familiarity with you once you start applying to shows or posting casting calls.
Jim Dandy: You should think about what you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, that will come across. Loving what you do is a huge piece of it.
Is the variety show community welcoming to newcomers?
Dentata: It depends how you approach the community. If you come in not acknowledging the existence of the variety scene and the work that’s been done before you, or asserting that you’re going to do it better, the reception you’ll get will be, at best, skeptical. This is where getting to know folks in the scene can be super helpful.
Dandy: Variety is one of those things that is very collaborative. People want to help each other. When you help someone succeed, that benefits both that person and yourself.
It’s a variety show, but how much variety can there be?
Dentata: As much as you want. What I like about variety is that there are no limits, aside from what the producer wants to put on their stage and what the audience will enjoy and pay to see. Do you want to sexily bathe in a bathtub of blood? London St. Juniper does. Do you want to spin five or more hula hoops in increasingly complex shapes? Erin Jeannier does. Do you want to get up on stage and sing songs about monsters? Dr. Dour & Peach do.
Dandy: Variety is such a catch-all term — what you can bring to the variety stage is near limitless. That’s what I love about what we’re doing. It’s a different show every time, simply because there’s no end to what’s possible.
Where can we put on variety shows? And which venues are willing to hear pitches for new shows?
Dentata: I think this is another place where it’s helpful to make your rounds and make yourself known. It’s so helpful to pitch venues that you’re familiar with, whose patrons you are familiar with, and whose staff members know you. When we pitched Yolks to the Bier Baron in late 2017, we’d been performing there and enjoying their beer selection for years.
Dandy: Shows are held in so many different places. In private homes, dive bars, dance studios, music venues, restaurants, at music festivals. You don’t need a venue with a stage. Get creative as far as venue goes. You aren’t limited by what folks have done before. But of course, it’s helpful if the venue is reasonably accessible by public transportation.
What art forms are most used?
Dentata: Burlesque is most common because it’s probably the easiest to get into. Plus, there’s so much you can do with it, and you can incorporate other art forms into burlesque as well. Obviously, you don’t want to shoehorn a skill into a burlesque act, but if it fits your act, do it.
Dandy: Although there is a place for nearly everything in variety, there are some types of acts that have been done more often than others. This is where going to shows helps a lot — you can see what else is out there and consider how you’d put your own spin on it to make it new and exciting. I recommend taking clowning classes.
Do I need a defined character, or can I just be me?
Dentata: Great question. I don’t think I really have a persona. It’s really just my “on” personality. I’m funny; I love making uncomfortable eye-contact with people, and I make over-the-top faces.
Dandy: There is really no wrong way to do it. When you’re starting to create a character, it’s easiest to be a bigger version of yourself. Think about who you are and who you want to be onstage.
What’s an example of a character you enjoyed embodying onstage?
Dentata: Grandpa Joe (from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”). I’ve always been fairly skeptical of him and his motivations. He lies in bed for years while his family is starving around him and only gets up when he gets a free ticket to a candy factory? That’s sketch. I took that and created a leech character for him. Lots of pelvis wiggling.
Dandy: Waluigi. You can do anything you want with him. He’s someone whose personality and lore are really fan-driven. The only thing you really know about him is that he’s strange.
Working with others: How do two goofballs collaborate?
Dentata: As a producer, find someone whose work style meshes well with yours. If you and your co-producer are both consistently Type B people, that might impact how prepared you are come show day. As a host, you have to keep it moving. Gauge your audience and cast’s mood, [and] proceed accordingly. As a performer, meet the deadlines the producer assigns. This is such an easy way to be seen as reliable and get booked more often.
Dandy: As a producer, I work well with Delilah because we have a similar mission, humor and philosophy around what we want variety shows to be. We complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As a host, try to talk to everyone before you go onstage about their act. The audience doesn’t care where you’ve been, what gigs you’ve had and what you’ve done. They care about the next person who is coming onstage to perform. You’re there to make the performers shine. As a performer, recognize that you’re part of a team. To borrow a page from the improv world, cultivate a “yes, and” mindset.
What can a new variety show do to make sure all bodies and lives are respected?
Dentata: First, you need to have no tolerance for -ist or -phobic bullshit. You need to strive in each interaction to make your performers and audience members feel that they can come to you with concerns. Next, you need to be open to hearing you messed up. We’re all imperfect, and we all have unconscious biases.
Dandy: Variety thrives because it’s variety. You can’t have true variety if you don’t create spaces where people with different backgrounds, experiences, thoughts, bodies, appearances and disciplines can feel welcome and free to be themselves.
What is important to remember in these high-energy and fun-loving spaces?
Dentata: Have fun. We all get nervous before we go onstage, but the audience will have fun if you have fun. If you forget your entire choreography, c’est la vie. Keep it moving. Something I like to do for myself is leave at least a few bits of my act un-choreographed, so I have time to improvise.
Dandy: Don’t forget the audience. Sometimes when I’m doing an act, I can get caught up in my choreography and forget to play with the audience. Engaging the audience is just as — if not more — important than choreography.
What is one value that each variety show should have?
Dentata: At a very basic level, you need to respect your cast and your audience. You’re not a producer without them. Your cast members are trusting you to provide them with a professional, enjoyable experience. Your audience members took time out of their day and paid money to see your show.
Dandy: Understand that your way of doing something isn’t necessarily everyone else’s way of doing something. It goes back to the “yes, and” attitude. Shows are a collaborative effort. If something works for a performer and brings the audience joy, it’s the right way to do it.
Yolks On You returns to Bier Baron Tavern on September 18. You can buy tickets at dccomedyloft.com.