Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Joe Hafkey originally found his hometown lacking when trying to satisfy his comedic desires.
Hafkey grew up with sketch shows like Mad TV & SNL, and was a fan of heavy hitters like George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld. At first he wasn’t sure that comedy was going to be a focal point in his life. But when a job at the local (and really only) venue in Richmond eventually led to a guest spot on its established show, the hook was set. Not satisfied with the opportunities in the local scene, Hafkey did what many comics have done – created his own. Running 2 years, the show he created provided a more open and inclusive space for comedy in Richmond.
Our first comedian from the rural town of Santa Fe (Texas, not the other one), Roy Janik is a powerhouse on the Austin improv scene. Janik (“Yawn-ick,” not “Jan-ick.” Don’t tell his family he says it that way.) has an interesting comedic pedigree. While growing up, he was fed a diet of Mystery Science Theater 3000. He didn’t find his passion for performing all at once, but in a series of fortunate events later in high school and while doing college radio.
Janik holds a Masters Degree in Computer Science, which almost went another way. He hit a major turning point in his professional improv career with his initial performance in Maestro at The Hideout Theatre. This early success, plus a pressing need to guarantee the future of The Hideout Theatre, drove a rapid involvement, responsibility and ultimately co-ownership of the theater where he first got his start.
Not only did The Hideout troupe lead Janik into a new phase in life, it also turned out to be the setting where met his future wife, local multi-faceted improv/artist/actor Kaci Beeler(-Danger). Janik takes Valerie Lopez through the fairy tale of how it transpired, and how it ties into his very family-like ties to the improv group.
I am blown away by the breadth of Janik’s creativity and depth, as he and Valerie dig into some of his ongoing shows like Parallelogramophonograph (“PGraph”, for brevity’s sake, and timid spellers). Based loosely on concepts found in Haruki Murukami’s novels like The Wind Up Bird Chronicles, the format and flow of the performances are fascinating.
When not on stage, Janik, leads improv classes, some of which turn into gateways to festival appearances for the performers. This has taken the troupe across the world – from Canada to London and on to Spain, with more on the horizon.
I could go on for days about Janik’s work, but it’s in your best interests to get out and catch him and his troupe at The Hideout Theatre. In addition to PGraph, check out the many specials and ongoing shows like Squirrel Buddies, improv classes for kids, and more. Be sure to check out Roy Janik’s website as well.
What does it take to be a comedian? I don’t know. I’m not a comedian. Arielle Norman is, and from what I’ve learned from her interview, it takes willpower.
Norman was a Mormon who grew up in Houston to devout parents. This means her exposure to comedy growing up was extremely limited. In fact, her early influences were her Dad’s puns, a bootleg copy of a Bill Cosby album and Garfield and Friends (Man, that Nermal was something). It wasn’t until she turned seventeen that Norman found the good stuff thanks to Yahoo and as you can guess, Pandora’s Box was opened.
Arielle Norman’s life has been much more complex than her conservative religious upbringing. She’s struggled with OCD, which peaked during her teens and early 20’s. Religion, OCD and other elements have forged an amazing backstory that is best told in her own words. Fortunately, our intrepid interviewer, Valerie Lopez, got it all on audio:
After crisscrossing the country in a way that looks like Michael J. Fox drawing on an Etch-A-Sketch, Norman and the love of her life, Katie, settled down in Austin. Katie farms, Arielle does comedy and they love it. In the year and a half they’ve been in Austin, Arielle Norman has locked down a show every Saturday night at the Hideout Theater. Located in the upstairs theater, Off Script starts off at 10:30 PM.
The Umbrella Show is unique since it’s comprised of four smaller shows. Depending on which week it is, Norman is either hosting Riff Raff, A Heckling Show, Crowd Workaholic, or Director’s Cut. The mini-shows all have a single common theme: teaching comedians to think on their feet. Arielle Norman uses this quote for both the comedians and the audience, “Out of the head, and on their toes.” Yes, it’s a late show, but it’s worth it.
Arielle Norman can be found in a plethora of places on the binary sea that is the World Wide Web. The center of the web is her site, Off Script Comedy, which is where you can find out about her upcoming shows and appearances, and see if her brand of comedy tickles your fancy.
One thing I’ve noticed about the interviews Valerie does for Comedy Wham is how people approach the concept of comedy. While there are common threads, most of the folks we interview and write about have a unique spin our beloved form of entertainment. Ryan Darbonne is a stand out, mainly because he doesn’t do stand up.
Darbonne’s approach to comedy stems from a love of movies and short films. To steal a worn out hipster trope, Darbonne and his friends were making a web series before YouTube was cool. It’s true, Hello Optimism predates the premier homemade/commercial video streaming site.
While creating short movies and sketches is his primary focus, Ryan Darbonne has stepped onto the improv stage. He enjoys the contrast between the two forms of entertainment. Improv provides an almost instant gratification via the audience’s response, which allows him to (if I may steal a worn out Army trope) adjust fire. On the other side of the spectrum, film and video has a delayed gratification with an inherent unpredictable audience. Yet both are means to deliver comedy which Darbonne sees as a very effective critique on society.
Ryan Darbonne is constantly working and very busy with two improv groups, Sugar, Water, Purple, and Stool Pigeon. Also, don’t forget his show web series, Hello Optimism. Darbonne is also unapologetically active on Facebook.
Christina Parrish probably has the most unique comedy background we’ve come across. At the very least, it’s the boldest. Her dad used to take her to improv shows when she’d come visit him in Austin. Eventually she chose to live with him, quit high school and jumped into the the improv pool head first. Soon after she discovered stand up.
I won’t make you read about Parrish’s fascinating past or her amazingly supportive parents when you can listen to it as she speaks to our very own Valerie Lopez:
As with most of our posts, there is a part two to Christina Parrish’s story. Click the link to find out about where her career is now, and how she got into making Galifiniakian style videos:
Speaking of Parrish’s vidoes, you can find them online at Funny or Die, or on her YouTube Channel. I highly recommend the video, Misunderstood.