Jeff freelance writes for various publications. See articles that Jeff has written
Here is press about The Mystery Hour:
Tuned In To Comedy 417 Magazine 10/27/12
Encore Series Debuts with Mystery Hour Tour Fort Hays State University Leader 9/27/12
The Jeff Show Stry.us 8/13/12
Who Needs Hollywood? Springfield News-Leader 4/12
A More Modern Mystery Tag Magazine 5/12
Houghton Returns from Los Angeles Missouri State Standard 4/12
Best Expat Blogger 417 Magazine, 1/12
Blood Master Exits Missouri State Standard Newspaper 2/11 (text below)
The Last Mystery Hour at Skinny Improv KSMU Radio Story. 2/11 (text below)
The Final Mystery Hour 417 Magazine 2/11
Inside Springfield-Queen City Live Interview
SPRINGFIELD NEWS-LEADER ARTICLE ON THE MYSTERY HOUR, 8/30/2007
Skinny Improv spinoff “The Mystery Hour” combines local comedy with Letterman-inspired antics.
Michael A. Brothers
Plenty of people daydream about hosting their own late-night talk show.
Jeff Houghton actually went out and did it. He hosts “The Mystery Hour,” a show that is part Conan, part Letterman, part Skinny Improv and all Springfield.
The punch line for Houghton, who makes good use of self-deprecating humor, is that people actually show up to watch it. In fact, the Skinny’s 140-seat theater is usually packed for the show, which usually takes place the first Saturday night of each month. The next one happens this weekend.
“The first shows were mostly (college) students, probably because of price, which was free,” Houghton says. “But now the base seems to be building beyond that.”
Julie Birnstein, a 20-year-old Missouri State University theater student, has only missed couple of “Mystery Hour” shows. After going for the first time last year, she brought about 10 friends to the next show.
“It’s actually really funny, really entertaining,” she says. “It’s very loose.”
The admission fee has risen slightly — it’s a dollar now — but that hasn’t hurt attendance or the energy level.
“The Mystery Hour” is modeled after archetypical late-night fare found on network TV: monologue, desk and couch, a sidekick, guests, musical acts and a live audience.
Creatively, the show is fueled by the minds behind the Skinny Improv, the sketch comedy troupe that’s been a part of the downtown entertainment landscape since 2003. Houghton has been with the Skinny for three years. About a half-dozen Skinny members contribute to the show, including founder Jeff Jenkins.
Jenkins says he’s always wanted to have an improv-flavored talk show as part of the Skinny’s lineup, but wasn’t able to properly pull it off until Houghton became part of the team there.
“He’s interested in what makes people tick,” Jenkins says. “… He’s a good interviewer and makes people feel really comfortable.”
Houghton isn’t afraid to use himself as the butt of running jokes either, including riffs about his adult braces, his corn-fed Iowa roots, or the fact that he spent eight months living in his then-girlfriend’s (now wife) parents’ basement.
“It’s natural to me because I’m not an egotistical guy by any means,” he says. “I think it’s also kind of disarming for people.”
Houghton admits he’s a little worried about when those braces come off — only 15 months to go — because it’ll be one less thing about himself that he can make fun of.
“But something always seems to come around,” says the 29-year-old with a laugh.
“The Mystery Hour” is probably closest to David Letterman’s “Late Show” in style and tone than any other show. It’s no coincidence. Houghton did an internship with Letterman’s show in 2000.
But he says “The Mystery Hour” isn’t a direct result of that internship. When it comes to substance and his sense of humor, Houghton says he’s probably more closely aligned with the quirky and sometimes random style of Conan O’Brien.
Take, for instance, a skit earlier this year in which an old overhead projector took over the theater because it was hacked off that it had been replaced by fancy software like PowerPoint.
The overhead projector was something that was left in the building on Park Central East where the Skinny Improv recently moved, and Houghton was struck by how unloved and unused it was.
“Jeff’s mind just works in crazy ways,” says Dan Clair, 22, Jeff’s sidekick on the show. “… It helps that he has the imagination of a 6-year-old.”
Houghton says Clair’s ability to wait for just the right time to interject a punch line is key to his sidekick role.
“It’s a lot like improv in that you have to be listening carefully,” explains Clair, who also compares the role to that of a comic sniper.
Clair also creates the comedy video bits, like the one that ran in August featuring a pair of local paranormal investigators who were invited into the Skinny theater to hunt for ghosts.
Birstein, the audience regular, thinks the pair’s chemistry helps makes the show work.
“They seem like honest-to goodness-guys just shooting the breeze,” she says.
Each show usually features two guests and a local band or musician.
“I shoot for a name people will recognize, and also someone that will be interesting, and sometimes that’s the same person,” Houghton says. “… If somebody is interesting, but not necessarily funny, I’ll take that, too.”
Last month’s guests were J. Fotsch and Dawn McClain from KSPW-FM’s morning show, Joplinite and CMT “Trick My Truck” producer Sarah Wilson-Dewald, and local singer Eddie Gumucio.
Houghton and Clair must work with guests and go with the flow. That kind of thing is second nature during a Skinny sketch, but the difference on “Mystery Hour” is that the guests aren’t part of the established group.
“Whatever happens, we have no control over it, and you can’t stop it and do it again,” Clair says.
Things happen. Like the time the winner of a local air guitar contest left just as he was supposed to go onstage.
“He left,” Houghton says dryly, “and drove away in his air car.”
Given their radio backgrounds, Fotsch and McClain were naturals once things settled down a bit, and their segment included some background on how they got into radio, how they go about their jobs and a few choice dance moves from Fotsch, including one McClain has dubbed “the horny surfer.”
“OK, I feel moderately scarred now,” Houghton says after the demonstration.
That’s about as blue as “Mystery Hour” gets. Like the Skinny, the show is mostly suitable for all ages.
“All of our shows are connected to that core value of being family-friendly,” Jenkins says. “… But we leave it open. We’re gonna go where our guests go, but most people know our reputation for playing it clean.”
Jenkins hopes “The Mystery Hour” will continue to evolve as a platform for blending comedy with topical subjects and local people who are involved in the community.
“It brings a different type of variety to our lineup,” he says. “It’s that curveball. It’s our gyroball.”
The Standard Text
“I guess you could call him a well-rounded guy,” she said with a laugh. “He’s very personable and friendly, very laid back. He’s going to be missed dearly.”
Houghton will be missed because last week was his last blood drive with Missouri State. Today is his last day at work for CBCO, and this is his last week in Springfield.
At age 32, Houghton is a comedian for Skinny Improv, a freelance writer for 417 Magazine, an actor in various commercials and a manager of more than 200 accounts for CBCO including Missouri State.
He has been a part of Skinny Improv and CBCO since 2004, and he has managed MSU’s blood drives for about five or six years now. This week, he is going to move and leave it all behind.
“I am going to Los Angeles to try to make it in Hollywood,” Houghton says, “which is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.”
Houghton sits perfectly at ease in the waiting area while the blood drive busily continues behind him. He has a grin on his face the whole time.
“I’ve always had the idea of doing it, but I never pulled the trigger, you know,” he says. “Then my wife talked about having kids, and I thought, ‘Oh my God! I have to do this first.'”
He shrugs when asked what he wants to do there: writer, actor, comedian. He said he hopes to do stand-up comedy, get an agent and ultimately make it onto a TV show.
“The first week I’ll try to get sun just so I’ll look normal. I won’t even try to be tan,” he says with a smirk. “My biggest goal of this thing – become less pale.”
The first few weeks in L.A. he plans to just try to survive, Houghton said. This will be the first time he tries to establish his comedy career before finding a job that includes helping people.
MSU’s blood drives have really grown over the years to something big, he said.
When he started they were lucky to have 300 donations per semester. Last semester the blood drive collected almost 2,000 donations. He says he’s hoping to collect 1,300 donations this blood drive to make it 3,000 so he can go out with a bang.
“I’ll miss the community,” Houghton says. “I feel really connected to Springfield and the community. I’ll miss MSU’s students. Can I miss 20,000 people when I don’t even know most of them? It sounds really cheesy.”
He says he’s not sure what pushes him to try to do all these different things. He has always had all kinds of ideas that run through his head.
“A few years ago I figured out that, if I have an idea, I can do it,” Houghton says. “I used to have lots of ideas but never did them. Now if I think it, I just go do it.”
Now, he’s ready to try this idea and “just go do it” in Hollywood. He has been training his replacement for CBCO, and his days in Springfield are coming to a close.
“Crystal here is my replacement as the new ‘blood drive guy,'” Houghton says with a chuckle as he motions to a woman sitting quietly across from him. “She’s going through the hormone therapy now. She’ll get there eventually.” He winks.
He leans back in his chair with his arm over the back and doesn’t seem to notice the hectic nurses running around him. He also doesn’t flinch when a man comes up behind him to sign a paper.
He says it’s easy for him to deal with all the chaos that comes with blood drives and improvisational comedy.
“There are a lot of improv principles, like being in the moment and handling what’s given to you, that I incorporate into my life,” he says. “My mind is chaotic, so it fits me.”
That may be why he is handling the uncertain road ahead of him so well. Houghton gives a nervous smile and says he doesn’t really feel like he is talking about himself right now.
“Nothing has hit me yet about moving,” he says. “Training my replacement, next Tuesday being my last day at work, moving; I feel like on the drive there (L.A.) is when it’ll hit me, and I’ll start weeping.”
Houghton stands up and after a handshake, he blends into the chaotic scene with Crystal trailing behind him.
“Mystery Jeff” Houghton performed his last Mystery Hour improvised talk show at the Skinny Improv last Friday Feb.4. KSMU’s Randy Stewart was one of Jeff’s final guests on the show.
(“Magical Mystery Tour” plays in theatre)
RANDY: For the past several years, Jeff Houghton of the Skinny Improv has hosted a local talk show… never seen it on any local TV or cable channels, or on the radio? That’s because it wasn’t ON TV or radio—it was performed live once a month, the first Friday of each month, at the Skinny Improv Comedy Theatre on Park Central East in downtown Springfield. Last Friday February 4th, as the snow piled up outside, “Mystery Jeff” Houghton performed his final Mystery Hour show at the Skinny Improv. And I was there… in fact I was one of the guests on the show.
ANNOUNCER: “Welcome to the LAST Mystery Hour… tonight’s guests are Randy Stewart… Wes Pratt… now here’s your host, MYSTERY JEFF HOUGHTONNNNN!” (cheers & applause)
RANDY: Jeff called the Mystery Hour an “improvised talk show”: not quite a “real” talk show (well, it was real to Jeff!) and not quite a spoof of the talk show genre… but sort of all of the above.
JEFF HOUGHTON to audience: How’s it going?
JEFF: Good. Hey, how many of you guys have been to The Mystery Hour before?
JEFF: How many of you have never been?
(some audience cheers)
JEFF: Well, it’s the last one… don’t get too attached!
RANDY: It was the last Mystery Hour. Jeff and his wife are leaving Springfield for Los Angeles this month, so Jeff can try his hand at acting out there. After working as an intern at David Letterman’s Late Show in New York after college, Jeff credits his years in improv here in Springfield has helping him develop the acting and comedy chops he believes he’l l need in L.A.
The Mystery Hour set featured a desk and a couch as you would expect any late-night talk show to have, complete with fancy condenser mike on the desk. Jeff would open each show with a monologue improvised from audience suggestions. There were pre-written comedy bits with his wife and other Skinny Improv players, either performed live or pre-taped and shown on the big video screen, as well as spoof commercials. And Jeff would interview local guests each month. Early on in the run of The Mystery Hour run he had KSMU’s Missy Shelton on as a guest… last Friday it was my turn, on Jeff’s final Mystery Hour.
JEFF: Actually, what happened is, I was supposed to do something else and I forgot and went right to you, so…
RANDY: Yeah, that’s right—the first commercial.
JEFF: Shhhh! (audience laughs)
RANDY: Hey, it’s a FAKE SHOW, people, don’t worry about it! It’s a FAKE COMMERCIAL! There’s no money involved!
JEFF: Randy Stewart’s just speakin’ the truth!
RANDY: I have a bad tendency to do that, actually.
JEFF: Yes, so tell us, ‘cause it seems like you must be there at all hours.
RANDY: I hear that all the time… I’m there 24/7.
JEFF: Are you?
RANDY: Not really. You hear 8 hours’ worth of breaks with my voice? I do them between 8 and 9:30 in the morning.
JEFF: So you’re telling me that you work an hour and a half a day, 5 days a week?
RANDY: No, no… well, okay, yeah. (Audience laughs)
RANDY: JUST KIDDING, MSU administration!!
Before it was over Jeff had me telling stories… which I’m not very good at, but I was able to put in some good words for KSMU, and we had a good time, I think. They had a capacity crowd of about 260, even with the snow, and they were quite enthusiastic—even though I got the feeling many of them had NO idea who I was! The experience reinforced something I already knew about myself: I much prefer interviewing other people to being interviewed myself! So as Jeff leaves for the West Coast soon, I want to wish him best of luck, and leave him with these words from Bugs Bunny:
BUGS BUNNY: Westward, westward, Hiawatha sailed into the fiery sunset. Fare thee well, Hiawatha… fare thee well, oh mighty warrior. (chuckles)