'The Mystery Hour,' Houghton Win Emmy Award
The Mid-America Regional Emmy Awards dished out an award for On-Camera/Performer/Host on Saturday to local TV talk show “The Mystery Hour” and host Jeff Houghton. This win marks the first for the show.
The Mid-America Emmys cover Missouri and Arkansas, southern Illinois, southern Iowa, and parts of Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana. “The Mystery Hour” was also nominated in the categories of audio-live or post-production and community/public service-single spots or campaigns.
The next taping of “The Mystery Hour” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Guests will include Crista Flanagan from “Mad Men,” Barry Williams from “The Brady Bunch” and comedian Yakov Smirnoff. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the Gillioz or online at www.themysteryhour.com/see-it-live.
Season five of “The Mystery Hour” premieres Oct. 17. The show airs 9 p.m. Saturdays locally on FOX 5.
'The Mystery Hour' to Air Beyond the Ozarks
Local late-night talk show “The Mystery Hour” will soon be seen by viewers beyond the Ozarks for the first time, according to a news release.
Hosted by local actor/comedian Jeff Houghton, the fifth season of the show premieres Oct. 17. It will air locally on FOX 5, but will also be broadcast on FOX 14, an affiliate based in Pittsburg, Kan.
It will air at midnight Saturday nights, moving to the 11 p.m. slot once football seasons ends.
FOX 14 reaches viewers in Joplin, along with southeastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma.
This is the first syndication deal for “The Mystery Hour.”
Houghton, who is also a producer for “The Mystery Hour,” told the News-Leader he would like to expand the show to other markets neighboring the Ozarks.
“Our goal is to export Springfield, and this is a great start,” he said in the news release.
The first three episodes of the fifth season are to be taped 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11 before a live studio audience at the Gillioz Theatre in downtown Springfield.
The guest lineup includes Jay Jackson, who played the news personality Perd Hapley NBC’s comedy “Parks and Recreation.”
Tickets are available at themysteryhour.com or at the door and cost $10, according to the website.
The Mystery Hour's Funniest Moments, Unranked
As host of "The Mystery Hour," Jeff Houghton has had his share of laughs and gags over the years. Here are a few of his favorites:
•Visioncon. Taped in January 2009. Pre-televised.
Houghton: Springfield has a wonderful Comic Con-esque convention called Visioncon that features all things sci-fi, comic books, and gaming. We took a camera around and did some man on the street interviews hoping for some craziness, and Visioncon did not disappoint.
•No Music Musical Chairs. Recorded 9/6/2013. Aired 12/14/2013.
Houghton: We were set to play a weird version of musical chairs where each round got progressively more strange. The contestants were in their places and we cued the music, but no music played. I stalled for a moment, but it seemed like something that wasn't going to be resolved quickly, so I just decided that we were now playing no-music musical chairs. A lot of people tell me it was their favorite thing that we've done. We may be better when things go wrong.
•Swear. Taped 9/5/2014. Aired 10/25/2014.
Houghton: We do a semi-regular segment called the Unnecessary News Network where Sarah Jenkins and I do a news segment similar to Weekend Update. Unlike Weekend Update, we don't have cue cards or a teleprompter. We were coming up on the last few jokes when I messed mine up and reflexively let out a swear word. I was laughing too hard, and so was the audience, at the surprise of it that we couldn't finish the segment because I couldn't regain my composure. It felt like the Carol Burnett Show for a moment.
•Yakov Smirnoff made his first appearance on the show February 2007.
Houghton: This was before we were on TV, back when we were just a monthly live show performed only for the sake of the audience at the Skinny Improv Theatre. Not only that, it was our fourth show ever. I had just called Yakov up as a long shot, but he was amazing. He had been on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson a bunch, and we was hilarious on our show.
•Springfield Cigarette. Taped 5/10/2013. Aired 5/25/2013.
Houghton: Springfield had recently passed a smoking ban, and it seemed like the only opinions we were hearing from were for or against, but nobody was talking about how it made the cigarettes feel. Our costume designer made an amazing human-sized cigarette costume that Tyler Snodgrass wore to give us the perspective no one was hearing. It was by far the most impressive costume we've had. The end even lit up. Video is N/A.
The Man Behind Springfield's Late Night Talk Show
After several years of hosting "The Mystery Hour" late night talk show, there's still a moment during each show that gets to Jeff Houghton.
The jokes, bits and skits are over, and musicians take the stage.
"During the show we are just kind of goofing around, and then this person is pouring their heart out in an honest song they've written," he said. "There is this moment when I can see the audience. My wife is always out there so I make eye contact with her. And for a moment, I can just enjoy it, sit back for a little bit and observe it. And I'm like, 'This is so cool to get to do this.' "
The Mystery Hour, filmed at the Gillioz Theatre in downtown Springfield, is in its fourth season on television. You can see the show online at TheMysteryHour.com or catch it on television at 9 p.m. Saturdays on Fox KRBK.
But Houghton would rather that you be part of the audience. Three 30-minute episodes are taped in front of the same audience once a month.
"It's fun to see a show being produced. We've got four or five cameras going, TV monitors for the crowd to see. We have a warm-up guy who gets the audience involved," he said. "They can see if we screw up and start over. We try to make it a fun environment."
Houghton, a former talent department intern for David Letterman, formatted his show similar to Letterman's "Late Show." Each episode features a monologue, comedy bits, interviews and musical guests.
Guests don't necessarily have to be famous or funny, Houghton said. Interesting — that's the ticket.
"There are really interesting people and really interesting things in Springfield. We just don't always know about them," he said. "I thought we were going to run out of guests a long time ago. And we just haven't."
Previous guests include stand-up comedian Yakov Smirnoff, Missouri State University Lady Bears basketball coach Kellie Harper and Oscar-winning songwriter Tom Whitlock, of Springfield.
"The music is a really cool part of the show," Houghton said in an email. "Our first big wow moment is when Jeremy Larson played the show years ago. Randall Shreve and the Sideshow was also really good, so was Speakeasy. Barak Hill is playing this week and he is amazing. Kayleigh Rose was a great solo act. I had Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin on years ago and would love to have them on again. We've also had on poets and stand-up comics occasionally."
A grass-roots beginning
"The Mystery Hour" started out in 2006 as a non-televised late night talk show at the Skinny Improv, formerly in downtown Springfield.
"It was kind of underground. At the Skinny Improv, it was a live show once a month. We started in November 2006 and after that first show, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I love doing this,' " he said. Back then, it was essentially a one-man show with Houghton being the sole writer and prop creator. There was no marketing department — just word of mouth and a loyal fan base.
The show ran until 2011, when Houghton left Springfield to try to make it in Hollywood. (He and his wife Michelle agreed that he could give it his best shot — before they had kids.) Though he didn't find fame and fortune, his experiences there have helped him make "The Mystery Hour" a success.
When he returned to the Ozarks after 10 months, Houghton revived "The Mystery Hour" as a full-fledged television program filmed before a live audience at Randy Bacon Studio and aired on KOZL. The show later moved to the Gillioz.
"When I made the jump to TV I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I need lots of help,' " Houghton recalled. He assembled a group of dedicated and talented volunteers to help.
"If people decided they didn't want to volunteer anymore we'd have a hard time pulling off the show. It's like we've collected a bunch of people together for a passion project for all of us," he said. "I pay people in gratitude and titles. Whatever title they want they get."
The show is called "The Mystery Hour" because it originally was an hour long. And Houghton's nickname was Mystery Jeff, given to him before he joined the Skinny Improv. Since there was already a Jeff at the Skinny Improv — Jeff Jenkins — the nickname stuck.
"Now, it's a funny name in the sense that it's not a mystery show and it's not an hour. I like the confusion."
Join the audience!
• The next live taping of The Mystery Hour will be 7-10 p.m. Jan. 10.
• Where: The Gillioz, 325 Park Central East
• Tickets: $8. Three 30-minute episodes are taped that night. Visit gillioz.org/mystery-hour/
• Featured guests include : Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman of A Beautiful Mess, a women's lifestyle company focused on creating happiness every day through a homemade lifestyle; Jeff Schrag, founder of Mother's Brewing Company; Mega Def, nationally renowned battle rapper
• Musical guests: Barak Hill, Thee Fine Lines, David Greathouse
• The show will also be taped on Feb. 7.
More about the host
• Jeff Houghton, 36, and his wife, Michelle have a 2-year-old son, Elias.
• Houghton is from Iowa City, Iowa. He met Michelle, a Springfield native, while working at a camp in Minnesota.
• He majored in communication studies at the University of Iowa. In addition to "The Mystery Hour" gig, Houghton is an on-air personality at FOX 5 and works as a copywriter for Do Good Business, a marketing company. He also does freelance writing and acting.
• He wishes he had the opportunity to interview the late John Q. Hammons. Someday he hopes to get Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on the show. "I think we'd sell out the Gillioz," he said, grinning.
• He attended his first concert with his grandparents. He was in second grade. Barry Manilow.
• He had a late night talk show in Los Angeles. Sort of. It was filmed — only twice — with about 20 people crammed into a friend's loft apartment as the audience.
WHO NEEDS HOLLYWOOD? Springfield News-Leader.com 4/13/12
Local comedian Jeff Houghton will be starring in his own television show, “The Mystery Hour,” which begins airing in May on KOZL. It is filmed at Randy Bacon Studio on the second Friday of each month. / Nathan Papes News-Leader
Written by Brandon Corrigan
One of the most important life lessons local comedian Jeff Houghton learned, after a grueling 10-months in Los Angeles, is that success may be waiting for you in your own back yard.
Houghton, who returned to Springfield in early December from his Hollywood acting adventure, will star in his own television show, “The Mystery Hour” — revived from its days as a non-televised live late night talk show in downtown Springfield. The first episodes are being taped tonight in front a studio audience at Randy Bacon Studio.
“You just never know how things are going to turn out,” Houghton reflected.
Houghton knows that the entertainment biz involves lots of dead ends and wrong-way turns before you get where you need to be going.
In February 2011, the 33-year-old performing arts factotum — who has worked as a freelance magazine writer, actor, improviser and late night talk-show host — swapped certainty for a little adventure. With plans for a family on the horizon, Houghton sought to settle the “what-ifs” in his life; to go after his Hollywood dreams while he still had the chance.
He packed up his car and left it all behind: his beloved wife Michelle, friends and family canines, financial stability, his day job as a field representative for Community Blood Center of the Ozarks and his local role as a comedy performer. He headed west with only the bare bones of a plan to pursue his goal of becoming a television star.
“My wife and I got married in 2006,” Houghton said. “I told her before I left that I’ve got to do this before we have kids. We talked about it and the best solution for us was for her to stay here because she had a stable job, and for me to go out to L.A. open-ended. Either sometime I would move back or she would move out there. We had no plans; we were just going to see what happened.”
Funny thing is, he had to return to the Queen City of the Ozarks to put his arms around opportunity.
Popularity no mystery
Before he left for the City of Angels, Houghton hosted “The Mystery Hour,” the original live show that he often poked fun at for not being televised. It ran from November 2006 until February 2011 at the Skinny Improv Theatre.
Houghton, a former talent department intern for David Lettermen, formatted his production similar to Letterman’s “Late Show” in style and tone. “The Mystery Hour,” which Houghton describes as delightfully odd, features a monologue, comedy bits, interviews and musical guests. Esteemed visitors have included Branson’s Yakov Smirnov, former Missouri State University and current Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, Republican Sen. Billy Long and professional freestyle motocross rider Kenny Bartram.
“My theory is there are a lot of interesting people in Springfield doing a lot of interesting things, but you don’t always know about it,” Houghton said. “So, ‘The Mystery Hour’ was designed to highlight those people and to have a lot of comedy with it, too.”
Houghton’s big break came unexpectedly in September when KSFX-TV was rebranded as the independent station KOZL-Ozarks TV, after losing its Fox network affiliation. Houghton, who was visiting Springfield for a friend’s wedding in September, contacted and met with KOZL vice president Mark Gordon about the possibility of “The Mystery Hour” becoming a full-fledged television program after he returned from West Hollywood around the start of the New Year.
Gordon was sold.
“When we first became an independent station, we were looking at a lot of local programming ideas,” Gordon said. “We knew Jeff from the Skinny Improv and he’s hilarious. His show is different and unique, and has a big local following, so it should be a great partnership.”
Today it’s official. “The Mystery Hour” will be taped live on the second Friday of each month, starting with tonight’s debut at the Randy Bacon Studio, a venue that can seat up to 150 people. Four 30-minute episodes will be taped each production night in two-show blocks, at 8 and 10 p.m. Admission is $5 to see for one block or $8 for both blocks. Episodes will air at 10 p.m. Saturdays in May on KOZL as a weekly half-hour show.
Man behind the curtain
Organizing your own television show may be exciting, but it isn’t a cinch. Houghton’s new challenge is filled with complications.
“A couple of months ago I moved back and thought to myself, ‘I don’t know how this is all going to work,’” Houghton confessed. “I moved back and I didn’t have a venue anymore. The Skinny had moved to a more intimate location, my camera guy sold his equipment and my video guy wasn’t able to help anymore. I’ve spent the last few months working my tail off.”
When Houghton started “The Mystery Hour” in 2006, he was the show’s only writer. Now, with some help from his friends from the Skinny, at his disposal are a team of five writers, six cameramen and his friend Eli Cunningham doing video and show graphics. He also has a store manager, a house manager and an intern doing box office and marketing work.
Skinny Improv founder and now writer for “The Mystery Hour,” Jeff Jenkins started the first talk show with Houghton as a shared idea. He is proud to see both the show and Houghton’s progression as a talk show host.
“It’s a lot of fun working with Jeff,” Jenkins said. “He’s a very creative and imaginative person. It’s his show and his gift.”
Springfield resident Derek Hime is a “Mystery Hour” lifer. He estimates he’s been to every show since 2006 except for one or two he missed while out of town on vacation with his family. He said that he plans to attend the taping tonight of both of Houghton’s shows.
“It’s very uplifting and enjoyable,” Hime said. “I like the fact that it’s family-friendly too. My 10-year-old loves it. It’s kind of the only culture I get during the month.”
Resident Dorothy Harsen and husband Mark frequent Skinny Improv shows, which included “The Mystery Hour” before it closed last year. She fondly recalls Houghton’s early performances.
“I still remember ‘Mystery’ Jeff’s first Skinny Improv show,” Dorothy Harsen said. “He has come a long way, but he had something special from the very start. Jeff does a great job with ‘The Mystery Hour’ because he loves to poke fun at himself. He doesn’t get a laugh at the audience’s expense.”
OZARKER LEARNS LESSONS IN LA-LA LAND Sprinfield News-Leader 4/13/12
Jeff Houghton, a corn-fed, flat-earth Iowa native transfer to hilly Ozarks-land, may not have made it big in L.A., but he picked up some valuable experience in Tinsel Town along the way that he can apply to “The Mystery Hour.”
“That year in L.A. was about blowing things up and going for it,” Houghton said. “L.A. was everything I’d hoped it would be, but it was tough. It was just jumping into this different world and you have to learn how that world works.”
Houghton, also a freelance writer, blogged about his West Coast exploits in what he called “The Mystery Year” (http://themysteryyear.wordpress.com/). Some of his big L.A. thrills included performing stand-up at the legendary comedy club “The Comedy Store,” becoming Screen Actors Guild eligible, performing in Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater and taking improvisation classes and being an extra for the fifth episode of the fifth season of AMC’s “Mad Men.”
“I was basically just standing there holding a briefcase and smoking an herbal cigarette,” Houghton said of his extra experience. “It’s kind of funny because here people are like: ‘Wow, that’s really cool!’ But out there, being an extra is the lowest form of acting you can do. It’s still fun being on the set though.”
For 10 months in L.A., Houghton stayed in his friend’s parents’ basement, a living situation he called both awkward and fun. He survived on crackers and got little sleep in the vibrant city. Although he would consider returning to Hollywood, Houghton said, he had no problem coming home to the Ozarks when his wife called him hither.
“She basically said to me, ‘It’s time to come back,’ which was fine because Los Angeles took most of my money, too,” Houghton said. “Michelle was living alone in our house. She was way more supportive than I deserved — and more supportive than most wives would be.”
That’s not all.
“The ultimate decider for my career was to start raising kids and to have a family in Springfield,” Houghton said with a smile.
The couple recently announced that Michelle is pregnant.
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
Most of campus knows him in some way or another.Some students call him the “Blood Drive Guy,” while others call him the “Skinny Improv Guy,” and sometimes he’s just “That Guy.” His real name is Jeff Houghton and you can definitely label him as a jack-of-all-trades.Teri Schadler, a nurse from Community Blood Center of the Ozarks, said she feels like she’s known him forever.
“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.
“I’ve always wanted to do something that helps people and always wanted to do comedy,” Houghton says. “It’s been a great fit for me to be able to do both things here (in Springfield).”His favorite blood drive by far is the one he manages for MSU every semester, he said. MSU’s public affairs mission lends itself to making the blood drive a big deal.”It’s a pretty remarkable thing,” he says. “Like, if 100 students donate, it saves 300 lives, and they only get a T-shirt from it. It shows they’re really here to help others.”
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)