The theme of the Tuesday opening night of the Dallas Comedy Festival seemed to be how we were all 24 once and it wasn’t pretty. The other was the after-midnight munchies-fueled comedian pilgrimages to Taco Bell, where evidently the action in the parking lot can get pretty dicey.
Sample showcases of comedians tend to run the gamut of ages, but this night skewed young except for the two headliners, Aaron Aryanpur and Linda Stogner. It offered a fascinating comparison of 20-something comics with skills and skewed perspectives—but a definite lack of life experiences—with comedians having a decade or more under their belt and the ability to draw on more than party stories.
Grant Redmond was a good example: confident delivery and honest self-depreciation, but the more you listened the more you weren’t sure that the exaltation of deeply reprobate behavior was all that appealing. On the other end was the gentler Clint “Paco” Werth, of the long-haired and bushy 4:20 style of cannabis comedians. In a short set, without losing his laconic delivery, he smoothly took the audience from a space-cadet rumination opening to a surprisingly punchy end. Good set construction is the mark of an advancing comedian and Werth pulled down Best Comedian in the 2012 Dallas Observer poll.
Then there’s Aaron Aryanpur, Funniest Comic in Texas for 2012. He has a solidity and quiet intensity that draws you in like gravity. He enhances and improves old material like an artist, constantly pruning and modifying, shifting and inverting. Seen the fellow perform many times and have never heard the same routine the exact same way twice. Except the coconut shrimp bit, about how his wife cajoles him into ordering dishes she, not him, wants to try, because it’s just too true to mess with.
The Blackout Diaries
Then again, with the second show of the opening night being The Blackout Diaries, maybe there was no way escaping the theme of comedians run amok. A presentation of professional party animal and "death escape artist" Sean Flannery, the hard-drinking Chicago comedian and actor started by sharing a few of his own tales of inebriation before ushering in other stand-ups who regaled with their adventures in alcoholand.
The gist: You can be old enough to drink, but not old enough to think. But hey, we’ve all been there.
Flannery’s infamous flop apartment/halfway house in Chicago, with its sleeping hierarchy of floor > couch > mattress filled with an array of lost-soul comedians, generated quite a few stories, since emcee Landon Kirksey was once a denizen. Dave Little chose a gentle tale of teenage cruising and a mild police chase, which was odd since his days at Bowley & Wilson, a wanton Greenville Avenue college dive, should of generated some doozey blackouts. Then again, SMU frat boys have been known to bribe.
Flannery kept it funny, offering each comedian up to the audience for cross examination afterward and interspersing it with vintage clips of beer commercials and other oddities, at least when the technology worked. The surprising end was a video look at mortality rates of DUI versus WUI. Turns out it’s much safer to be Driving Under the Influence of alcohol rather than Walking Under the Influence, though neither is safe. Careful out there, ramblers, and stay away from those freeways—bridges are your friends.
Wednesday Night — On the Spot
Hoped for more from Wednesday night’s second show, On the Spot, hosted by Dean Lewis. Six comedians and Lewis were given 15 seconds to look at a list of topics and create an instant coherent set. But instead of being like Chopped, no tasty coherent sets were created. But then again, the nonsensical mostly two-word suggestions were exceedingly hard. Try working “party Bible,” “tsunami pick-up lines,” “skankrupt” and “haunted hot tub“ into a conversation.
Most of the comedians took an episodic approach, trying to make each phrase into a joke, rather than create a storyline or routine. Paul Varghese was relatively solid, though he’s strong at just about any stage task. Landon Kirksey and Brian Moody came closest to stellar, with Kirskey almost creating a plot arc from his material. Their experience in improvisational ensembles really set them ahead of the rest.
But the surprise was Dave Little’s redeeming set. He took the suggestions, which were especially difficult, and continued their non-sequitur arc. The myriad of ideas running through his head played across his face. Selecting this and not that, he skipped a few steps to come to a quirky and obtuse conclusion that left you puzzling — and chuckling — for quite some time.
- Radio! Radio! — musical theater
- Manick — seamless comedy duo
- The Seven Eight Sevens — Austinlandia
- Samurai Drunk — versatile and punchy
- Off Book: The Musical — campy Oklahoma City humor
- Shock T's — Chicago songsmiths
- Kyle & Drew — exceptionally deft flights of fantasy
- The 313 — Keegan-Michael Key and friends