After intensely listening to more than eight hours of improv comedy in two days, one can feel inundated by words, millions of spoken words. Improv fatigue is a reality. Then something like The 313 comes on stage, with vaginas that speak in sign language, and it all gets fresh again.
The 313: Big Dogs on the Block
Comedy fests like the Dallas Comedy Festival serve as comedian conferences, replete with networking, but the learning comes from watching what’s on stage. So the audience tends to be stacked with comics more than willing to play along. Watching a first timer at the DCF, she was often puzzled at what these folks were laughing at on stage.
But with the 313, you didn’t have to work at it or be an insider. You just laughed. It was like watching dogs at play. You can’t watch dogs romp and not laugh because their fun is so sincere, transparent and in the moment. The fluidity with which the performers interacted was almost acrobatic.
David Razowsky, a Chicago-bred, California-based comedy improv guru, called them “Transcendent. What I like about them is that there is never an argument scene. You can tell they love each other.” Local improv pro Von Daniel of Locked OUT Comedy concurred: “They were having so much fun. You could tell they really enjoy each other.”
Such are the benefits of performing with each other for a couple decades, with many of them going back to The Second City Detroit, but now being so individually successful that they don’t perform together enough. It creates a reunion atmosphere that member Keegan-Michael Key extolled as “So festive!”
While each member was strong, female members Jaime Moyer and Maribeth Monroe were fearless, even ferocious. The petite Monroe performs with the energy of a small dog that has no idea it’s a small dog, concocting broad, chewy characters that the word dame was meant for. Best was when Moyer and Monroe launched into cascades of character riffing off each other.
An intense sense of physicality pervaded beyond stage romping. There never a sense of self-consciously mimicking, fidgeting or busy work so as not simply be standing around talking, as you see in so many improv troupes. No matter how weird, The 313 embodied characters 100 percent—voice, facial expression, movement and energetic expression—slipping in and out like ciphers.
Of course, each member of The 313 has a couple decades experience in improv to set them apart. But most of local and regional acts have years of training and experience in order to fill their 25-minute slot and not fall flat. They do indeed make it look easy. To compare and contrast shows clearly that if they stick together some of these troupes will be certifiably amazing someday.
Local Honey, a female trio, excelled with an improv that used a wine-fueled conversation of some daffy privileged moms about a PTA bake sale to launch into a nightclub-roaming bit about an underground railroad for PTA reject-refugees on the lam from the head Gestapo mom. Rounding out the set was a bit about confusion between the two Brazilians—blowouts and waxes—that did leave some indelible imagery.
Kyle & Drew went past the character comedy-dramas most duos favor into hyper- kinetic romps featuring great use of act-outs and unusual voices and faces. The six-member Roadside Couch, featuring Dallas Comedy House owners and improv instructors, set up The 313 headliner with a vigorous set.
Ensembles from the Dallas Comedy House dominate the festival, so the Chicago block featuring Belmont Transfer, Winter Formal and the Shock T’s was greatly needed, and the Shock T’s song-comedy break was equally appreciated. They are such vivid performers that it’s hard to remember what came before or after. The good set featured a couple of T classics, and new songs on the pretense of liking Shakespeare and the bizarre waking dreams caused by Ambien.
The Dallas Comedy Festival continues through Saturday at the Dallas Comedy House at 2645 Commerce St. in Deep Ellum. The final night features a one-woman sketch show, plus improvisational duos and groups. Highlights include:
- Improvised Jane Austen — nuff said
- Pavlov’s Dogs — solid comedy theater
- TwinProv — brainy music duo from Oklahoma City
- Horrible Women — Maribeth Monroe of Workaholics: exponential Alice Murphy
- Maribeth & David: with improv zen master David Razowsky
◊ Here's a video from The 313: