A week's immersion in stand-up, sketch and improv comedy, most of it from Dallas, at the Dallas Comedy Festival was inspiring, and somewhat frustrating. It caused me to page through memories and impressions of the local comedy scene, all the way back to the '80s when I covered it for the Dallas Times Herald (R.I.P.) and made it part of my music beat at the Dallas Observer.
It's left me wondering: How long will the North Texas comedy scene put up with being the redheaded stepchild of entertainment before they decide they've had enough? When will they stop tolerating being seen as filler by the media? (Except here at TheaterJones, of course.) Don't they tire of national comedy talent scouts always looking somewhere else?
There's no reason to put up with that crap. North Texas has the comedic talent right here, right now. What it doesn't have yet is a widespread sense of being in it together and the engaged cooperation that engenders.
Not so long ago, Dallas theater wasn't a blip on the national radar. Then things started to shift, led in part by the arrival of Kevin Moriarty at the Dallas Theater Center, who brought with him both a strong collaborative mindset and high expectations.
Flash forward to 2011: Excellent attendance for the full gamut of theater. Last year hailed collaborations between Dallas Theater Center and Casa Mañana, and Dallas Opera and Dallas Children's Theater, to name a few. Theaters joined on major events such as Horton Foote Festival, Out of the Loop Fringe Festival and Festival of Independent Theatres. They co-created AIDS benefits and other community events.
Advantages abounded beyond better revenues for theaters and actors. The overall quality of theater rose as diverse groups interacted more with each other. Writers were stimulated to create works knowing they had a chance to be staged at events like Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, which is produced and hosted by one theater, WaterTower Theater, for the community. And more local playwrights began having their work produced on main stages.
This verdant creativity caused national eyes to be focused here. Increasingly, actors were plucked off local stages to act in national films and Broadway. Now the theater community, working with the Visitor's and Convention Bureau and others, has nabbed its biggest plum: the national Theater Communications Group conference in the summer of 2013.
That growth wasn't overnight and certainly the theater scene here will have its ups and downs, but the core is strong.
So why can't North Texas comedy do the same? Look at what Comics Come Home, the longest running comedy benefit in the nation, has done for the Boston comedy scene. We need that here. The Dallas Comedy Festival sold out on several nights. Large comedy festivals are held in areas much smaller than the Metroplex. The fledgling DCF has the potential to be huge. Specialty comedy fests like nerd humor would also go over great here. Look how well Four Funny Females has done. Why not expand that into something like Austin's Ladies Are Funny Festival?
As the saying goes, "If you want to be incrementally better, be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better, be cooperative." Any collection of artistic individuals is always stronger together than apart. Dream big! Both in your comedic goals and who is in your dream. Next time a bunch of comedians is hanging around the bar between sets, ask yourselves: "So, what are we going to do?"
◊ You can read Amy Martin's reviews of the first four nights at the Dallas Comedy Festival as follows: Night 1 (stand-up), Night 2 (stand-up), Night 3 (improv) and Night 4 (improv). She also did interviews with Dallas-based stand-ups Aaron Ayranpur and Paul Varghese, here; and L.A.-based sketch duo Frankenmatt, here.