Dallas — When the comedy shifted from stand-up to improv midway through Thursday night at the Dallas Comedy Festival, it was like a Jekyll and Hyde transformation. Hordes of improv comedians descended upon the place. That happens when groups with multiple members attract multiple friends to attend. Several dozen conversations were all happening at once in the rather tight confines of the Dallas Comedy House lobby bar. Navigating it was like swimming through choppy waves of laughter.
As a result, the gregarious audience for Thursday’s improv section provided an easy mark for emcee Christie Wallace. An enthusiastic cheerleader/people wrangler, she moved on quickly to introduce the first improv act, Radio! Radio!, one of the Dallas Comedy House ensembles.
Radio! Radio! stuck to the usual improv starter by asking for a one-word suggestion from the audience, in this case “lawnmower,” and 20 minutes of spontaneously created narrative ensued. Promising scenarios created by a couple of members would arise, and then other members would tag them out, sometimes too soon. A conversation about how hard it was to make it in the world seemed like a couple in distress, but slid deliciously into actually being by grade-school kids. Sure wish that had lasted longer. A segment about tailgating at church had great potential, and achieved some of it, but mainly mucked around with beer jokes. A final segment on an ugly child was unfunny and mean, a bad end to what was a good show.
Work Spouse, another Dallas Comedy House ensemble, was a scramble, with tag outs coming too fast. It felt like a television remote control had run amok. Yet by the end they managed to pull out a continual thread, something about St. Peter. Nobody said it had to make sense.
A sharp change from the verbosity of most improv ensembles, Zoom! performed mostly in silence (the video above is a 2012 Zoom! performance in Oklahoma City). Audience suggestions were solicited using signs. Various combos were requested like a movie and an activity. Very heavy on mime with a dash of clowning, with members dressed in all black with white gloves, it was a lovely thing to watch. But it begged for the sound effects and loony interstitial music of vaudeville. No telling what the plots were about, but a lot of it involved animals interacting and possibly arm wrestling. There was a quite a bit of disjointed crawling and climbing—sort of like if Pilobolus was having a bad dream. But you had to be impressed by all the physical cleverness and fine-tuned interaction. Zoom! is one of the many ensembles from Oklahoma City’s OKC Improv empire.
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