Dallas — If it’s true that you can really tell who your friends are when you move, then the Dallas Comedy House is the friendliest place in Deep Ellum. The DCH opens in its new space this weekend with shows headlined by Lady Town, one of the funniest—and friendliest—improv troupes in the country.
Amanda Austin hoped to have the nearly 7,000-square-foot venue at 3025 Main St. in good working order in time for the Dallas Comedy Festival that ran at the end of March.
But when you’re building two theaters, a kitchen, bar, dining area and bathrooms from scratch inside a 54-year-old structure in Dallas, there’s that whole permit-getting thing and all those codes in need of compliance. Also, Austin expertly repurposed an enormous dance floor—that may or may not be the hardwood court that was in the old Moody Coliseum—into the décor above the bar that surrounds chalkboard menus full of nibbles and signature drinks. She also couldn’t hang the neon “COMEDY” sign out front due to that whole code thing, so now it shines brightly inside the club.
"Every time I thought I had everything I needed, something else popped up,” Austin says. "Our whole media campaign was around bigger bathrooms [at the new space]. And maybe I stressed a little too much about getting the perfect paint color for the men's room."
Austin and dozens of volunteers, most of whom are graduates of the DCH training center, worked nonstop throughout April to meet internal as well as city-mandated deadlines, all the while jonesing to get back on stage.
Sarah Adams drives to Deep Ellum multiple times a week from Denton to teach and perform.
“I'm pretty sure I-35 is hell on earth, but once you step inside the DCH doors, all of life's crud disappears,” she says.
Austin maintains the stage is the best advertising she has for the training center, which is truly the engine that keeps the Dallas Comedy House moving forward. Most regular performers matriculated through all five levels of improv taught at DCH, and many are down in Deep Ellum three or four nights a week teaching, performing and otherwise hanging out.
The trio of women who comprise Lady Town—Kate Duffy, Maribeth Monroe and Jamie Moyer—will be doing as much following their shows this weekend. Duffy and Moyer will lead workshops Saturday morning.
Chad Haught has been an improviser for 20 years and is the director of the DCH training center. He embodies the DCH vibe of “show up, be cool and everything else we can work on,” as Austin likes to say.
“I feel so supported there,” Haught says. “It's a place where I can positively affect people's lives. I know every time I go down there I'm going to either laugh or make people laugh, hopefully both.”
Haught performs regularly with a handful of troupes, including Pavlov’s Dogs and Roadside Couch, which will open for Lady Town Friday night at 10:30. He never thought twice about volunteering his time to help facilitate the move from 2645 Commerce St. to the building that used to house eXcuses eXtreme Café and Club One prior to that.
“I want to be a person that helps further a place that makes so many people feel good about themselves by making amazingly supportive friends and building up abilities within themselves that they didn't know they had,” he says.
Lofty goals, for sure. But time and again DCH does just that.
“The people that make up DCH are some the best people I know,” Adams says. “Everyone is so supportive and beyond talented. Iron sharpens iron…or something like that.”
Even without a show to perform in or class to teach last month, she kept driving down I-35 to help with the move, in part, because “it’s cool to say 'Hey, see that off-black spot on the ceiling above the bar? Yeah, I painted that.'”
David Allison is a season improviser who has performed at apartment gyms, friends’ living rooms, coffee shops and plenty of other less-than-stellar venues. He views DCH and its weekly slate of improv shows as a blessing.
“The thing I didn't expect was the community,” Allison says. “Whenever I'm at the theater, I'm surrounded by supportive, hard-working comedians whom I adore. Those people and that theater mean the world to me, so if I have the opportunity to pay it forward by painting a bathroom or whatever, I'd be selfish not to volunteer my time. Amanda and company donate so much of their lives to keeping those doors open, that I'd feel guilty if I wasn't doing everything I could to grow the theater and make sure it can provide a home to the next person that finds it.”
It’s that pride of ownership and sense of camaraderie that keeps filling up the training sessions at the DCH, with another 200 or so students enrolled in classes this spring. Now with two theaters to book, Austin hopes to stagger weekly stand-up and sketch shows with improv, enabling all kinds of Dallas comedians to mingle and get to know each better.
“DCH has become my Cheers,” says Jua Holt, who graduated from the program in 2013 and currently performs in a few troupes, including .f.a.c.e, which was recently nominated for an INNY, an industry award bestowed by Improvisation News, an online magazine.
“I’ve met some of my best friends through the comedy house, people that I care about, people that I talk to everyday, people that have become closer to me than my family,” Holt says. “I’ll never be able to repay the debt that I owe to the Dallas Comedy House, but if I can chip away at it by sweeping the floor, or hanging up a fire extinguisher, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.”
Noa Gavin has been performing and teaching at DCH for a few years, and she’d found a home.
“You look your whole life for your people, your tribe, and I found it here,” she says of DCH. “People who are just my kind of weird who speak my language.”
And, with a five-year lease and an option for another five for the new and improved DCH, it’s possible Gavin and her friends will be down in Deep Ellum each week making things up for our enjoyment each week for the next decade.
Lineup for Opening Weekend, May 15-16, 2015:
- 7:30pm: Kool Aid, Student Lottery
- 9pm: Photobomb, The Rift
- 10:30pm: Lady Town, Roadside Couch
- 7:30pm: Samurai Drunk, Please Like Us
- 9pm: Atlantic Pacific Billy, LYLAS
- 10:30pm: Lady Town, Cupcake
Dallas Comedy House Weekly Schedule:
- 8pm: Free Improv Jam Session
- 8pm: Free Stand-up open mic
- 8, 8:30 and 9:30pm: Improv
- 8pm: Sketch 3 Revue
- 9:30pm: Ewing Night
Friday & Saturday
- 7:30pm: Improv & Sketch Comedy
- 9pm: Improv & Sketch Comedy
- 10:30pm: Improv & Sketch Comedy