Dallas — Friday’s program at the multi-venue Dallas Comedy Festival was split pretty evenly between standups and group comedy (sketch, improv). On this night, I took in the standup sets.
The first bill was hosted by Hannah Vaughn, an outstanding comic in her own right. Marissa Nieto was the opener and turned in a solid, professional set in the Everycomic vein. (On the perils of eating right and chipping her tooth on a peach pit: “Donuts never did me like this!”)
She was followed by another local, the dulcet Danny Neely. He was smooth but self-deprecating (“I assume the way to get stocks is to beat a banker in hand-to-hand combat”) and has a warm, easygoing manner that captivates.
Third up to bat was our first out-of-towner (Brooklyn via Los Angeles), Rob Christensen. His schtick is boyish enthusiasm that belies his imposing frame. He’s happy to have just turned 37 because “it feels great to be halfway done.”
The closer of the first hour was Ky Krebs, of Austin. He was more of a Birbiglia-esque storyteller, and a masterful one, tracing his roots as a young gay man in New Orleans with a sympathetic mother and a less-sympathetic (and unknowing) grandmother.
The second stanza of standup took place about three blocks down the street from Dallas Comedy House, at the Independent Bar & Kitchen. All four on the bill were out-of-towners.
Brian Bahe, from New York, had solid material (I especially liked his joke about creating multiple OKCupid profiles and discovering he’s an 87 percent match with himself), but he seemed nervous.
Mike Devore, from San Diego, had much to say about the “tepid” laughter he was receiving. This was problematic on two fronts: the first is that making side-of-mouth comments about how every joke you do is going over is an open mic, bush league move. The second is that there seemed to be an implication that, since he flew in all the way from Cali, we owed him uproarious laughter.
Drew Lausch, also from New York, set things right with his easy confidence and stage presence, and like Krebs, centered his act around tales of growing up gay. He makes you feel like you’re on a dinner date that’s going really well.
Kevin Sean from, you guessed it, New York, was a worthy closer of great facial subtleties. On strangers asking him to take their picture and then complaining about the results: “I didn’t paint this. This isn’t an interpretation. This is y’all.”
The main event of the night, so to speak, was headliner Sasheer Zamata, late of SNL, opened by Dallasite (now in LA) Lauren Davis.
Here’s where it becomes difficult to write about without taking on the gibbering tone of a four-year-old recalling his day at the zoo. It was outstanding, a privilege to cover, and the most electric atmosphere at a comedy show I’ve ever experienced. No hyperbole here.
Jade Smith hosted, and was, in three words, a perfect hostess. Her own 3-minute set was a riot, and she set the bar where it needed to be and managed to both amp up and channel the bonkers energy in the room between sets.
Lauren Davis, the first act, straight-up murdered and deserves nationwide fame. She comes off both humble and confident, both showy and self-conscious. She’s a master at the set-up and knockdown (“I moved in with my boyfriend after a month. I know what you’re thinking. But it turns out it was a really bad idea.”) But my favorite bit of hers was an exquisite bit of wordplay about simultaneously dating a woman and a man who is a movie producer. The man says, “strap in, and get ready for your walk-on role.” The girlfriend says, “walk in, and get ready for your strap-on role.”
I had no strong opinions of Zamata on SNL, but she is 100 percent worthy of headlining any festival, and seamlessly weaves (as expected) messages of social import with punch lines that catch you off-guard.
Her delivery is so sharp that recreations on the page would lose a lot of punch, but she preaches the gospel of women getting as handsy and comfortable with their own junk as men are with theirs, rallies against the weird sexualization society imposes upon little girls, and the tired trope of “resting bitch face” while not for a second bringing the room down or curtailing the gales of laughter. This was one breath-gasping hour of comedy.
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