Dallas — After a great many false starts, fights with city hall, and gnashing of teeth, Stomping Ground Comedy Theater finally had its hard opening on Friday, with a trio of shows worthy of the milestone.
The night started with Tall Texas Tales, an improv troupe that combines the Armando – a format where improv scenes are inspired by the stories of a monologist – and musical improv.
The TTT team consisted of many of the teachers, directors, and board members of Stomping Ground, so having seen these guys in action in different times and places before, I knew what to expect: lots of energy, lots of emotion, and lots of controlled chaos. The Stomping Ground ethos is improv turned up to 11.
That’s what I got; and as it turns out, they all can sing a bit, too. That’s a great bonus. I especially liked their sets about rebellious kids commandeering their Dad’s car, and a heartfelt ditty about two men’s desires to become underwater policemen.
Next was a run of standup acts, and I appreciate that they got local heavy hitters rather than an out-of-towner to open up what will should soon become a Design District landmark.
Three of the four — Aaron Aryanpur, who hosted and teaches standup at Stomping Ground, Paulos Feerow, and Grant Redmond — have similar styles: dulcet and disarming. These are not shock jocks — Redmond even asked permission to tell a “blue” joke, for cryin’ out loud — and it was the perfect mellow chaser to the gonzo opening act.
I don’t want to omit the fourth act, Monna. She’s a talented throwback to the styles of the late ’80s and early ’90s standup boom (remember An Evening at the Improv or Caroline’s Comedy Hour?), with lots of self-deprecating humor and “you think I’ll zig but I’ll zag” punch lines.
Other highlights of the standup session were Aryanpur’s story about flirting with the voice in the Starbucks speaker window, Feerow’s series of jokes about still living at home as a sort of man-child, and Redmond’s wise observation that rescuing only the cutest from a litter of pound puppies and kittens is no more admirable than being choosy for a towheaded blue-eyed boy when rescuing kids in a sinking school bus.
The final show of the evening was an iteration of Match Game, that beloved ’70s shmoozy game show. The panelists were a quintet of local celebrities in different fields: Frida Monet, Tina Parker (of Kitchen Dog Theater), Josh Martin, Paul J. Williams, and Kyle Trentham.
It continued the chill vibe of the standups, and the repartee of the panelists and the audience volunteer contestants was consistently witty and often laugh-out-loud funny (as was the rest of the night, to be sure), which is impressive since these weren’t necessarily professional or aspiring funnypersons.
If I had to nitpick, it’s that while they were correct to give the lion’s share of the game to the banter-and joke-heavy first phase (if you haven’t seen Match Game, think of quick, slightly raunchy Mad Libs) and less to the more serious lightning round, at something like 45 minutes in length and I believe 14 or 16 rounds, even that phase was getting monotonous. I think that if you want to do an hour of Match Game, you gotta either do two “episodes,” with two sets of guest contestants, or do a few different lightning/final rounds, like the original game show.
Again though, I’m nitpicking. And I want to say a word about the atmosphere and the space. While some pardon-our-dust still remains, it’s still an outstanding venue with two distinct striking features: a stage bigger than any other comedy-specific stage in Dallas (I didn’t get out measuring tape but I would bet money on it), and a staff of interns, workers, hosts and others that manage to be incredibly welcoming and warm without seeming insincere or pro forma. Catch a show there sooner than later.