Irving — Imagine a national-level comedy event in a Dallas suburb headlined by a former financial analyst whose hobby is creating Pokémon-style figures from bakeable Sculpty clay—just let that marinate for a while. The opening act led off with a bit on the fear of death, and all three performers were brainy, eclectic, and Jewish.
Headliners at most Dallas comedy clubs tend toward loud lifestyle comics, a celebration of sex, drugs and whatever else drunk weekend audiences find funny. Most times the confines have all the appeal and comfort of a sardine can. The City of Irving’s Laughs by the Lake last Friday was as far from that as is possible. Its success, with more than 800 folks laughing their hearty approval of quality comedians in a friendly, relaxed, pastoral setting, showed that DFW audiences have broader tastes than given credit. Held on the shores of Lake Carolyn, this is the event’s third year.
Myq Kaplan spins realities. As long as you abdicate your own logic and hew to his, he makes sardonic sense. Just let go and follow him as he verbally races mile-a-minute down the rabbit hole. He does ultimately come out on the other side. We’re a mere blip in billions of years, he assured us, our lives akin to a sliver of meat on a death sandwich: we didn’t exist, we exist, then we don’t exist. A self-professed nerdy Jew raised in Alabama, Kaplan’s outside-looking-in perspective is unremittingly honest and yanks the laughs right out of you. Look for his video Small, Dork and Handsome.
Wendy Liebman fulfilled with her old-school Long Island-accented jokes. A fixture on the stand-up scene since the ‘90s, she has polished her subtle embedded punchlines to diamond brightness. They come as a seeming afterthought: “I’m a comic. I write a lot too… mostly checks.” Or: “My grandma said ‘Never go to bed angry.’ She’s been awake since 1963.” Liebman’s act riffs off working the crowd, which she gamely pulled off outdoors, even though respondents were a good 30 yards away. She tried to adhere to the city’s family-friendly language restrictions, but eventually her love of cursing won out, much to the amusement of all.
When a brainy Polish-Jewish medical biologist marries a Cajun with a PhD in chemistry, their offspring is bound to be an Aryan looking comedian with a fondness for puns, right? Matthew Broussard is a product of private prep schools in Atlanta—“Kids with last names for first names like Braddock and Winston”—and an education in mathematics at Rice University where he, er, shared Adderall—“You want to get high… grades?” Such an upbringing did compel him to share with dates, as some warped form of foreplay one supposes, that women's exterior sexual parts are the vulva, not vagina, and that “all the female body parts are named for rich white male doctors.”
Broussard makes the most of his good looks, a tall drink of water with sharp blue eyes, flashy white teeth and tousled blond hair. He’s considered, he said, “too privileged to have an opinion” and should not be held responsible for possessing a “resting rich face.” There was a brief life as a financial analyst in Houston before a compulsion for laughter won out. None of these things evoke sympathy. They do provoke many laughs.
At a time where college entertainment bookers favor performers with ethnic stories of triumph over adversity, Broussard’s seeming embodiment of “Winklevoss evil,” or at the very least Dawson’s Creek, can be a hindrance. That's a shame because he’s got the college scene down pat. We should look at it as a reality show, he said. Just throw a bunch of twenty-somethings with no supervision, infinite booze, and plentiful sex into close quarters and “see if they can learn.”
It’s a unique brainy take on real life, flecked with references to literature and math, complete with actually funny algebra jokes. A fair amount of material on Judaism, which he felt was “less of a religion than an alumni group.” With an IQ higher than most, slinging snark with the lethal accuracy would be easy. What makes it work is his playfulness and inclusion of himself in all he comedically skewers. That and a killer smile.
Broussard isn’t all brainitude; society takes plenty of skewers. Crossfit, he asserted, is a support group for people who peaked in high school, doing routines created by undercover chiropractors—“Lift with your back.” He danced with a light step through several race issues while tackling vanity, gay prejudice, religious homophobia, and aging. All executed with a tight rolling delivery that left listeners little time or space for objection. He can be seen on MTV2's Guy Code and has a 30-minute Comedy Central special this fall. Visit his website every “Monday Punday” where he posts visual puns that are seriously challenging puzzles.
Emcee and locally based comedian Quenton "Q" Coleman did a commendable job of gathering the diffuse audience energy up between acts. He riffed on relationships, work life and embarrassing mishaps with a goshing, party-guy style.
Comedy isn’t usually an outdoor experience like Laughs at the Lake. There’s something about the enclosure of a comedy club, usually windowless and dimly lit, that enhances the comedy experience. Laughter bouncing off walls pelts attendees and the comedian on stage can hear whether the audience is amused, bored or angered. If the comedy club doesn’t reek of stale beer or cram you in like sardines, it’s a great experience.
Alas, at Laughs at the Lake loud interjections from the comics echoed off nearby office buildings. The audience sat 20 yards back from the stage; if comics sought to interact they had to shout. The Oddball Comedy & Oddity Festival, which packs 10,000 or more in outdoor venues each summer in Dallas and other cities, compensates with huge video screens, mega amplification, and an occasional sideshow act. Laughs at the Lake just needs better speaker placement and seating indicators that move blanket seating next to the stage and chair seating behind it, encouraging a closer-in audience more amenable to comedy.