Dallas — In most performing arts, the audience is an observer. In comedy, the audience is a participant. Theater, opera and dance unfurls without expectation of response. Comedy requires a continual flow of your titters, chuckles, laughs, guffaws and maybe a few gasps. That makes having a hometown advantage crucially helpful in comedy, filling those seats with people who know you and your jokes. But growth happens outside your comfort zone, making touring comics rather brave folks.
At the first Thursday night show of Dallas Comedy Festival, hosted at the Dallas Comedy House, five of the seven comics featured were from out of state, though two had done considerable time in the Dallas area. Compared to the prior all-local night, the early audience Thursday lacked enthusiasm. Rough crowd, as Rodney Dangerfield would say.
It takes a strong emcee to overcome that and Grant Redmond achieved. He slid smoothly from housekeeping remarks to a bit exploring emoticons (“Who winks, really?”) and the perils of online dating in his well-constructed set. Unique and edgy was material on taking Accutane for acne as a teenager and ending up with Crohn's Disease as an adult. That routine went unexpected—and unprintable —places. Redmond’s known for pushing the edge.
Kevin Hall painted an interesting picture of his New Jersey family (“My dad is like a Ford: he always breaks down just when you need him.”) Except dad’s repeated breakdowns were to jail. Self-depreciating to excess about his datability, he made an interesting point: If male Muslim martyrs are rewarded with 72 virgins, if he died a virgin does that mean he might get offered up?
Storyteller, funny guy, darn interesting person—Dan Perlman of New York City was all three. Can’t think of a single joke, but provoked a lot of laughter at his vignettes and observations. Polished, relaxed and sly, he’s a very accomplished guy for age 23, nabbing a plum spot as comedy contributor for Neil deGrasse Tyson's popular podcast, StarTalk Radio. He’s one to watch.
Mac Blake was like the Russian nesting dolls of comedy, sliding joke inside joke for a fun ride down the rabbit hole of Austin weirdness. Wielding sarcasm like a blade, his skewed perspective unearthed humor, sometimes quite dark, in the most mundane things. Like why someone would come to Walgreens (“a well of human sadness”) looking to buy a belt at night. Or the ecstasy of catching the booty from a T-shirt cannon at a sports game.
Brian Moody, a Dallas Comedy House improv-pool member who’s expanded into stand-up, was confident on stage, but stiff and directly verbose without conversational intimacy or enactments to add dynamics. Raised by Bible literalists in Mansfield, Texas, with plenty of relatives in East Texas and Oklahoma, his extensive material on Christianity held the perfect pitch of puzzlement without bitterness. But don’t get him started at the family Christmas dinner. Fortunately for them, he now resides in Chicago.
Strange things happen to Chris Tellez. That he survives to tell about them is a boon for us. Sometimes the audience response to his stories is more “Oh, god!” than laughter. Young people in Austin live complex lives and it’s hard to keep up, but he’s energetic and entertaining. Except for the end, the weirdest set wrap up ever. I’m still pondering it. Which I guess is the point.
Dave Little is the master of messing with an audience. Sometimes he never gets around to the jokes. But he does have a lot of brain farts: “I wish we could write ‘wash me’ on a person” and “Namaste, it means “Thank you for not farting.” Mostly he proceeded in audience interrogation and having found a 24-year-old from Oral Roberts University he hit the comedic gold mine.
» Read more about the Dallas Comedy Festival in our preview here
» Look for reviews from each night of the festival on TheaterJones