Dallas — Another day of the Dallas Comedy Festival. Another day of dangerously mainlining copious amounts of comedy.
First up was a standup “industry showcase,” where standup comedians were invited to show their chops to the press, industry professionals, and regular fans as well. The highlights from that show were plentiful:
• Hannah Vaughn and Katy Evans, who killed it on Wednesday and killed even harder on Friday.
• Wes Corwin, as the closer, whose patter is like a carnival barker and who oozes confidence.
• Shahyan Jahani, who wishes he had a name such as Gunmetal.
• Danny Neely, who had two of the best lines of the showcase. One was about how a coworker told him he looked like Rachel Maddow, and then apologized. “The apology hurt worse, because the apology says, ‘That should’ve definitely hurt your feelings’” and “If you would’ve told me a few years ago that I’d be a more respected comedian than Louis CK, I’d be over the moon!” More on him later.
• Mitch Gruen. He wore red Crocs, and had a surreal joke about polar bears not being at the South Pole because they were waylaid in Mexico by Coke with real cane sugar (think the Coca-Cola bears they trot out at Christmas). I still can’t decide whether he was trying to make the audience laugh or trolling, or if he was the best comedian of the night or the worst. He’s on a different planet.
Then came another showcase, this one of scripted characters performed in little one-person vignettes by some of the best comedians of DCH.
They were all great without fail. The strongest bits: Cody Hofmockel was a substitute teacher having to break the news of a classmate’s death to a room of students. Kirstie Carrizales was a vegetarian Cowardly Lion. Mike Maiella was a hapless iPhone salesman who was forced to live out his girlfriend breaking up with him over the features he was demonstrating at a conference.
Sallie Bowen was a mini-golf proprietor with a dark secret. Eric Van Leeuwen was a sitcom-loving hitman. Colten Winburn was a bitter vegetarian cop. Emily Gee was a fancy French chef who reveals with ferocious, psychotic glee that he uses the microwave for everything. She had the best energy of all the performers.
Somewhere in the middle there was Danny Neely again, doing impressions of David Mamet teaching a class, and a redneck motivational speaker who turns out to be articulate and woke.
I am around DCH, both as a reporter and a performer, enough that I was somewhat familiar with Danny already and he probably knows my name. But he’s been a revelation to me at this festival. He’s so consistently and uproariously funny in every format he touches. His bit about Louis CK is ironic, because he has the potential to be a more respected comedian than Louis someday even absent Louis’ scandal. He’s that good.
Part three of the evening for me was a show featuring three improv acts. First was Kyle & Kendon, an improv duo from Oklahoma City who not only improv comedically, but poetically. They ask for the standard one-word suggestion from the audience, and before doing scenes based on the suggestion, improv a couple of rounds of slam poetry to the suggestion. Kendon Lacy particularly get kudos for rhyming “black and white panda” with “Lin-Manuel Miranda” on the spot.
They were followed by The Cardigan Club from Asheville, North Carolina. Just outstanding stuff, very polished, proving that good improv can be found everywhere. An impromptu physical impression of a trained dolphin especially blew me away.
Last in the slot was Watermelon, a DCH troupe. They asked for a much more specific suggestion, “a band that you listened to with your parents growing up.” They then asked the suggestion-giver the contexts in which they listened to said band with said parents. This informed their scenes, with interstitial music quickly and ably cued up by tech. Watermelon is one of the reasons I’ll never stop going to DCH shows.
Closing out the night was a podcast taping of Pen Pals, who are co-headlining the festival.
The premise is simple enough: people write in to the podcast asking questions of any kind, from the trivial to the grave, from seeking serious relationship advice to asking the podcasters, Rory Scovel and Daniel Van Kirk, what their favorite number is. No question is off the table, it seems.
The podcast has quite a following, and the show was sold out. Most of the fans lovingly sang along with the theme song and were just generally thrilled to see their podcast idols in person.
I have my reservations about live podcast tapings. For obvious reasons, they aren’t as listener-friendly as studio tapings, and any podcast has to strike a balance between being accessible to newbies and catering to the diehards who know all the words, all the music, all the inside jokes, and at the end of the day are largely responsible for the podcasters success.
Inexorably, live shows have to lean heavily towards the latter, and as I’ve only listened to a couple of Pen Pals episodes previously, I was plenty lost at times. But by the end of the taping, I was more or less hooked. This is not only because Scovel and Van Kirk are very funny, very kind and caring, and have great insights into all manner of matters (I especially appreciated Van Kirk’s loving approach to sensitive questions), but because when you are surrounded by believers, it’s hard not to surrender to the tides and get carried off. Call it a conversion.
» Tickets and schedules are available at the Festival website. Look for periodic reports of the festival on TheaterJones.com.