Want a thriving comedy scene? Don't wait for it to happen. Build it from the ground up. That's the philosophy of Amanda Austin, who founded the Dallas Comedy House, an improvisational comedy club in Deep Ellum, with Kyle Austin in 2009.
"There's a lot of comedy in the Metroplex," says Amanda Austin, "but not a lot of cohesiveness, mainly due to the size of our city. Over the past few years, the comedy scene appears to be growing and is becoming a more supportive scene for aspiring and accomplished comedians."
Shortly after, in 2010, Amanda and company launched the Dallas Comedy Festival at the club with 18 different acts in four nights, tapping primarily local and regional names. Flash forward to DCF 2012: a week of more than 90 comedians, some of them national names familiar from television, doing 12 shows, eight workshops, and a panel discussion, plus a comedy short-film contest. To call it ambitious would be too tame. The third annual celebration of improv, standup and sketch comedy runs March 27 through April 1 at the Dallas Comedy House.
"We've participated in a lot of different comedy festivals," says Austin, "and we're really trying to make Dallas Comedy Festival something unique to comedy festivals and to Dallas as well. There's not one festival we've emulated, but rather pulled ideas and inspiration from various comedy festivals, film festivals, and interactive festivals to put a model in place that's best for Dallas."
The bedrock of a thriving comedy scene is better comics, and few things accelerate a comedian's development faster than challenging workshops. The Dallas Comedy Festival provides plenty, going beyond improvisation techniques to also include acting and sketch writing. While most of the national improv stars are doing workshops, a stand out is "8 Seconds" taught by locals Chad Haught and Kyle Austin. That's the most time you have to grab someone's attention. Their techniques for focusing the audience would be good learning for anyone in the creative fields.
The Dallas Comedy Festival anchors its line-up with two sets of Los Angeles-based national talents:
FrankenMatt pairs Frank Caeti, MADtv's mischievous round guy, and Matt Craig, veteran of several Second City ensembles and former writer at Saturday Night Live. The duo's improv and sketch comedy, as well as their workshops, anchor many a comedy festival around the world and cap the DCF on Friday night.
The iO West in LA comes out of the Second City Lineage, having been co-founded by Del Close. As masters of long-form improv, Robert Dassie, Rich Talarico and Craig Cackowski are among iO's top performers and instructors. They form the ensemble Dasariski, which headlines the festival's Saturday line-up.
Commendable for blending stand-up, sketch and improv comedy, Dallas Comedy Festival focuses the first two nights on comics, opening with such local stand-up standards as Aaron Aryanpur and Paul Varghese. Look out for JC Coccoli, a Los Angeles maven renowned for remaining funny while embracing West Coast human-potential culture. Her Monday night "clean comedy" shows in LA are legendary. The Wednesday night show has a commendable concentration of female comics, including local twisted comedic storyteller Linda Stogner and the intense New Yorker Veronica Elizabeth who takes no prisoners.
The real surprises of the Dallas Comedy Festival are the local and regional ensembles that showcase some non-standard takes on improv:
- Little Mr. Dallas starts with an improvised monologue that other troupe members break into to enact and commentate.
- The Outfit embodies crackling, fast-paced Chicago wit and cheeky sex appeal.
- A group of brainiacs out of Phoenix, Apollo 12 laces their act with intellectual and literary references.
- Gasp-masters Stupid Time Machine uses its New Orleans sense of the outrageous to find the audience's edge and then push it a bit more.
- Shock T's out of Chicago is keeping musical parody alive with harmonies and high energy.
Oklahoma City, where comedy is seriously needed as a coping mechanism, makes a surprising show at the festival:
- "Twinprov: Rapsody" features twins Clint and Buck Vrazel concocting stories on the fly to hip-hop beats.
- Inspired by "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog," cast members of "Villain: The Musical" improvise music, lyrics and dance into a one-act musical.
- MiDolls is a forceful, large and all-female improvisational ensemble.
Experience the surprisingly articulate and thoughtful side of comedians with the Sunday afternoon panel and Q & A session featuring Craig Cackowski, Frank Caeti, Matt Craig, Bob Dassie and Rich Talarico. The Dallas Comedy Festival concludes that night with a best-of-fest show.
Dallas Comedy Festival shows run from $10 to $20 with drink minimums, workshops run from $30 to $50. Festival passes of shows or shows and workshops are available. The Dallas Comedy House is at 2645 Commerce St. in Deep Ellum, just east of downtown. For more information, call 214-741-4448 or visit www.DallasComedyFestival.com.
TheaterJones is a media sponsor of this year's fest, so look for giveaways coming up on the site.