For comedians, comedy festivals function as conferences. People gather in a concentrated place, in a concentrated time, to ply their trade. They exchange knowledge, catch up on the latest technology, network for gigs, all in the quest for laughter. There's a real excitement to it: the exchange, the bravado, the preening before peers, the absolutely relentless pursuit of craft, and the rare ones that aim to turn that craft into art someday.
The second night of the Dallas Comedy Festival didn't have the buzz of opening night, when the comedian party in the lobby bar was at times deafening. Nonetheless, it was an insider show, several acts laced with references to comedic trends, tricks of the trade and old warhorses of routines that just will not die.
Tom Davenport, a Dallasite now living in San Diego, launched with a breathless compendium of generic stand-up routines. He had a great liveliness, pacing a fine line between anger and energy. After having his fill of political correctness in Northern California "where they think all Texans drive SUVs fueled by hate crimes," he countered "No, let me tell you about you." The resulting anti-PC tirade made you laugh so good even while it caused your ears to curl.
Brad LaCour provoked as many winces and groans as laughs, with a sly, underhanded delivery that effortlessly slipped deep into taboo territory. It's an act that rests solidly on its material, not affectations, to stand out, and that distinction will take him places. He also had the evening's ouchiest one liner: "In Mesquite we call Wal-Mart college because that's where you go after high school."
Chris Darden, the real Chris Darden (temporarily misidentified in yesterday's review), had a similar high energy, but bright and animated, with a punchy, prizefighter style of delivery. He pushed his boundaries, though it came off more in a callow Dane Cook way.
Women comics made a good showing, starting with Veronica Elizabeth of New York City. Her slick and assured sarcasm was just the conveyance for routines on gay dating and Irish ancestry. Chelsea Hood worked the self-depreciation angle with a great confessional tone. Linda Stogner committed to a solid set of skewed routines conveyed through a barely grounded persona.
Landon Kirksey once again did great ringleader work as emcee, whipping up the crowd which was quieter than opening night, prompting one comic to whine that the big smiles were great, but would it kill us cough up a laugh every now and then? Yet the crowd, liberally seeded with friends of comedians, was highly accepting, albeit laid back.
◊ The Dallas Comedy Festival shifts gears Thursday through Sunday to focus on sketch comedy and improv done in a variety of styles including musical and storytelling, with acts ranging from duos to a dozen members. Frankematt headline on Fridays and Dasariski on Saturday. Check out TheaterJones' exclusive coverage here.