Dallas Comedy Festival 2012: Day Four

Friday night was a great mix of improv and sketch from around the country as a packed and supportive house cheered the performers at the 2012 Dallas Comedy Festival.

The night kicked off with Opposites, a two man group from The New Movement Austin. They played a slow and patient set, routinely switching characters and creating scenes with heavy use of the straight/absurd dynamic.

Ape Rally followed with a fun set full of unexpected choices, leading to several flips and parodies of accepted social norms that garnered big laughs from the healthy crowd.

The first slot closed out with Villain: The Musical, a four person musical improv group from Oklahoma City that explored the journey of a man down the path of evil. They played tight and kept their universe cohesive, creating an epic story that earned them a standing ovation.

The second timeslot, due to an illness that caused billed opener Manick to cancel, was opened up by Atlantic/Pacific Billy. They played with all the exuberance of a younger troupe, having a lot of fun on stage and pushing themselves to make strong choices.

[pullquote_left] Shock T’s, a three person music show from Chicago, barely gave the audience time to breathe before attacking the stage with a hilarious set of songs. There show is what I imagine Dashboard Confessional would sound like with a sense of humor. They sold merch after the show and I left that night with some of their songs on a USB drive. I’m actually listening to it while I’m writing this. [/pullquote_left]

Pavlov’s Dogs headlined with a comfortable, professional set that is to be expected of a group with ten-plus years of experience playing together. They transitioned scenes and time dashed almost effortlessly for a seamless performance that kept me hooked.

The final slot of the night started with Dallas Comedy House Friday night regulars Roadside Couch. If I ever find myself in Dallas on a Friday, this is a must see for sure.

[pullquote_right] The night closed out with FrankenMatt, a Los Angeles based two man group consisting of Frank Caeti and Matt Craig, performing their sketch show American Imperil. The show was a send-up of American political hypocrisy and public ennui that had the audience whistling and cheering. The show was one of the tightest I’ve ever seen and I would watch it again in a heartbeat if given the chance.[/pullquote_right]

This festival shows no sign of slowing down as we move into Saturday night’s shows. For more info, visit www.dallascomedyfestival.com and follow @ImprovWins on Twitter for live updates from the audience.

Dallas Comedy Festival 2012: Day Three

Thursday night kicked off the improv and sketch portion of the 2012 Dallas Comedy Festival with solid performances from teams that ran the full spectrum of improv styles and formats.

Every troupe was at the top of its game, performing to an energetic and supportive crowd that packed the Dallas Comedy House in Deep Ellum for all three shows. The night featured acts from Dallas/Ft. Worth, Oklahoma City, and Chicago.

I misremembered the start time of the shows and made it into the theater just in time to see all-female short form group Heroine Addiction take the stage. They executed their games with a nice pace that kept me interested and their wordplay was suitably clever. A few sour notes came from a lack of listening, but they covered admirably and had a great time on stage.

MiDolls, a self-described “Old Lady Improv Troupe” from Oklahoma City, took the stage next and passed out candy to the audience members. They based their show at a high school reunion and each character exemplified one of the seven deadly sins. They had some enjoyable moments and clever lines that kept the crowd rolling, but got a little bogged down by their respective sins which kept them from deepening their characters’ dimensions.

[pullquote_left] The closer of the first show was Franzia, a four person monoscene troupe based out of the Dallas Comedy House. Their show at a dentist’s office was stacked with great character choices and ended with a flip that left my mouth wide open.[/pullquote_left]

Due to an illness, the sketch show Call Waiting had to be canceled, so their slot was filled by three tremendous groups with unique styles that had me spitting up in my Deep Ellum Cherry Chocolate Double Brown Stout (which is a local craft beer you need to try).

Gangs of Recess performed an experimental Harold with the finesse of a team that knows each other well. Their organics and group games were some of the best I’ve seen and their connections were top rate. I particularly enjoyed a callback involving a pair of 33 year old brothers put in time out by an overbearing and omniscient father.

Samurai Drunk showcased an aggressive energy and played it to ultimate satisfaction. A situation involving a talking carrier pigeon relaying messages between rival tailgate parties was one of the night’s most inventive scenes.

Commerce Street closed out the second timeslot with a puppet improv show that had me in stitches. I have never seen puppet improv before and heard a great deal about it, but it blew away all my expectations. My favorite scene of the night came from a saucy French puppet wooing a coy man by comparing him to wheat bread.

[pullquote_right]Following the improv rule of heightening, the third show of the night pulled out all the stops and tore the roof off the Dallas Comedy House, proving again that improv wins. [/pullquote_right]

Li’l Mister Dallas kicked things off with a living room opening that set them up nicely to create a fun and connected show.

Oklahoma City’s Twinprov came next with a hip-hop show about physics that, as they promised, blew my mind. They freestyled at a breakneck pace and covered every small detail of the subject matter, leading to an act that was nearly impossible to follow up.

Luckily, they were being followed by The Outfit, a five person group from Chicago that exemplified a tight and punchy show. The Outfit has two members from Dallas who helped start the Dallas Comedy House, so it was partially a homecoming for them and they nailed it.

If Thursday night is any indicator, there is a lot to look forward to for the rest of the festival. Today starts with afternoon workshops (of which I will be taking one) before three more shows starting at 7pm. For more info, visit www.dallascomedyfestival.com and follow @ImprovWins on Twitter for live updates from the audience.

Dallas Comedy Festival 2012: Day Two

Wednesday night was a subdued and relaxed affair as a mix of younger stand-up comedians and older guys trying out new material packed the stage of the Dallas Comedy House to a healthy crowd at the 2012 Dallas Comedy Festival.

The audience was quieter than Tuesday night’s sold out room of exuberant guests. Momentum was hard to come by as the comics hustled to earn their laughs, a trial by fire that separated the experienced from the inexperienced.

If I was to name the theme of Wednesday’s subject matter, it would be marriage. Almost every comic seemed to have a bit about marriage or long term relationships. [pullquote_right] Josh Johnson in particular had an interesting take, tackling the unique perspective of being a 22 year old divorcee and launching into a rant about nitpicking that was one of my favorites of the night.[/pullquote_right]

Andrew Hamer kicked the night off nicely with a warm and enjoyable set that had the relaxed group cheering. Nic Pozderac followed and won me over quickly as a representative of absurdist humor, heavy on puns and playing up a wacky lumberjack persona. If I had to name someone in Dallas I’d want to hang out at a bar with the most, it would be this guy.

The raunchier comics had a bit more trouble getting the audience on their side but powered through nicely and earned their share of appreciation. Brad LaCour compared Match.com to “shopping on the clearance aisle of life.” Chris Darden, after losing the crowd with a muddled and confusing masturbation innuendo, deftly won them back when he mournfully intoned that he was “sick of J-Date.”[pullquote_left] Linda Stogner was an interesting departure from the general lineup of jaded young people with a decidedly traditional routine that showcased her decades in comedy. Her quaint naiveté and “gosh darn” delivery made me think of what would happen if Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire had a goofy niece. [/pullquote_left]

Tom Devenport, a Dallas native currently living in California, had a strong set that played on cultural differences and practical world outlooks that I enjoyed watching.

Chelsea Hood keenly keyed into the core of her personality to create a likeable set that felt like hanging out with your funniest high school friends.

The headliner of the evening, Dave Little, was a bit of a disappointment. At the beginning of the night, I was told by host Landon Kirksey and many others that Little is one of the funniest people in the Dallas comedy scene. However, he chose to fill his set with new material that had not been workshopped, leading to a mediocre performance that he sardonically called out, lightly harassing the audience for “dropping the ball.” I have seen this sheepish acknowledgment of one’s own failure on stage countless times, but Little was unable to handle it gracefully and it made me slightly uncomfortable.

Veronica Elizabeth, the only true out-of-towner on the night’s lineup, was my personal overall favorite. Like most of the night’s comics, her set dedicated a huge portion to the idiosyncrasies of her love life, but she pulled it off with such a delightfully quirky style that I found myself smiling the whole time.

Though Wednesday night was not as strong as Tuesday’s kick-off, the Dallas Comedy Festival continued to bring laughs that were well worth the money spent. The week now turns to sketch and improv and shows no chance of slowing down the laugh rollercoaster. Be sure to follow @ImprovWins on Twitter for live updates as the festival continues, check back here for daily recaps and interviews and for scheduling and info visit www.dallascomedyfestival.com.

(NOTE: Yesterday’s article contained a slight error. The short film festival is being held on Saturday evening at 7:30pm before shows begin. Visit www.dallascomedyfestival.com for more info.)

Dallas Comedy Festival 2012: Day One

The 2012 Dallas Comedy Festival kicked things off with a bang Tuesday night, performing top rate stand-up comedy to a sold out and responsive crowd at the Dallas Comedy House in Deep Ellum.

The event featured a host of some of the best talent that the Dallas stand-up scene has to offer along with a few out-of-towners with Dallas roots.

“Most of the guys you’ve seen tonight are here every Tuesday at our free open mic,” host Landon Kirksey told the crowd, “so it’s actually kind of stupid that you paid for this.”

[pullquote_right]They didn’t seem to mind paying, though. At times they were a live laugh track, steadily giggling to things that weren’t even meant to be jokes. It was clear that they’re here to be entertained and were going to be. Luckily, the comics were happy to oblige.[/pullquote_right]

Justin Williams kicked things off nicely with an intelligent set that played off of his black intellectual persona to big laughs. He covered the bases of family and social dynamics, shared some strange experiences about living in New York and finished with a bit of local humor.

Fonzo Crow followed in direct contrast with a high energy set that got the crowd ready to rock and roll.

Jason Salmon had the audience hooked with his fish out of water stories of a Dallas man adjusting to life in New York.

One of my personal favorites of the evening was Michele Benson. Her deadpan delivery and wordplay proved that she is a master of misdirection and innuendo. I often found myself laughing a beat behind as it slowly dawned on me what she was saying.

The audience became almost unruly at the entrance of Freddy Vasquez, the persona of local comedian Lane Ingram. Ingram’s Vasquez is a gregarious, excitable comic that I heard someone describe as a “Mexican Chris Farley.” He spoke only Spanish and had the crowd rolling with a bit about his “estupida” wife, impersonations of celebrities and his chant “Mexicanos! Mexicanos! Mexicanos!”

Shane Estep was high on wit and parody, pulling an audience member up for a reenactment of Ice-T’s acting prowess in Law and Order: SVU to big laughs.

[pullquote_left] Jason James channeled a Lewis Black style of irascibility at the mundane inconveniences of everyday life. My favorite moment was a bit about a car with a Jesus Fish decal that cut off a long line of traffic on the freeway. James became unintelligible before screaming, “Your Jesus Fish privileges are revoked!”[/pullquote_left]

Aaron Araynpour had a regular guy sensibility as he discussed the struggles of being a husband and father. The comparison to Louis C.K. is inevitable.

The night closed with big local name Paul Varghese, whose sardonic but down-to-earth humor was a nice closer to a night of great laughs.

Overall, Tuesday’s starter to the Dallas Comedy Festival was a runaway success. Tonight starts off with a short film festival followed by another full bill of stand-up before switching to improv and sketch on Thursday. For more info, check out www.dallascomedyfestival.com and follow @ImprovWins on Twitter for live updates each night. If you’re in the Dallas area, this festival is not to be missed.

We Pretty Ugly

Improv luminary1 Eliza Skinner just started a web project that we’re all about over here at Improv Wins! Eliza is strikingly beautiful and hilarious (which also means nasty, weird, and disturbing: you know, all the synonyms for funny) so she came up with a scheme to get ladies to send her their ugly-funny faces 2  . We Pretty Ugly is a simple, yet insightful, visual exploration of the paradoxes of femininity and comedy. It is also a rad collection of dumb faces!


5 Line Scenes are short blurbs about various happenings in the improv world. Got something we should post about? Drop a reply below!     You can use your Facebook login to do this so don’t let any fears of new form signups dissuade you!

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I was looking up synonyms for hero when “luminary” presented itself. However, there were way more creative/incorrect choices on that list which I also wanted to share with you. Crampfish.
  2. She’s also taking submissions right now!

The Weekly Format: Flipping the Script

NAME: Flipping the Script
HISTORY: Improv is an art form with a strong relationship with sketch comedy. At Second City in Chicago sketches are written out of improvised scenes in rehearsals. One of Second City’s most traditionally popular shows was a weekly sketch/improv show that started with sketches and moved to straight improvisation. The following week, the sketch show would be based off of the improv set that happened the week previously. Thus, a fair amount of sketch comedy feeds off of improv for ideas and premises.
THE BREAKDOWN: In a theater with projection capabilities, a video sketch is chosen and played for the audience. When the video is over, the lights come up on stage and the improvisers do a show using information gained from the sketch.
Multiple videos can be used if the team is finding that they don’t mine enough information from one. If the team is concerned with proving that they are improvising, a series of videos can be nominated and the audience can select one through some sort of devised system. This form is also an opportunity for groups to cross-promote one another, throwing a night where teams perform shows based on each other’s sketches.

The Importance of High Fives



Do you remember when you first started attending improv shows? I suppose all kinds of people react differently, but I always had a few things going on. One is that I am totally in awe of comedic talent. I’ve spent several nights a week watching, teaching, or performing comedy for the last few years: I’m still floored and surprised by improvisers really nailing it. It’s thrilling. It’s scintillating.

It’s intimidating.

Many of my most awkward moments have been after comedy or improv shows. Once, in college, I fawned so hard over Jon Benjamin at UCB NY that he had to reassure me that it was okay to talk to him. In Edinburgh, Scotland I blushed whenever I saw the student improv team members in the library and was unable to get a good participation grade in my honors course because Humphrey, the funniest of “The Improverts”, was in my class.

When I first started taking improv classes in Austin about four years ago, this whole situation was ameliorated somewhat by the fact that I could say “Hi” to my really cool teacher or occasionally have the (totally dumb, am I right guys?) conversation with other students about what level we’re all in. But I came to shows with my husband, who like most partners of improvisers, doesn’t do improv and the culture of the place I first started taking classes at had a cold edge to it. So we came and went from many shows without anyone at all acknowledging our presence. But there was this one performer dude, one of the owners/major performers of the theater, who always warmly greeted me and my husband.


He high fived us every time he saw us! I’d never had this guy with the funky handlebar ‘stash as a teacher or coach or anything, he just noticed us and made a point to be super friendly. To thank us for coming out to shows. To ask if we were in classes. To ask my husband how his day was. Simple stuff. No-brainer stuff. Except that practically no one else did those things. By winter time I’d been in classes for months, I had an internship, and (to be totally immodest) some people knew I was funny. I should have felt totally at home in that theater. However, Christmas party time rolled around and it was hideous.

The party was cliquey like crazy! It was as if someone had declared a taboo against speaking to people you weren’t in an improv troupe with. The conversations we could get into were uncomfortable because they felt like the other performers, the ones I was so in awe of when I watched them, were either trying to irrationally one-up me in conversation (as if your place on a house team or your role in some festival matters to me) or force me to prove my worthiness to be spoken to by entertaining them with bon mots and declarations of my own status. My husband is an extrovert, such an extrovert that his actual job is almost professional extrovert. However, no one would speak to Bear Bear since he didn’t do improv, and of course improvisers can’t talk about anything else! It’s not like they’re well-rounded people with lots of interests who are trained in listening. So, I clutched my secret santa gift to my chest and we started for the exit. On the way out, that one guy with the high fives asked us how we were and offered us a piece of his sushi. It was the highlight of the night.

The importance of what eventually happened with the high five guy and my favorite teacher 1, and how it ended up impacting my whole life is a different story. But this one is just about high fives. Can we all remind each other about how important it is to welcome people when they come to improv shows? To make them feel like they’re honored guests at our party and not interlopers at a terrifying middle school dance?

Anytime anyone walks into an improv venue it would be killer if they felt at home. Like they belonged there and were appreciated for what they’re doing; being patrons, fans, supporters! They’re the whole reason we get to do this amazing thing that feeds us. Improv is fun to do and fun to watch, but nothing is as fun as having someone reach out to you. I try to continually remind myself that as nervous, busy, or occupied as I may be I am also in a place of comfort at improv shows and that I owe it to the universe to make sure that what we do is fervently inclusive and full of love. Every improv class I teach is ended with high fives: this is an homage to those early greetings that meant so much to me, a reminder to myself about what welcome feels like, and a hope that high fives are contagious and we’ll all always be forever inviting people into a fun-as-shit community.


Show 1 footnote

  1. Ok, secret identities are Chris Trew & Tami Nelson — no need to be too clandestine!

Houston Harold Weekend Wrap up

Houston Harold weekend 2012 has wrapped and it was the most successfully glorious Harold weekend that has ever happened, probably.







HHW H-Town 2012 kicked off Saturday morning at noon with intro workshops and focused character work with Amy Birkhead and Lisa Friedrich before moving on to Organic Openings with Eric Muller.

The afternoon workshops wrapped with Matt Donnelly’s Speed Harold which was packed with performers from all over studying Donnelly’s modified Harold.














Audiences started packing in Avant Garden around 8pm to see Houston’s Rogue Improv, the Speed Harold workshop’s production and an all-instructors performance back to back. The shows were magic. The performers were gold. The night was young.

The crew took to the darkness but unbeknownst to them the clocks planned to turn ahead. The bars had no intention of acknowledging it the fun way, like when this happens in the fall. Refusing to stop the engaging conversations and entertaining banter HHW’s followers did what they had to do, take it to the house. Things got really fun, weird, meat and cheeses were introduced, but mainly stayed fun.

Sunday came around just as one would expect it to- too early but charged with the electricity of another education and performances. Shyla Ray delighted with interconnectedness and theatrical cohesiveness, Dan Grimm dazed performers, demanding truth and emotional depth and Matt Donnelly returned for really cool beat work. Group scene and device deconstruction is a mouthful but Donnelly didn’t call it that so it was just real cool.
Sunday night wrapped up the weekend like TNM Houston wraps up every weekend- with Improv Zero (a Free intro course for any and all) coupled with the Shootaround, an all-in performance for all improvisers, and a Megaphone Show.

HHW pulled out all the stops for the weekend fenale; TNM Nola’s Stupid Time Machine performed, and acted as the monologists for the theater’s flagship show, the Megaphone.

If the above images above don’t display the deep affections the TNM community has for one another, the harold, the art, and out of town guests  look at these. We heart Harold.


Fantasy Weekend: Chicago, DC, Philly & Houston

Thursday March 8th 10:30 The Reckoning @ iO

You thought this article was bound by time? Dust off that ruby amulet and rehearse your incantations cuz this Thursday we travel BACK IN TIME to TUESDAY’S set at iO with The Reckoning. When this group decided to try out their own style of no-holds barred improv on an off night, they said it would be their version of a high-stakes rehearsal. Turns out the crowds loved what they do and it has become one of the best loved teams in Chicago. This team has become an iO mainstay, performing weekly shows for over a decade. The ensemble includes Jet Eveleth recently one of New City magazine’s Top 50 Players of 2010. After attending her commedia dell’arte inspired workshops at TNM Nola, I don’t need my trusty eagle claw mirror ball to divine her scene work will be particularly emotionally resonant and physically absurd.

Friday March 9th 11 pm Nox Presents: Lights Out @ WIT

WIT’s been holding down the DC improv scene for years now. Once, I was blinded elven mage for mixing the wrong grog for their spring festivus. I’d like to combine these two worlds and check out Washington Improv Theater’s take on the non-visual improv form known as the Bat. The form was started by Georgia Pacific (including improv sage Joe Bill1), this show invites audiences to close their eyes and listen more keenly to the worlds that a collective group of seated improvisers create completely through sound. No doubt more pleasurable than stumbling through a briar patch screaming at how dumb Gimbli’s cloak makes him look with those pointed ears.

Saturday March 10th 8:30 pm Rare Bird @ PHIT

This team has been making a name for themselves in the past several years as one of the must see shows in Philadelphia. They’ve been performing throughout the city since 2003, and become an institution for comedy in the city of bro love. Combining a night of their comedy with a stop at Geno’s (whiz, with) and getting lost in the Chinese section of the Museum of Art2 is way better than that Rocky marathon I sat through three years ago. Seriously, Thunder Lips?

Sunday March 11th 8 and 9 pm STM and The Megaphone Show @ TNM Houston

And rounding off the weekend is a lovely stop at Avant Garden in Houston. The final series of shows for the Houston Harold Weekend, they bring two sets of improv fury. First, Stupid Time Machine brings all four members together for a break-neck set. A combination of founders, faculty and conservatory directors from New Orleans and Austin, this TNM house troupe has been building a name for themselves in festivals around the country while performing weekly in their hometown of New Orleans.

The second set of the night brings STM back as guest monologists for the Megaphone Show. Bringing a TNM twist to the classic Armando form, this team includes the artistic director and conservatory director of the Houston TNM, honorary TNM doctorate recipient and improviser badass Matt Donnelly, and Massive alum and Chicago resident Eric Mueller. Both Donnelly and Mueller gave workshops during the Harold Weekend, and Dr. Matt has received his title for being the first outside instructor to teach in all three TNM cities within a year’s time. Yes, he did receive a certificate.

And so ends another week of improvisation satiation. Also, read A Wrinkle In Time.

1 Another member of the extended TNM Family

2Seriously, it looks exactly like the compound I was teleported out of when I was held hostage by the Elders for trying to steal their invisibility scrolls

Flip Cup Champion Amanda Austin on the Upcoming Dallas Comedy Festival

Amanda Austin is in her third year of co-producing the Dallas Comedy Festival. Amanda also teaches and performs improv at Dallas Comedy House and is currently working on a few writing projects. She chatted with Improv Wins about some of the new and scintillating things festivalgoers can look forward to this year.


What makes this year’s DCF extra wicked?

We’ve worked really hard this year to put an emphasis on all things comedy for the festival. We have a lot of diversity in the areas of improv, sketch, stand up, and film. This is the first year we’ve introduced a comedy short film contest as part of the festival. Submissions are already looking good and we hope it will bring more awareness to the digital aspect of comedy. (Side note: anyone can enter…some of the prizes are Dallas based i.e. passes to DCF and the Dallas International Film Festival in April, but also a $250 cash prize, so it’s open to anyone)
What are your plans for the legendary DCF after-party?

We’re gearing up for the Third Annual Flip Cup Tournament to see who takes home the legendary Flip Cup Trophy! We’ve secured some rad food trucks to park themselves outside during the week of the festival, so you can bet there will be tons of food during our after party. We’ll also show some of the short films that were submitted for the DCF Comedy Short Film Contest!
Tell us about Dallas Comedy!

The Dallas comedy scene has been shifting from a few projects around town to a real community that wants to work together to bring a total comedy awareness of improv, sketch, standup and film to the Dallas area. Our lineup includes something for everyone this year, so we’re thrilled for Dallas to experience local and national comedy they wouldn’t normally see without this festival! The week of the festival is my favorite week of the year, because of all the great comedians who share their talent with our beautiful city, and all the Dallasites who relish in the laughter.

The Dallas Comedy Festival is March 27th-April 1st at The Dallas Comedy House