Dallas Comedy Festival 2012: The Recap

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve returned from the 2012 Dallas Comedy Festival and after processing and assimilating everything I saw and did, I can safely say this is a festival not to be missed any time it comes around.

The festival brought in superstar acts from around the country, including Los Angeles titans FrankenMatt and Dasariski, but featured a healthy dose of homegrown talent to send the message that Dallas is a breeding ground for great comedy.

Due to a rampant illness that struck the Dallas Comedy House the week before the festival, the organizers had to be quick on their feet to fill canceled slots in each night. From my vantage point, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it forced them to fill the stage with the hungrier talent they have at their disposal and truly represent the broad variety that improv and sketch allows.

My favorite show of the festival remains DCH’s fledgling puppet improv troupe Commerce Street. Filling the roster with improvisers of every experience level, each a newcomer to puppets, Commerce Street mastermind Sarah Nolen has created a solid show that I can easily see touring the country to great success. A seduction scene involving a human male and a horned purple puppet in a hoodie had me rolling when I suddenly realized the puppet had somehow succeeded in gazing at the human with bedroom eyes.

The touring acts were pretty enjoyable as well. I have spent the majority of this past week rocking out to the songs of the Shock T’s, a Chicago three-person acoustic rock act full of brutally hilarious honesty. Their song “Dude, Come On,” in which they lament the closeted lifestyle of one of their friends, is the coming out anthem of century.

Aforementioned headliners FrankenMatt and Dasariski were quite possibly the best combination of acts I’ve seen in traveling festivals. The benefit of these festivals, in my mind, is the opportunity to learn from seeing how others practice the craft. I don’t think I’ve benefitted more from seeing two shows than I have from seeing these acts. Each one was a clinic in yes and, slow play, trust and fun.

With the benefit of these tours came the opportunity for workshops. The writing workshop I took with Matt Craig was a huge piece in the puzzle of sketch comedy for me, speaking to the principles of my own writing background and getting me thinking along the lines of what clicks for my sense of humor. The initiations workshop I took with Kyle Austin and Chad Haught was a wonderful refresher on one of the most important basics of improvisation.

Not to lag in other departments, comedy veteran Landon Kirksey succeeded in assembling two nights of top shelf stand-up to start the festival off in great fashion. Witty and enjoyable acts like Shane Estep, Paul Varghese and Michele Benson were well balanced with explosive characters like Fonzo Crow, Brad LaCour and Nic Pozderac. According to Kirksey, the majority of the lineup was comprised of comics that regularly attend DCH’s weekly open mic, which goes to show the kind of talent that Dallas is currently working with.

An unpretentious event, the Dallas Comedy Festival holds its own with some of the better festivals I’ve seen so far. It was a friendly atmosphere that drew healthy and supportive crowds every evening and epitomized all that improv, sketch and stand-up can be. In the words of Craig Cackowski during Sunday’s Q&A panel, “If we’re ever going back to any six letter city starting with D, it’s Dallas.”

Dallas Comedy Festival 2012: Day Six

The final night of the 2012 Dallas Comedy Festival was a relaxed evening of performances that was a simple thesis of all that had been celebrated over the week of improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy presented at the Dallas Comedy House.

[pullquote_left] The Sunday atmosphere lent a sense of camaraderie to the audience, comprised mostly of people who performed and regularly attended the previous festival days. Many were tired but content, dropping all pretension to have a fun time on the stage.[/pullquote_left]

The evening got off to an early start with a live Q&A panel with the festival’s headliners, Los Angeles groups FrankenMatt and Dasariski. The five veterans espoused on playing philosophy, their goals in the workshops that they taught during the festival and personal reasons for doing improv.

The night then moved to improv with two short sets with FrankenMatt and Dasariski and then a jam of the two playing together. Sitting in the audience, I learned tricks that I can’t wait to try out in my own play.[pullquote_right] Once again, as with the Dasariski set on Saturday and the FrankenMatt sketch show on Friday, it played out like an improv clinic. Choices that younger improvisers wouldn’t dream of making were the norm on stage, effortlessly executing their artform to the highest of its fun and sense of play.  [/pullquote_right]

In all, it was a great end to an overall solid festival. Stay tuned to this website for a recap article and interviews with performers coming later this week. Follow @ImprovWins on Twitter for live updates from around the improv world and always remember that Improv Wins.

Dallas Comedy Festival 2012: Day Five

Saturday night’s lineup at the 2012 Dallas Comedy Festival packed a variety of sketch and improv troupes from Dallas, New Orleans, Phoenix and Chicago into the Dallas Comedy House for dynamic shows that kept the 75 seat theater in Deep Ellum buzzing with energy.

Due to technical difficulties, the planned screening of Bryan Hickey’s winning submission in the festival’s short film contest was canceled. He received special recognition before the final show and his film is currently available for viewing on the Dallas Comedy House YouTube page.

The night kicked off with Kyle Austin and Andrew Hamer’s two man show Kyle and Drew, a Dallas Comedy House mainstay. They came out playing with hula hoops to set the tone for a playful show that was high on physical comedy, with Austin precariously balanced on Hamer’s back to simulate skydiving at one point. As amazing as this was, however, their character choices were unremarkable and they did not seem to be pushing themselves to the height of their potential.

Phoenix based two man troupe Galapagos appeared next with a show that suffered from some improv pitfalls. It was a series of strangely strung together 80’s pop culture references that, while some were wonderfully inventive, failed to adequately ground the show.

[pullquote_right]The first timeslot closed with touring Chicago sketch show The Union. The husband and wife duo put together a playful and punchy experience centered on relationships. It was a tongue and cheek sitcom brought to life on stage.[/pullquote_right]

The night finally saw the festival debut of founder and organizer Amanda Austin, who was the latest victim in a flu epidemic that kept her absent all week. Her three woman group, Local Honey, opened the second timeslot of the evening with solid, balanced character pieces that were quite enjoyable to watch.

Apollo 12, the second group from Phoenix, received laughs from their amazing physicality but ultimately failed to captivate due to a lack of strong choices.

The second show was headed up by Stupid Time Machine from The New Movement New Orleans. Their set was consistent, relaxed and heavy on play, a showing that has come to be expected from the four person powerhouse of the NOLA comedy scene.

The third slot of the night opened with an energetic performance from Dallas Comedy House staple Victory Point. It was a bittersweet show for the group as it marked the final performance of Dallas Comedy House co-founder Clay Barton, who is moving to California. They made sure his send-off was an appropriately strong appearance, having fun like they have for years and keeping the packed house enthralled.

The final show of the evening was three man Chicago powerhouse Dasariski, who proceeded to run what sports fans would call a clinic in masterful improvisation. There were a few times in their hour long set that I thought there could be no way for them to continue raising the stakes, but they blasted through my perceptions to create avenues I couldn’t believe existed. I walked away from that show having learned something about this amazing craft and how to make myself better at it.[pullquote_left] After the show ended, the scene degenerated into a raucous flip cup tournament that proved to be some of the most fun I’ve had since joining the improv world. As an even more fitting end, the team with Clay Barton on it took home the trophy. [/pullquote_left]

Saturday night contained a few sour notes in the lineup, but maintained the overall level of fun and play that I’ve come to associate with this festival at this point. Tonight starts off with a panel discussion, followed by FrankenMatt and Dasariski playing in an all-star show. For more info, visit www.dallascomedyfestival.com and follow @ImprovWins for updates from the floor.

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.

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