Laughter is the Best MedicineAug 01, 2019 ● By Stephen Hunt
In 1963, the Improv was founded in N.Y., and over the years, comedic legends like Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy have headlined there. Dallas/Fort Worth is now home to two Improvs, one in Addison and the other in Arlington.
For Dallas native and stand-up comedian Dez O’Neal, named 2017 Funniest Comic in Texas, the Arlington Improv is a preferred spot to perform. “That is where I worked on my craft the most. They treat us pretty good there,” Mr. O’Neal says. “Whenever you are working there on the weekend, they feed you. They treat you like a rock star, even though you are just a local act.”
Other local comedy venues include the Dallas Comedy House and Hyena’s Comedy Nightclub, which has locations in Dallas and Plano. McKinney is home to The Comedy Arena, which hosts ComedySportz DFW. This combines laughter with the spirit of competition, a combination which has proved to be very successful.
“People are looking for reasons to laugh,” Von Daniel, the co-owner of ComedySportz DFW, shares. “It is just the way the world is right now. There is so much going on with current politics … everybody is on edge! But, if you are laughing, you are probably not having a bad day.”
ComedySportz is an international improv troupe founded 35 years ago where comedy is played as a sport. At a typical show, two teams perform skits and sketches before an audience. After each round of competition, the audience decides which team was funnier with the team winning the most rounds declared the winner. “It is highly-interactive. ComedySportz is comedy for everyone, so families are invited, which is cool because there are not many comedy shows you can take the entire family to,” Mr. Daniel says. “The audience can yell suggestions. Sometimes, audience members are part of the show. We bring them up on stage to perform, so it is fully-interactive.”
Frisco’s Own Improv Troupe
Since 2013, Frisco has had its own improvisational comedy troupe, the Frisco Improv Players. Each month, the Frisco Improv Players perform a Saturday night show at Black Box Theater in the Frisco Discovery Center and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “Generally, people really love it. Some of the feedback we get is that it is great to have family-friendly comedy where we are not embarrassed to bring families, kids or grandparents,” Bob Zak, the founder of Frisco Improv Players, shares. “Not only do we have a comedy presence here, but we are clean and no one gets offended or is uncomfortable.”
Mr. Zak envisions a future where the Frisco Improv Players could have two monthly shows, the early one being a family-friendly affair like they currently do with the late show being more of an after-hours thing, which he can invite local comics to. “An adult show does not necessarily mean swearing, it just means a little more adult themes. These could take the form of improv, stand-up or a variety type show,” Mr. Zak says. “We did this on a trial basis in May and it went really well. It just did not get quite the audience because it was something we threw together last-minute. The people who were there really loved it and want more!”
Fellow Frisco Improv Player member Roxanne Penz has taught drama in the Frisco ISD for 15 years and feels the improv players mirror Frisco because there is almost unlimited potential in terms of how much they could grow in the future. “There is so much potential. If you want to be a world-class city, you have to have world-class entertainment, which is beautiful for us as a comedy troupe,” she says. “We are here! We are ready for you! We would love to do more shows. We are giving people what they want. They want to be able to go out and eat then come over and see a comedy show.”
Comedy as an Artform
Dallas/Fort Worth is home to many talented comics, but what leads someone to become a stand-up comic? For Mr. O’Neal, his origin story rings familiar. “People have been telling me I am funny for my whole life. In elementary, middle and high school, people were telling me I was going to be a comedian. I used to put videos on Myspace before videos became the thing. Being funny and doing stand-up is something that has always been in me.”
Once an aspiring sports broadcaster, Mr. O’Neal attended Tyler Junior College looking to become the next Stephen A. Smith, ESPN’s popular sports commentator. But, when that did not work out, he returned to Dallas, researched open-mic nights and ventured into comedy. “When I first came into the scene, it was kind of like the first day of school. You do not have any friends,” he says. “There was a couple of older comedians who put me in shows and showed me some love, but I had to earn their respect. It is all about people trusting you on stage. They do not want to put you on if you do not have any ‘funny’ at all. I had to pay my dues.”
Mr. O’Neal offers some simple advice to aspiring comics. He says to observe those who have been doing it a while, ask them questions, stay humble and, above all else, keep writing.
Dorie McLemore lives in Red Oak, and this New Jersey native is not only a comedian, but she is also an ordained minister, which comes in handy since many of her gigs are at churches. “It is an interesting combination, that is for sure,” Ms. McLemore says. “I really think comedy can be a kind of ministry because I think laughter is just so healing. I really think laughter can be what people need when they are hurting. I really think it can be a good combination.”
Ms. McLemore’s first foray into comedy came after a leader at her church asked her to speak at a women’s event. After that, experience proved overwhelmingly positive, she has done numerous women’s and corporate events and is currently touring with Michael Jr., the king of Christian comedy. Ms. McLemore adds, “I think women carry a lot on their shoulders and they do not always know how to relax. They do not know how to compartmentalize like men do, so they end up just carrying the weight. I love when I get to go in front of a group of women, just kick back with them and bring something they can laugh about.”
If you are in need of a laugh, why not be witness to a unique artform that can be found right here in Frisco and throughout the metroplex? Sometimes, we all just need the opportunity to have a huge belly laugh and not take ourselves so seriously.
Stephen Hunt is a Frisco-based freelancer and former class clown -- perfect to write this story.