In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.
There was a time, not long ago, when the comedy scenes in Dallas and similar cities were tightly controlled by a handful of stand-up club owners, businessmen deeply committed to two-drink minimums and airplane humor, among other not-that-hilarious enterprises. The cabal has been broken, though, by niche culture, by the Internet and by people like Amanda Austin.
Austin's path was set early by her father, who, when Austin was just 8 or 9, would let her sneak back down to watch Saturday Night Live after mom fell asleep. "Did you guys watch SNL?" she'd ask her friends come Monday, knowing, and loving, the answer.
A Tyler native, she arrived in Dallas after college and spent the ensuing years lurking in the back of open-mic nights, indulging in the awkwardness but never braving its harsh lights. Then, on a trip to Chicago, she witnessed Second City's sketch magic, and a friend urged her to take a class back home. She found one, and when she got good enough she started teaching one herself in the back of a bar. In 2010 she co-founded the Dallas Comedy House in the heart of Deep Ellum, where she now offers fee-based classes in stand-up, improv, sketch comedy and more, and puts on shows several nights a week. While the Improv and Hyena's still provide more mild chuckles per capita, DCH has become the unofficial group home of Dallas' aspiring comedians, and Austin as their chief custodian.
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It's a role only someone funny could play, and Austin fits the part. She still performs herself, and is working at compartmentalizing her work onstage and off. It's a challenge. She once found herself mid-joke when a drink was spilled in the audience. She couldn't help but think: "Why don't I hear a mop?"
That focus is what keeps DCH evolving. She lives just a few blocks away and spends most of her time in the dark, cramped space, juggling logistics. When we agreed to meet there on a recent morning, I arrived a few minutes early and expected to spend the next few minutes on the curb, waiting for a bleary and nocturnal comedienne. But the door was cracked open and Austin was inside, typing away at a laptop perched on the bar. She suggested we get coffee, but she hardly seemed to need it.
Down the street at BuzzBrews, she outlined her vision for DCH. Along with growing her class offerings and attracting out-of-town talent, she wants to grow and maybe spin off the Dallas Comedy Festival, which she founded, and start producing original content to be sold or turned into web series. "We have a great talent pool," she said of the comics and performers she spends so many nights with. "I'd love to make stuff here."
She also spoke openly about the fate of DCH's home. Her lease is up soon, and Deep Ellum prices are climbing. She couldn't say for sure that she'd stay there, and has even found herself daydreaming about other possibilities. Wherever she lands, you get the sense the funny will follow.