Funniest Comic in Texas Winner Dez O'Neal Tried to Give Up Comedy for Acting

Winning a comedy competition like the annual Funniest Comic in Texas can be both a blessing and a burden. Just ask this year's winner Dez O'Neal.

The Dallas-born comedian won the title out of a pool of 500 comics in the competition's final round last Friday at the Arlington Improv. He says he's still feeling the high of the honor but he's also unsure what should come next.

"It feels good," O'Neal says. "I've never felt so much love and support at one time and so much respect, but I'm also feeling a little bit of pressure even though this happened not too long ago. I can't just sit down since I got this award. I gotta keep going. That's what people tell me. Don't get lazy. Keep on pushing and doing what I'm doing. I'm feeling a little pressure because I keep thinking about what's next but I can't slow down."

O'Neal says he's been doing comedy for the last five years and switched from comedy to acting a couple of times before settling on stand-up.

"People just always told me I was funny but I always thought I was just funny in conversations," O'Neal says. "A friend of mine always told me I was going to be a comedian."

O'Neal began like many comics do these days: writing sketches and posting them on the internet. Then he tried stand-up in front of crowds at open mics and began posting clips from those shows to his online channel. But early on he grew frustrated with comedy and decided to try his hand at acting instead.

"Compared to now, I wish I would have never stopped," O'Neal says. "My material, now that I think about it, was funny, but it was real young. I was doing jokes like, 'I'm so broke that Santa brought me eggs and bread for Christmas' and it was getting laughs but now that I think about it, I was like, 'What was I thinking?'"

He says he started to turn a corner with his comedy after enrolling in comedian Dean Lewis' comedy writing classes at the Addison Improv.

"Basically, he told me, 'I can't teach you how to be funny,'" O'Neal says. "I can teach you how to edit and trim the fat off and get to the point of your jokes. That really helped me a lot. I was already hitting open mics before I went to Dean's class. I wasn't doing shows but I was on stages and hitting mics. Dean helped me with my writing and I came out of it a whole other comedian."

The material that won O'Neal the award features a mix of personal experiences and clever observations that explore relationships without completely drifting out of the realm of reality.

"I kind of naturally wrote like that," O'Neal says. "[Dean Lewis] always said don't write stuff you think is funny. Write stuff you feel people will relate to and that you have emotion about and is real to you. People just want to connect with you."

O'Neal says now that he's honed down a solid set for himself, the next step is finding ways to expand his arsenal of material. He's already getting chances to experiment with new material and longer sets on stages like his first headlining show at a club called Bodega's in Amarillo on Dec. 17.

"Lately, I've just been reciting and I want to get out of that," O'Neal says. "I want to get back to physically sitting down and writing it, but with the set I've got now, it's pretty much a muscle memory. I may add a new tag or act out in there or a new segue but other than that, it is what it is."

The prospect of a new challenge feels exciting and daunting at the same time, he says.

"I can't get lazy, man," O'Neal says. "I need to challenge myself with my writing. I don't want to get content, I guess. I pretty much know these jokes are funny but I need to get to the point where I have a whole hour and a whole other hour that's squeaky clean because I don't want to miss out on any opportunities."
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.

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