The shelter-in-place order that started in March pretty much brought Dallas' comedy community to a standstill. If there's no audience, there's no show, right?
Comics and comedy groups have really had to step up their MacGyver-like resourcefulness to set up virtual shows during the pandemic. The results are some truly funny and unique concepts that have found their way to social media and online video channels, including some that go beyond the basics of stand-up and sketch.
Here's a taste of what they've produced while stuck at home.
1. Ross Day's Quarantine Chat
Usually, if you catch Ross Day on a comedy club or open mic stage, he'll be dressed to the nines in his best suit while cranking out a rude tune or two on his signature washboard. Since he's been stuck at home with no dress code, he's been donning something a little more casual and clutching a lot more drinks.
The nightly Quarantine Chat on Day's Facebook page is hosted by an unnamed Southern night swinger who sounds like a cross between the hype man in a jazz quartet and the average Parrothead at a Jimmy Buffet concert — who also dresses like he only shops from a Spencer's Gifts discount bin. He always intros his show with a theme song he sings himself, greeting us with a highball glass filled with "Wocka Wocka juice" while wearing a tiger striped shirt that's never buttoned.
He's that guy at the bar who's always there when you show up, because he probably lives there. He greets all the "night owls, midnight riders, howlers, growlers and ever growing number of prowlers" at home and opines on the good things in life before breaking out into another drink-soaked, soft rock ditty.
"When I put on the shirt and the sunglasses, I just start channeling a hip, cool, with-it guy who likes to drink, and party, and likes everyone around him to have a good time," Day says. "If you've ever seen It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, it's like Dick Shawn's character [Sylvester] had been born in Louisiana."
2. The Adventures of Skeletor and Beast Boy
Like a lot of parents these days, Chris Dodgen has been stuck in the house with his 5-year-old son. Trying to keep kids entertained without just pumping them full of sugar and letting them run in circles can be a huge challenge.
The Denton comic, and self described "maker of things" behind Snooze Bar Studios, has teamed up with his son to create a virtual, two-man improv team of sorts with the web series The Adventures of Skeletor and Beast Boy.
The two provide a new voice-over track for the animated scenes between Skeletor and Beast from the '80s cartoon classic He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
"I initially was writing an 11-minute [Adult Swim] type show that I wanted to produce the same way with old He-Man clips, but when you’re a dad, time can be short," Dodgen says. "In an attempt to make a proof of concept, I just threw my son in the booth and recorded him. And the result of a small Beast Boy was pretty funny looking."
Dodgen plays the evil, nasal voice Skeletor who's constantly frustrated by the playful niggling of his kid's interpretation of the fallen royal's dumb but loyal henchman. Dodgen's impression is spot on — especially for a voice that's been repeatedly impersonated by men in their late 30s as often as William Shatner and Christopher Walken — and his kid has a comic sensibility that most adult comics wish they could fake. He's only produced two episodes so far, but he says more are on the way.
"Then coronavirus happened and that meant two things: I had fewer excuses not to do it, since time is in abundance, and my Facebook feed is filled with negativity," Dodgen says. "The news basically sucks every day and people need to laugh more than ever. Through the production of episode two, I’ve shaved some time off the process, which is making it easier. I’m working on the next episode and hopefully, I’ll continue it."
3. Socially Distanced Comedy
Now that comedians are being forced to stay off stages, the competitive edge that turns them into anti-social misfits with trust issues has almost been eroded away. Their survival instincts have forced them to unite in order to create shows, leading to new comedy groups and partnerships across the Internet.
The Socially Distanced Comedy troupe came together after local improv and sketch comedian Richie Lunsford put out the call for comedy video ideas in local comedian groups on Facebook. The call attracted a large number of pitches and interested parties, burgeoning into a regular series featuring other local comedy minds like Blaine Toole and Michael Gibson Jr.
"This next show I haven't had anything to do with, and that is by design," Lunsford says. "I really love the idea of decentralized comedy and if I have to have any leadership role it has more to do with empowerment than being in charge. I helped organize, but it was really the actors and writers who did the work."
Just like the show's titles, the comedy troupe's writers and performers aren't interested in taking people's minds off what's going on. They embrace and find comedy in the pandemic times and remind us that we're far from normal. Each show features sketches that dive head first into the new, unfamiliar world — like a couple who has to deliver their baby via Zoom, a revisioned view of history in which Joe Exotic becomes president instead of the equally bewildering choice of Donald Trump, and a news parody that digs deeper than the usual news joke formula of setups and punchlines.
4. Universal Remote
Just like comedy shows and open mics, trivia nights at your favorite pub have also been on indefinite hold. That's why emcee and founder of the Who Needs Sleep telethon Devin Pike has taken one of his innovative comedy creations and put it on the web with an interactive spin, so everyone watching can participate and enjoy.
Universal Remote is the spiritual game show successor to the style and trivia of MTV's Remote Control, that Pike first staged and hosted at fan conventions by plucking contestants from the crowds.
"I had been mulling over a way to fire up a show on Twitch or YouTube for a while, especially with the large gap in quality on a lot of the streaming entertainers," Pike says. "So, when it was evident that we were in the 'Big Pause' for a while, I kicked the tires on taking Universal Remote and adapted it to live online play."
Pike crafts sets of hilarious pop culture trivia about movies, television, comics and everything in between through categories presented as channels, like fictional sports with "ESPN 8: The Ocho"; superheroes and supervillains with "Superhero Tinder"; and "Supervillain Tinder" and "Party at Ground Zero," in which players must guess a movie from its famous fart scenes. Everyone who watches on YouTube can play along by being the one of the first three contestants to type the correct answer in the chat window.
The comedian also invites unique characters and special guests on the show to present their own challenges, like Adventures in Babysitting and Toy Soldiers star Keith Coogan, who read a list of questions for "The Child Stars Not Named Keith Coogan" channel and crafted special episodes, like his recent "Star Wars Quarantine Holiday Special" for May the 4th.
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5. Comedy for the Internet
Dallas Comedy House regulars Danny Neely and Roger Ricardo haven't been able to get on stage at the Deep Ellum Comedy Club for a good part of the last couple of years. The sketch and improv theater found itself in the middle of a nasty fight with a neighboring restaurateur who wanted to squeeze them out of their lease, leading them to move to a new location.
The duo shot sketches and shows in their spare time last fall; these became their Comedy for the Internet venture with two shorts, so far, including an anthropomorphic mutation of COVID-19 themed advertising emails and a social media expert called "The Social Distinfluencer."
"Quarantine gave us the time to actually edit the projects we’ve had in the can, and we figured everyone would be looking for something to watch," Neely says. "Our goal is to create a content channel where we can showcase everything the Dallas comedy scene has to offer in a digital space. There is so much talent here. We want everyone to know about it."