Every Wednesday night at the Graff Chevrolet Ultra Lounge in Grand Prairie, Vince Vance and his crew host a Komic Kontest, searching for the funniest of the funny in Texas. Comedians get on stage and compete to win $50 and the opening spot for the next week's show. The Lounge, part of the newly remodeled Uptown Theater, sits on Main Street amid store fronts and restaurants. Not exactly what you think of when you think comedy, but it is what it is.
Vance, a veteran performer with bright orange hair shellacked into a carrot point, greets me at the door before the most recent show, wearing what can only be described as his best pimp Santa attire -- a bright red button-up is tucked into red and green plaid pants, adorned with a sparkly green belt and matching bow tie. A shiny red and green vest hangs to his knees and he sports bright red loafers.
With four gold rings on one hand and two silver rings on the other, he guides me in to the Ultra Lounge. I can tell right off the bat that he's from New Orleans -- he sounds just like my crazy uncle -- and I know I'm in for an interesting night. (And also a dutiful one: I ended up helping judge the contest.)
I'm there early, so I get to see the comedians trickle in. Most of them look younger than me, maybe mid 20s, and a little nervous. "We have some of the finest comics in Texas, but we try to give the new people a chance," Vance says. As I soon learn, when he says new, he means it.
Closer to show time, the crowd starts to show up. I start to notice a pattern. The audience looks like a mix between Bingo night and an 8 p.m. dinner at Applebee's. Seniors and 40-somethings who are almost all regulars. Vance knows them by name and makes his rounds ribbing them. It's like old friends getting together. They all welcome me and want to know who I am. It's definitely ... different from any comedy club I've been to. But I go with it.
Eight o'clock hits: show time. The house lights strangely stay on, and Vance hops on stage to introduce the talent. And as each comic takes the mic, I start to notice what will become the theme of the night: the raunchy, alternative, beginner performers versus the middle-aged women with hair a la Hillary Clinton circa 1995 and men in shorts and loafers.
A young female comedian, Alison Egert, gets on stage and riffs about being a "stealth queer" and smoking too much weed. I guffaw into my notepad a few times only to look up at the bored face of a middle-aged woman in the audience. It's tough for Alison; her act tonight centers around being a lesbian and getting high.
Another female comic, Angi Ullrich, takes the stage late in the night. And Angi is dirty. The good kind. She's gorgeous, has a good command of the stage and pretty good timing, but her material is lost on the crowd, and she's not quite experienced enough to bring them to her side. She talks about her two young daughters and how, frankly, one of them is just a flat-out bitch. It works for Louis CK, right? No reaction.
Vance is trying to give these young comedians a chance they might not get elsewhere. But the comedians, with comedy that's more raw, more depressing, more pissed off, just aren't experienced enough to bring a crowd back into their graces. Vance has been around, so he laughs at what's going on on stage. But his audience hasn't been around the comedy circuit like he has. They're an older Texas crowd looking to have some fun and laughs on a Wednesday night in Grand Prairie.
I go back and forth on what the problem is -- are the comedians just really new and not polished yet? Yes. But is this the best crowd and venue for them? No. It's a combination of both. For performers this green, they might need a more receptive audience.
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In the end, there are two comedians who were able to cross the barrier and get the audience on their side. I also thought they were two of the funniest.
Sheridi Lester is a young, short female comic with the voice of a chipmunk that is completely misleading. Sheridi bounces back and forth from being the child of a couple of 16-year-olds and her anger problems (she's either normal or really pissed off -- there's no in between). Her voice and her timing are on spot, and she just takes control of the stage.
Vince Quick, who's been a comedian for over seven years now, is also pretty great. He riffs on everything from the comfort of women's panties to the annoying assholes who wish you a blessed day. Vince ended up winning that night, the second time he's won the Wednesday night show (comics can't win two weeks in a row but can win more than once).
Vance certainly has his heart in the right place, but for now there's an bridgeable gap between controversial subject matter and his conservative crowd. Something's gotta give.