Matt Lyle knows a thing or two about straddling worlds. The 38-year-old, Dallas-based playwright and dad got his chops doing theater in high school and college but realized early on that performing comedy was also in his bones, and he just couldn't live without it.
This month, he's merging those two worlds with his play A Brief, Endless Love, which is running at Dallas' top comedy venue, Dallas Comedy House.
Lyle grew up secretly watching Johnny Carson through a crack in the door after his parents sent him to bed. Charlie Chaplin and Steve Martin were his favorites as a young kid, but the 1980s Canadian sketch comedy show Kids in the Hall inspired him to become a performer.
Lyle moved to Chicago in 2008 with his wife, fellow comedian and actor Kim Lyle. There, through the city’s famous Second City training program, he honed his writing and started a sketch comedy group called City Life Supplement. One of its members was Allison Tolman, a founding member of Dallas’ Second Thought Theater, who was nominated for an Emmy for her role on the FX series Fargo.
“Chicago created improvisation as entertainment. It has that history built into its tourist trade," Lyle says. "That draws the best people from all over the world.”
Dallas is a different world, in many ways. It's rich with talented actors but isn't a destination for comedy in the way Chicago is. Lyle wanted to capitalize on that.
“Some of the best actors in Dallas are really super funny," he says. "There’s nothing saying we can’t get a group of writers together to write for a team of performers.”
Lyle has found that niche with A Brief, Endless Love at DCH. Lyle calls the play a “sketch comedy revue,” and it stars some of Dallas’ funniest actors, including actor/puppeteer Steph Garrett; writer/director/actor Jeff Swearingen; Kim Lyle; and actor/real estate agent Jeremy Whitaker, who is also a longtime friend and collaborator of the playwright.
DCH's storefront venue in Deep Ellum satisfies Lyle's nostalgia for Chicago.
"[It's an] honest-to-God walking neighborhood in a city seriously shy of both of those things," he says.
Lyle hopes this production will be a bridge between the Dallas comedy and theater worlds and sees great potential for working and writing at DCH. Many of Dallas’ writers and actors don’t know DCH is a viable option for them.
Amanda Austin, who is also artistic director, founded DCH in 2009. Austin has been a faithful advocate for new work. Lyle reached out to her when DCH moved to its current location. He now teaches acting classes there — something the comedy house previously had not offered.
“Merging the theater scene with the comedy scene in Dallas only makes everyone stronger, on- and offstage. I'm excited to see what kind of projects unfold as a result of these newfound collaborations," Austin says. "I hope it also opens the doors for other actors in the Dallas area to see DCH as a place to write, perform and direct comedy."
In a city lacking in safe, usable venues for theater work, Lyle also sees the collaboration as a way for writers in Dallas to develop new work without getting kicked out of spots that aren’t ideal.
“I foresee it as a place that all of the writers, directors and actors in town who skew towards comedy could eventually call home," Lyle says. "They want the talent at their great place, and they pay artists.”
A Brief, Endless Love is about Lyle's experience of being a father and husband. He and his wife have been married for 14 years and have a 3-year-old daughter. The play “explores the indescribable joy, pain and fear of loving and being loved,” something he’s been ruminating on for years, he says.
Lyle describes his writing style as bringing humanity to funny situations. It's a way to connect the dots, to find common ground and to unite in unlikely scenarios.
A Brief, Endless Love, 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through June 24, Dallas Comedy House, 3025 Main St., $18-$23, dallascomedyhouse.com.