There are funny people everywhere -- yes, even in the suburbs -- and one North Texas city is about to get a whole lot funnier. The local chapter of ComedySportz, a national coalition of improvisational comedy troupes, will post up permanently in a brand new performing arts space near the downtown McKinney square this spring.
It's a long time coming.
ComedySportz Dallas originally operated in Dallas' West End Marketplace, in a space that was also once known as West End Comedy Theatre, but as that neighborhood began to decline as a nightlife destination, its former owner decided to throw in the towel. There was nothing funny the day he told his regular performers to clear out any personal items they had stashed in the venue because they would soon be locked out. Actually, there was something kind of funny.
Several of the performers headed to a bar to grab drinks, drown sorrows and determine what to do next, and someone suggested they just keep on keeping on, venue or no venue. When it came to names, it seemed obvious: Locked Out Comedy.
Over the next decade, Locked Out stuck to it with regular performances at The Improv in Addison and at Life Central Church in Plano. But, this year, the troupe will have a new lease on life. Actually, make that a new "deed." The formerly homeless group is finishing out a venue at 305 E. Virginia St. near McKinney's growing-and-buzzing restaurants, shops and performing arts district.
"The check has been cut, construction has begun and every day, we're like, 'Is the space ready? Is the space ready?'" says managing director Von Daniel.
Daniel was one of the original members who practiced as "ComedySportz Dallas" in the West End before the troupe became Locked Out. They continued honing their skills with a similar type of competitive, fast-paced improvisational comedy. As of November, the group has reclaimed its former moniker.
Think of ComedySportz sort of like a franchise, with individuals or groups across the country operating under a central brand. Initially, obtaining the license to use the name was too cost prohibitive for the start-up group, but Daniel believed the time would come to turn Locked Out into a "true and viable company."
"In doing so, we could leverage relationships with all of the other ComedySportz businesses, learn about best practices and what tools we could tap into," he says.
Founded in Milwaukee in 1984, there are about two dozen ComedySportz Worldwide chapters across the U.S. and in the United Kingdom. There's an annual conference where managers can share ideas and "plug into a huger network," Daniel explains.
So, how does "sportz" fit into the equation? Class clowns and jocks aren't exactly known for getting along...
It's a nod to the troupe's particular style of improv, which is battled out in "arenas." There are teams, points, fouls, a referee and winners, which the audience chooses. Tickets will cost about $10-20 for all ages, depending on the type of show, and there will be concessions, similar to a sporting event. Daniel says the group is considering working with local restaurants and bars for a possible B.Y.O.B. option, but that hasn't been ironed out entirely, and avoiding a "beered up" comedy club stereotype is a focus.
For example, during game play, fouls are called for crass or explicit language, extremely bad puns or at the ref's discretion to keep the match moving. Wait, does that include penalties for profanity? Yup: ComedySportz Dallas takes seriously its mission to provide a family friendly atmosphere.
Coming up with fresh, new, always changing material that doesn't rely on blue language or overtly suggestive tropes is part of the artistry; it takes a higher level of imagination and wit, the Dallas chapter's blog maintains.
Speaking of wit: Think you've got what it takes?
Maybe you were voted funniest 10th grader at your school or have just harbored a lifelong desire to lob zingers from the stage. Well, here's your chance.
Comedy is something that can be taught -- well, at least the basics -- and developed, and ComedySportz Dallas will do just that by offering classes for everyone from kids to business professionals who are looking for a little help with public speaking (or who daydream about finally axing that 9 to 5 for the stage).
It's just one function the new space will offer. In addition to weekly house performances, the venue will also play host to open mics, traveling (or venue-less) comedy troupes, stand-up and even poetry readings or other forms of performing arts.
"We're open minded to what we'll see on our stage," Daniel says.
He's excited, he says, because Downtown McKinney seems to be fostering a community appreciative of new arts and entertainment options. The new "arena" -- which Daniel estimates will seat about 50-70 patrons at full capacity -- will be located just blocks from other burgeoning nightlife spots, including the McKinney Performing Arts Center, which Daniel says dictates to the group that there's a need and desire for something new and fun.
But, North Texas isn't exactly known as a bastion to comedic arts. Is D-FW really into it?
Daniel says that stereotype has always been a challenge outside of "big comedy" cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but the fact that more spots are popping up indicates to him a growing awareness that live comedy is available to audiences everywhere, and not just when Jerry Seinfeld or Dave Chappelle happens to roll through town on a whirlwind (and often expensive) tour stop.
"People are funny everywhere," he says. "I don't know if we'll ever be a Chicago, but I think in the grand scheme of things, we'll be able to hold our own."
How can you help make it a reality?
It's 2017, everybody has an online donation platform. ComedySportz Dallas is no different, and you can put your mark -- in some cases literally -- on live entertainment in North Texas. Purchase a knock-knock joke ($2), get an autographed poster ($25) or have your name etched on a venue brick ($100) or chair ($200).
You can even have the ComedySportz Dallas troupe come live with you and provide endless laughs for every day of your natural life for the low, low price of $2 billion.
OK, they're not holding their breath on that one. ComedySportz Dallas will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at its new venue in McKinney at 4:30 p.m. on April 27. It will open to the public on April 28.
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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the address as W. Virginia St. instead of E. Virginia St. in McKinney. Go East, young man. We regret the error.