North Texas Daily

The funny side of Denton

The funny side of Denton

The funny side of Denton
February 24
23:21 2014

Obed Manuel // Senior Staff Writer

Matthew Solomon knows that at midnight, the workers at 7-11 are instructed to toss old roller taquitos and pastries in black plastics bags, to be thrown in the dumpster. He also knows if you get there before all the other starving artists, with a little persuasion (and a baseball bat), you can get the bag before it goes in the dumpster.

Solomon, a 2012 UNT graduate and local comedian, shares these bits of street smarts with a smile on his face, both in casual conversation and as part of his sets, when he walks on a stage to make an audience laugh. He finishes the bit with a remark that carries universal sentiment: “You gotta eat.”

“That resonated with people. Doing that joke and attacking that social problem in front of a majority white crowd in Denton, it resonated with a lot of people,” Solomon said. “But when I did it at the Arlington Improv in front of a black crowd, they stood up.”

Solomon is a member of the Denton Comedy Collective, one of two amateur comedy groups in the city that puts on showcases at local bars, restaurants and cafes. Both groups face the challenge of organizing shows in a city where they make up most of the comedy scene.

The DCC formed in July 2012 after Solomon and two other local comedians broke off from a previous iteration of the group. Since then, the 11-member collective has organized showcases at Andy’s, Hailey’s, J&J’s Pizza, Banter Bistro, Cool Beans and Riprocks.

Alex Smelser, another member of the DCC and former UNT student, said he is often the first of the group to perform at showcases. Taking a “cold stage,” Smelser said, is not the easiest thing, but he has picked up a knack for getting the crowd going.

“It’s like taking a cold shower or breaking up with somebody. You just do it,” Smelser said. “You have to believe in yourself and then you just flip the switch and you go do it.”

Icky Antics

Ashley Helmer, a 2009 UNT graduate, got the idea to organize a comedy group after Dallas Comedy House opened a comedy school in Denton this past October. She took the idea back to her roommates Emma Galdo and Christina Ulsh, and the trio set out to round up friends who would be willing to get on stage.

“We thought people would be a little apprehensive, but everybody was like, ‘Yes, I would love to do this,’” Helmer said. “There was no persuading anybody.”

The first show Icky Antics organized was done in the three roommates’ shared backyard. Since then, the group organized another backyard show and two shows at the Last Drop Tavern, a pizza place on Elm Street

Communications senior Travis Richardson said he has performed three times for the group. Before being invited by the Icky Antics organizers, Richardson had never performed stand-up comedy, but he performed live music and oral interpretations.

“I’ve been used to being on stage, but comedy is way different,” Richardson said “The first time I got up there, all I could think was “I hope I’m relating to the audience.”

The Jokes

Solomon said that while he has strong opinions on political and social issues, he has had to change up his style to go easier on his audience.

“I used to go really heavy and be really direct on socioeconomic issues, but I learned really quickly that it’s not funny because no one wants to be lectured,” Solomon said. “People want to laugh, so tell jokes. Be funny. Be clever.”

Solomon said he now focuses on his own experiences that may be similar to those college students or recent graduates can understand, like being able to make ends meet on a very limited budget and failed romances.

Smelser said that because his material focuses on his own unusual experiences, like being a nude model for UNT’s art department, he feels that enables him to deliver a perspective many audiences are probably not familiar with.

“I kind of get a thrill of letting people know they’re not like me,” Smelser said. “I do get a kick out of departing myself from the audience like that.”

Richardson said that because he is fairly new to comedy, he has not developed a specific set of issues he focuses on. He said he enjoys telling jokes that the audience can easily relate to.

“I always tell observational stuff,” Richardson said. “I like to throw in things that I find funny about TV shows, like reality TV shows that are obviously not reality.”

The Challenges

Smelser said the biggest challenge DCC has faced is performing in venues that are not designed to bring the audience’s attention to an on-stage comedian.

“At a bar or coffee shop, the audience is not there to see comedy, so it’s challenging,” Smelser said. “The owner is not in the business of booking comedians.”

For Richardson, the Icky Antics performer, the last set he had was at the Last Drop Tavern on Feb. 15. Richardson said it wasn’t the most pleasant experience, as the attending audience was more interested in its own conversations than his routine. But he said the experience hasn’t put him off from performing again.

“At the first two shows, people were actually laughing. I thought ‘People actually want to listen to what I have to say,’” Richardson said. “As much as it’s only comedy, it still feels like an artistic expression.”

The Show Must Go On

Helmer said Icky Antics will likely organize another show within the next two months but will most likely return to staging them in the backyard to avoid loud crowds.

“Since a bar is a social place, it kind of changes the game in that there are a lot of people talking,” Helmer said. “If you go to somebody’s house, you go there for a purpose and your purpose is to see comedy.”

The DCC has a show that is booked at Rubber Gloves on Apr. 26 and a yet-to-be-scheduled show at Hailey’s in April.

Solomon said his main concern is performing, even if it’s just for a one or two-person crowd.

“I’m funny, and I know I’m funny. And I also know there are a lot of funny people here,” Solomon said. “I love that I can share a part of myself and have this catharsis that’s really more so for me, not the audience.”

Christina Ulsh is the Design Editor for the North Texas Daily.

Feature photo: Student assistant for the UNT survey research center Matthew Solomon performs at Banter Bistro Nov. 22. Photo courtesy of Matthew Solomon

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