According to my not-very-scientific poll, when you bring up Paris, Texas, everyone thinks of the movie where a disheveled Harry Dean Stanton stumbles out of the desert with no idea who he is. The actual Paris, Texas, is very clear on its identity. According to ample amounts of civic pride, they are the place with the little Eiffel Tower wearing a red cowboy hat. But let me break it to you, Paris: you are so much more than that.
First of all, there are some incredible structures: giant houses and crowning architectural achievements. The problem is that many of them are empty. The rumor is that the town is emerging from an economic funk. The truth is they don’t have any trouble having a laugh about it. Or among it. Not without the help of the likes of standup comic legend Gallagher, that is. He has since died, but the pumpkin pie he splattered above a local stage is still there. His comic torch (microphone) is now passed to the contemporary touring talent that visits the town. Late-night TV mainstays like Todd Glass and Jimmy Pardo came by this year, and it’s all because of another comic: Daryl Felsberg and his family make it happen with the Tower City Comedy Festival. In its fifth year, the festival started as a regular comedy night that became too big for the room.
In a little worn-down space behind the now-defunct Grand Theater, comedians from all over the country deliver their darlings. Jokes, bits, rants and off-the-cuff crowd work
are a reminder that big things can happen in a small town. Granted, not every punchline is going to hit, but it’s the bigger notion that a regular and growing festival phenom can get traction in a place that itself is trying to crawl out of a bust.
I went down to the Lone Star State and joined the dozens of comedians establishing themselves, trying new material or just getting their legs on the stage. They all seemed to relish what the Tower City Comedy Festival had to offer. The free food was a hit but, for most comics, just a few minutes of stage time is worth the trip.