- Adam Humphrey Special to American-Statesman
Austin may always be first known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and as a tech hub, but its comedy scene has grown by leaps and bounds since the turn of the century. What started as a scene with a handful of venues has transformed into a city full of aspiring comedians, improv troupes and open mics. There are several notable venues around the city. Some have been around for decades while others are only a few years old. Regardless, new talent and established acts take the stage each day to entertain.
Whether you’re looking for laughs, trying to break into the scene or just want to get through defensive driving, here are some good places to start:
Capitol City Comedy Club
Cap City has been a hallmark of Austin’s comedy scene since its doors opened in 1986. Located in North Austin, the venue brings well-known stand-up acts to its stage from the local scene, as well as nationally touring comedians. Headlining comedians perform Wednesday through Saturday, with shows starting at 8 p.m. (and an additional 10:30 p.m. show on Fridays and Saturdays).
Headlining acts aren’t the only thing Cap City is known for, though. PUNCH! comedy shows take the side stage every Tuesday with entertaining lineups and a variety of formats. Of course the venue also has an open mic night every Sunday for aspiring comedians looking for an audience or Austinites looking to end their weekend with a laugh. Cap City also hosts the Funniest Person in Austin contest, an annual competition that challenges hundreds of locals to show off their best routines.
Esther’s Follies shows combine topical humor, sketch comedy, magic performances and musical numbers into an entertaining hour-and-a-half show. Founders Michael Shelton and Shannon Sedwick have crafted the show for more than 40 seasons, incorporating talented Austin actors and performers for decades. Each week features a fresh “Saturday Night Live”-style show which pokes fun at both sides of the political spectrum. A typical week at Esther’s Follies has five showings, one on Thursday starting at 8 p.m., and two on both Friday and Saturday (first show at 8 p.m., second at 10 p.m.).
The Velveeta Room
In 1988, the owners of Esther’s Follies began renting the place next door, a recently closed gentleman’s club. After some alterations, the venue opened as The Velveeta Room (commonly referred to as The Velv), named after a character played by Kerry Awn (an Esther’s Follies regular for 30 years and the first Funniest Person in Austin winner).
Thursdays are open mic night at The Velv, featuring a 9 p.m. start time and a “drink like a comic” happy hour from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. to get the audience warmed up. Scheduled acts take the stage once on Fridays and twice on Saturdays (first shot at 9 p.m., second at 11 p.m.). A special late night show takes the stage Friday nights at the 11 p.m. time slot.
The Hideout Theatre
The Hideout Theatre has two stages and a variety of improv shows to choose from. Bring the kids to the Sunday afternoon Flying Theater Machine or go see Off Script after they’ve been put to bed Saturday night. Shows are generally PG-13 (except for the kids show), but there’s always wiggle room in improv.
Attendees can bring food and drink from the Hideout Coffee House (Austin’s oldest independent downtown coffee house) up to the theatre to enjoy during a show. Thursday through Sunday, the Hideout typically puts on two shows, the first starting at 8 p.m. and the second starting at 10 p.m. You can catch the award-winning Hideout in-house troupe, Parallelogramophonograph, at the late Friday night show.
ColdTowne Theater opened in 2006, just more than a year after Hurricane Katrina forced Michael Jastroch, Arthur Simone and Justin York to evacuate New Orleans. In the ten years since, the theater has grown to host a gamut of comedy shows and now puts on a show every night of the week. That being said, improv shows make up the majority of ColdTowne’s calendar, with an improv show happening almost every day.
The theater is located next to I Luv Video on Airport Boulevard. Each month, several unique feature shows take place at ColdTowne in addition to the constant signature shows. With such a packed schedule, there’s bound to be something that will hit your funny bone.
The New Movement
Another comedy connection between New Orleans and Austin, The New Movement came to town in 2009 and has since spread its style of improv around Austin and the nation. There are shows on stage every day of the week, as well as several comedy festivals which draw on local and national talent pools.
Improv is the New Movement’s bread and butter, but it also hosts stand-up and sketch shows from time to time. Showtimes vary, and some shows are even BYOB (just check the event description before you bring some).
What started as a Saturday improv class at Esther’s Follies has turned into a South Austin theater that hosts a variety of shows and classes throughout the week. Shows at the Institution include Church of the Century Kid (a time traveling improv show), Clique Bait (an after-hours stand-up showcase) and many more.
The 10 p.m. time slot on Saturdays features a rotating assortment of comedy shows, and a sketch show runs on Fridays and Saturdays. The institution caps the weekend off with Sunday improv shows.