The Velveeta Room: Vive la Difference de le Fromage!

Nearly three dozen comics are flocking to Sixth Street to pay tribute to Austin's other comedy club

A batch of cheesed-off comics. Clockwise from bottom: Nancy Reed, Howard Beecher, Brendan Walsh, J.R. Brow, John O'Connell, Kerry Awn, Mario DiGiorgio, and Matt Bearden
A batch of cheesed-off comics. Clockwise from bottom: Nancy Reed, Howard Beecher, Brendan Walsh, J.R. Brow, John O'Connell, Kerry Awn, Mario DiGiorgio, and Matt Bearden

For 20 years now, the Velveeta Room has been Austin's other comedy club.

That's not just because it opened a couple of years after the Laff Stop (now Cap City Comedy Club). It was that the club that came first was bigger, brighter, better-appointed, and, most importantly, featured comics you could see on cable. Its polish and prestige drew crowds, which meant laughs in the showroom were loud and long. The Velveeta, on the other hand, was tiny, dim, and, in its original home at least, not a little seedy – likely a byproduct of it replacing a topless bar in that spot. Its comics were mostly locals or out-of-town jokers yet to break through to the tube. All that added up to a club that was not an audience magnet – even in the heart of Sixth Street, people stayed away in droves – which meant the laughs were sparse and hard to get. The V-Room was alternative in every sense.

But that didn't stop comics from loving the Velveeta. They loved everything about it: the space, the scuzz, the challenge of working a tough room. The Cheese Palace was a club where you earned your stripes; if you got a laugh, it was because you'd worked your ass off for it. And since the stand-ups who played there had so little to lose, they felt free to experiment, to try material that they might never try in a more mainstream club: jokes that were smarter, stranger, more political, more blue. That made a comic's set at the V-Room much more daring and cool to see, especially for other comics. It became a special thing for stand-ups to gather and watch one another there, and they bonded in the process. The Velveeta was, and in many ways still is, a comics' comedy club, and it has played a major role in the development of both individual comics and Austin's comedy scene.

Which is why nearly three dozen stand-ups are flocking back to the Velveeta this weekend for the club's 20th anniversary. They want to pay tribute to Austin's other comedy club and the difference that it's made in their lives and careers. On hand will be several comics from the Velveeta's early years – Johnny Hardwick, Joey Waldon, Christi Evans, Brian Malow, Vanessa Kaufman, Dee Lewellen – as well as many of the scene's current stars, such as Jimmie Roulette and Matt Sadler. And 10 winners of the Funniest Person in Austin contest will jostle for laughs, including winner No. 1 from 1986, Kerry Awn, whose alter ego, the sleazy stand-up legend known as Ronnie Velveeta, gave the club its name. Ronnie, in fact, will launch the party by hosting the Thursday night open mic, with 20 headliners doing five minutes each. Friday, June 13, look for one humongous show with just about everybody. Saturday, June 14, you have your choice of 8 & 10pm shows. The joke is: All these celebratory performances won't even be at the V-Room. The Follies next door are taking the weekend off, so the comics will be taking over Esther's Pool, 525 E. Sixth. For more information, call 469-9116 or visit www.thevelveetaroom.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Velveeta Room, Kerry Awn, Esther's Follies, Johnny Hardwick, Joey Waldon

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