After 30 years, Awn is off
This year, Kerry Awn has been able to enjoy something that's been out of reach for 30 years: weekend nights at home. That's because Austin's beloved triple threat – master of art, comedy, and music – has finally given up his three-decade standing gig as a regular with Esther's Follies. Yes, the man who left thousands dizzy with laughter with his South Austin Slide Show, Buck Husky routines ("Dammit, I'm mad"), and side-splitting impersonations of Gov. Goodhair and his goober-natorial predecessor-gone-president, Shrub, has climbed out of the Pool at East Sixth and Red River and hung up his trunks.
Awn's departure two months ago didn't really surprise Follies co-founder and leading lady Shannon Sedwick, who expected the comedian to have retired long ago. But considering that his tenure stretches back to the days when Ronald Reagan first moved into the White House, the Follies without Awn is tough to imagine. "He was kind of the personification of old Austin: rough but accessible," Sedwick says. "He was his own person. He wasn't putting on airs. He was just Mr. Everyday Guy." And because his stage work was so rooted in Awn's own down-to-earth sensibility, she adds, "he was always in touch with the truth of the comedy. He always hit the core of it."
Now it isn't as if Awn has given up all his creative pursuits to live, as he says, "the good life out here in Spicewood on my ranch growing cactus and rocks." He says he works twice as much as before, and you can see it in his schedule, what with the Uranium Savages' Valentine's Ball at Poodie's in February and the band's Spring Wing Ding last weekend, being the featured artist last month at Fredericksburg Art and More, whipping up a new logo for the Cap City Comedy Club, and painting a new mural for the South Austin Popular Culture Center that celebrates icons of Austin comics – the underground and four-color kind – including the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Fat Freddy's Cat, Wonder Wart-Hog, Too Much Coffee Man, Eye Beam, Oat Willie, Opus, Hank Hill, and God Nose. The weekend of the Republic of Texas Biker Rally in June, he'll bring back the Velveeta Pack – a team of local all-star stand-ups – and he's even left the door open to return to the Follies on occasion.
Still, not having Awn on every week leaves some mighty big boots to fill at the Follies. Sedwick knows that she won't find a perfect fit for them – there's only one Kerry Awn, after all – but she'd love to find a comic actor who is as comfortable onstage as Awn is and shares his sense of honesty. To that end, she's been scouting local stages for seasoned comedic talent that might be ripe for a dip in Esther's Pool. And Awn-abees aren't all Sedwick is on the hunt for: She's in the market for a replacement for Natalie Holmes, who's leaving to join a band, and for new writers – preferably those who can craft classic comic material as well as the topical stuff. If you need a clue as to what that means, go hunt down some DVDs of Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. It was a major inspiration for Esther's, which you can see in such evergreen material as the Seussian "Sam I Am," the magic routines of Ray Anderson, and, yes, the comedy of Kerry Awn.