A Guide to Austin Stand-Up: Venues
Where to find the funny in town
By Robert Faires, Wayne Alan Brenner, and Sean L. Malin, Fri., March 31, 2017
Cap City Comedy Club8120 Research, www.capcitycomedy.com
If any Austin spot deserves the title "Comedy Central," it's this 400-seat club on Research, which has been serving stand-up since before Punchline was a new release. As the Laff Stop (its original incarnation), it hosted such rising stars as Ellen DeGeneres, Sam Kinison, Ron White, and a kid named Bill Hicks, who so loved the club he recorded many CDs and videos here. With new owners in the Nineties – including veteran manager Margie Coyle and ace talent bookers Rich Miller and Colleen McGarr – came the new name and connections across North America, bringing more top national talent to Austin and propelling top local talent to NYC, L.A., and Montreal. Enjoy headliners every Wed.-Sat., hit weekly showcase PUNCH most Tuesdays, and the Funniest Person in Austin contest, now in its 32nd year, every April/May. – R.F.
The Velveeta Room521 E. Sixth. www.thevelveetaroom.com
The venerable Velv, as it's known to habitués, started in 1988 as a stand-up offshoot of sketch/variety emporium Esther's Follies. Named after comic Kerry Awn's shecky alter ego Ronnie Velveeta, the club debuted in what had been Sixth Street's last strip joint (the Embassy Room) but now lives next door to Esther's, where it's been a sometimes thriving, sometimes struggling bastion of stand-up that's treasured by comics across the land as a tough room (on a recent trip to town, Louis C.K. tested new material here). Under the management of comedian Mario DiGiorgio, the Velv is enjoying a 21st century renaissance with hot local and touring acts setting the place on comedy fire. – W.A.B.
Paramount Theatre713 Congress, www.austintheatre.org
The grande dame of Austin theatres has seen some 10,000 artists grace its stage over the last century (among them Harry Houdini in 1916), and it stays in touch with its vaudeville roots with regular bookings of stand-up artists. The palatial decor and surprising intimacy of the 1,300-seat venue has made it a favored spot for comedians to record concerts for cable and DVDs (Jim Gaffigan, Demetri Martin, Ralphie May, Nick Swardson, Patton Oswalt, and David Cross, to name a few). It's also headquarters for the annual Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival, which in just a few years has played host to the likes of Aziz Ansari, Martin Short, Wanda Sykes, Janeane Garofalo, and Steven Wright.
ColdTowne Theater4803 Airport. www.coldtownetheater.com
This endearingly tiny, BYOB space on the Airport Boulevard corridor between I-35 and Koenig is a stronghold of improv – indeed, it bears the name of the improv troupe that was chased out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and made a new home in Austin – but the venue caters to the punch-line crowd, too. The standing open mic on Mondays and Live@ColdTowne show on Fridays, with their diverse acts and consistent quality, make this an indispensable spot on the stand-up scene. – R.F.
The New Movement616 Lavaca, www.newmovementtheater.com
Since opening in 2009, the improv and stand-up venue tucked into an alleyway on Lavaca has cultivated an affecting, bizarro approach that sets its weekly programming and classes apart from other local comedy clubs. Its small theatre creates immediate physical contact between audience and performers, and in shows like Stoned vs. Drunk vs. Sober and the creative writing prompt open mic Playpen, run by (sometimes overly) intense comedians, the "fierce experimental mixture" of styles hits you like a humor freight train. No venue in the city is as unpredictable, abstract, or inclusive of up-and-coming improvisatory talent. – S.M.
Spider House Ballroom2906 Fruth, www.spiderhouse.com
Adjacent to a luminously shaggy cafe on the corner of Fruth and 29th streets, this unassuming venue is as suitable for earnest slam poetry (every Tuesday) as for cult cinephile get-togethers. But since 2013, after quietly testing itself as a stand-up venue, the ballroom has emerged as an unexpectedly intimate haven for up-and-coming comedians to practice their sets. From Lisa Friedrich and Zac Brooks' ever-wonderful monthly Peep Show to the beloved Bounce House showcase hosted by Aaron Brooks and Andrew Murphy, Spider House has come to represent Austin comedy writ large: warm, communal, and bigger than one might expect. No wonder that our most acclaimed local performers also regularly drop by from time to time. – S.M.