Devon Walker Brings Lone Star State Laughs to SNL and Moontower Just for Laughs
Walker, Texas Comic
By Valerie Lopez, Fri., April 14, 2023
In October 2016 longtime Austin resident and new comic Devon Walker was a guest on my podcast, Comedy Wham. Seven years later, ahead of his return for Moontower Just for Laughs Austin, I'm still struck by how ageless and wise Walker was at that first meeting, brimming with poise and charm even as he was just starting to run open mics in the (then) small Austin comedy scene. He was part ambitious comic and part chill friend you hang out with talking about George Strait and the Spurs.
Fast-forward to September 2022, and the opening credits of NBC's Saturday Night Live. Walker sports a charming grin while holding a set of red balloons as longtime announcer (and former cast member) Darryl Hammond bellows his name as one of this season's new featured players. Walker is a tall, imposing force, but those balloons perfectly capture his playful personality. Like most of the other new featured players, Walker is a stand-up comic who's been thrown into the weekly fire to learn how to write, pitch, rehearse, and perform sketches. Now millions of viewers are paying attention to him and asking, "Who is this kid?"
Born in Washington state and raised Pflugerville, Walked shared that "as a young kid, I always wanted attention." The class clown, he'd always been told he was funny, and while earning a master's degree in organizational development, he turned to comedy and never looked back.
Walker's comedy career began in 2014 with an open mic performance at the original Cap City Comedy Club where, in a bit of kismet, he met future SNL castmate Andrew Dismukes. Walker took a break to focus on a new relationship but returned to the stage in 2015 after the relationship ended. Of his return to the open mic rigmarole, Walker says his motivation was, "Let me see if I can be better." The tastemakers of Austin comedy quickly took notice. In 2016, he made his first-ever festival appearance, at Moontower, and appeared on Piranha, a show created and hosted by Matt Bearden where comics deliver their sets and a panel of celebrity judges buys their best jokes. Walker's appearance was unique. The judges flipped the script and gave Walker money to keep his material, telling him no one could tell the jokes the way Walker did. Competing as a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Cap City Comedy Club Funniest Person in Austin contests, the proof was there. He was getting so much better and itching to get better in a bigger comedy market. After his 2017 appearance on Comedy Central's Up Next, L.A. and New York took notice, and he gave himself a year to decide which coast would claim him.
Walker talks a lot about "full circle" moments, and one came on May 5, 2018. Donald Glover was slated to host and perform as the musical guest on SNL. Dismukes was a new writer on the show, and Walker asked his open mic friend if he could get tickets. Between seeing the show and taking in NYC, his fate was sealed as the Big Apple's newest resident, quickly landing writing jobs at Netflix's Big Mouth and FreeForm's Everything's Trash and keeping busy during the pandemic by creating digital shorts for Comedy Central. Walker's demeanor is so laid-back, you don't sense the highly ambitious side of him. He gives credit to his father for achieving the American dream through hard work and the desire to give his children a better life. And now, in under 10 years since his first open mic, he's a featured player on the longest-running TV show in history.
But first he had to get past the audition process: performing on the main stage with creator and producer Lorne Michaels sitting in a dark corner. Walker was told, "No one's going to laugh, but don't let that trip you up." After stepping on stage, performing to empty seats, he was shocked and relieved to hear laughter. Walker kept the carefully guarded secret that he'd been cast as a featured player on the 48th season while the rest of America (minus Walker's mom – she knew) waited until August for the announcement. The 47th season cast went through a large exodus, and Walker is part of this rebuilding year and the show's most diverse cast to date.
While Michaels has never divulged his magic formula for talent spotting, it appears to have evolved since the show's 1975 origin. Not only is there a strong Black presence (Ego Nwodim, Punkie Johnson, and now Walker), there's Asian representation with Bowen Yang, Hispanic representation with Marcello Hernandez, and the show's first-ever nonbinary cast member in Molly Kearney. The cast looks more and more like the America that it skewers every week.
Walker shared that among favorite sketches he co-wrote was "Hot Girl Hospital" with host Megan Thee Stallion and "Baptist Church" with host Michael B. Jordan. He loved being cast in "HIV Commercial" with host Aubrey Plaza, because he was front and center, and "Kenan & Kelly" with host Keke Palmer, because he performed an impression in the faux Kenan & Kel sketch. That was a dream come true for him.
When I talked to Walker in 2016 he shared a philosophy of "where you're at is never where you want to be." If we could predict the future, Walker would graduate to full cast member for SNL's 50th season, a remarkable milestone. And, like his original comedy heroes – Chevy Chase, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, and Will Ferrell – he'll become a household name. Oh, and he'd like it known that he's available to be a courtside fixture for San Antonio Spurs games. After all, not all dreams are comedy-related.
The 32-year-old feels like an old man when it comes to today's Austin comedy scene, saying, "It was better back in my day," but he readily admits people always think fondly of their early days in comedy. Austin may no longer be home, but when asked if he considered himself a New Yorker or a Texan, without hesitation, Walker reached over to show me a necklace pendant in the shape of Texas. "I'll be a Texan 'til I die."
Devon Walker at Moontower Just for Laughs Austin 2023
Stars in Bars, Antone's, 7pm
Hit List, Parker Jazz Club, 7pm
Wildflowers, Parish, 9:30pm
New York's Finest, Antone's, 7pm
New York's Finest, Antone's, 9pm
Stars in Bars, Parker Jazz Club, 7pm
Scumberparty, Cap City Comedy Club, 10pm
Moontower Just for Laughs, April 12-23. Tickets and passes at austintheatre.org/moontower-comedy.
Valerie Lopez is the executive producer of the Comedy Wham podcast. comedywham.com.