Top 10 Local Comedy Stories of 2023

New venues, new faces, new experiments

Duncan Carson and Brendan K. O'Grady of long-running showcase, Sure Thing (photo by Jana Birchum)

1) Austin Faces Are Just for Laughs' New Faces

Three locals – Clara Blackstone, Bianca Parato, and Lukas McCrary – landed 2023 JFL New Faces recognition, making this the first year that Austin has sent three comics to Montreal. While Blackstone has been performing here since before the pandemic, Parato and McCrary are part of the post-pandemic influx of comics. (Bonus: Former Austinite Sahana Srinivasan also landed a coveted spot.)

2) Comedy Mothership Lands

Joe Rogan's club opened in March to much fanfare, changing the landscape of Sixth Street and Austin comedy. Bringing the L.A. Comedy Store model to Austin, door staff must audition for their positions but are guaranteed spots on the venue's open mics. For fans, the opportunity to see drop-ins by some of the most famous names in comedy (Chappelle, Cummins, Kreischer, Gaffigan, White, to name but a few) means shows often sell out months in advance.

3) Paramount Theatre Gets Big Laughs

With the influx of famous-name drop-ins to Comedy Mothership, comedy programming at the Paramount Theatre and Stateside Theatre has also grown astronomically. Lietza Brass, chief programming officer of the Austin Theatre Alliance, reports an astonishing 134% increase in comedy bookings at the theatres. Brass notes, "The audiences are more diverse than ever," citing Zakir Khan's recent sold-out show where his performance was entirely in Hindi. "Comedians love to play Austin because the audiences are informed, smart, and they 'get it.'"

4) More New Clubs Open

2023 saw the addition of the South Austin Comedy Club (an expansion for the East Austin Comedy Club), Sunset Strip (co-owned by Brian Redban and just down Sixth from Comedy Mothership), Rozco's Comedy Club (on East Seventh, this club opened in late March), and the Black Rabbit Comedy Club (opened by Josh Cabaza, the venue launched in late September near Fifth and Brazos). These new venues mean there are 10 comedy clubs within a 2-mile radius of Dirty Sixth.

5) Transplants Are the Funniest Person(s) in Austin

Dylan Carlino, a transplant from the Portland, Oregon, comedy scene won this year's contest. Carlino recently celebrated two years in Austin while the other top three finishers have been in Austin fewer than five years. Only two finalists in the annual competition have been in Austin more than 10 years, adding even more evidence that Austin has become a comedy magnet.

6) Buzzkill at Buzzmill Celebrates 10 Years

Launched by Katie Pengra in November 2013, Buzzkill Comedy has changed hosts only a few times (including a stint by current SNL cast member Devon Walker). Current co-hosts Angelina Martin and Carlton Wilcoxson are the longest-running co-hosts since 2018 and celebrated the showcase's 10th anniversary in November. For all the buzz about all the new things happening in Austin, it's good to know that some classic treasures of bygone Austin comedy continue to run strong.

7) Improv Becomes (Even More) Experimental

In 2022, stand-up comedy showcases were getting experimental, but this year, improv became uniquely experimental. Among the more creative show premises were the Bollywood Improv Show (Hideout Theatre), Nostalgia: 90s Rewind (Hideout Theatre), Jane Austin Improv (Fallout Theater), and Minor Dystopia (ColdTowne Theater). Austin audiences seem to thrive on the unique improv premises (yes) and most of these limited-run improv shows sold out, so grab your tickets quickly once the new crop of experiments roll out.

8) Moontower Just for Laughs Austin Evolves

Now in its second year as the joint Moontower and Just for Laughs collaboration, the long-running comedy festival settled into a new format, with two full weeks of headliners across April allowing the festival to meet all the demands of Austin fans. Lietza Brass, who also serves as festival producer, found that programming the extended lineup "turned out to be much easier. The extra dates freed us to book a wider array of shows and diverse artists ... offering something for everybody." The closing weekend Club Series on the final four nights remains, in the words of Brass, "the crown jewel of the festival."

9) More Comedy Festivals Make a Splash

The Lysistrata Comedy Festival relocated from New Orleans to Austin, hosted by ColdTowne Theater. The festival showcases female and nonbinary performers with improv, stand-up, sketch, film, and workshops. Austin Sketch Fest, produced by ColdTowne Theater, came home for its 14th year after several years of location-hopping at other locations while ColdTowne was shuttered. Both festivals will return to ColdTowne in 2024.

10) Farewell to Sure Thing

Launched in 2012, the showcase brought to you by Duncan Carson and Brendan K. O'Grady came to an end in October with its 512th show. Much can be made about the change in the Austin comedy scene, but the departure of this stalwart of Austin comedy heralded an end to the Austin comedy scene we once knew.

Valerie Lopez is executive producer of Comedy Wham Presents.

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