Funniest Person Finals/Andy Ritchie Tribute

Before you see the new FPIA, stop by Andy's Balthazar Lounge

Zac Brooks. Andrew Dismukes. Vanessa Gonzales. Lashonda Lester. Maggie Maye. Jon Mendoza. Andrew Murphy. Abby Rosenquist. Ali Safar. Elizabeth Spears. Martin Urbano. Daniel Webb. All are funny. By midnight Monday, one will be funni-est, as in the 2016 Funniest Person in Austin.

Andy Ritchie winning the Funniest Person in Austin Contest in 2011

Yes, friends, May 16 marks the end of this year's six-week punch line showdown to determine the city's Monarch of Mirth. More than 220 took to the mic in the beginning, and after 15 preliminary rounds and three nights of semifinals, these are your dozen finalists, the top contenders for the crown in the contest's 31st edition.

You can always count on the finals round of FPIA to field a lineup of entertaining local comics, but tonight's is one of the most promising in years, not least because of the strong female talent involved. The Funniest Person competition has caught some flak for being a boys' club – only five women have captured the title since 1986, with the most recent being Martha Kelly way back in 2000 – so it's refreshing to see five of this year's 12 contenders break the comedic glass ceiling, if you will.

The contest finale will be just as it has been in past years: hosted by last year's winner – in this case, Danny Palumbo – with each finalist getting eight minutes to win over the crowd and the guest judges. However, one thing about contest host Cap City Comedy Club will be new. The lounge just inside the doors, the space that you pass on the way to the main showroom, has a new name: Andy Ritchie's Balthazar Lounge. The name honors the comedian, 2011 FPIA, and onetime Cap City employee who died last November from a brain tumor. He was 39.

Now, if you pegged people working in stand-up as nothing but cool and detached in the personal relationships realm, letting ego and mockery drive their interactions with their fellow humans, the dedication ceremony for the Andy Ritchie Lounge on May 10 would've changed your thinking. The folks who were there spoke of their late colleague with nothing but the utmost warmth, starting with Cap City talent booker and club co-owner Rich Miller, a man who's all too happy to hire people to speak from the stage but isn't all that fond of doing so himself – indeed, he claimed that last Tuesday was his first time at the mic. But it was a measure of his feeling for Ritchie that he wanted to emcee the event. He spoke of working with Ritchie in Minneapolis more than 15 years ago, of Ritchie's skill as a comic and quirks of personality, and of the admiration he, Miller, had for Ritchie's closeness to his mother, June Reichert. (She was present for the dedication, as was Ritchie's fiancée, Ruby Collins, and a host of local comics, among them Chris Cubas, Matt Bearden, Bryan Gutmann, and Martha Kelly.) "He was a gentleman that had a weird, twisted sense of humor with a warm and tender heart, and that's how I remember him," said Miller.

"He was a bolt of comedic lightning," said his friend Chuck Watkins, who delivered some of Ritchie's jokes from the stage. A video reel gave most of those present a chance to see what he meant, with clips from his set on Live at Gotham, some video sketches, and a clip of Ritchie performing as one of his more out-there creations: Gravy, the stuttering insult comic. One joke that wasn't related by the reel, Watkins, or Miller, was the one that gave the lounge its new name, a routine about a lost falcon that its owners tried to find by putting a flyer on a telephone pole. Ritchie ends the bit by imagining himself walking around his neighborhood calling for the falcon by name: "Balthazar! Balthazar!" Hence, Andy Ritchie's Balthazar Lounge, replete with a silhouette of a falcon on the sign.

The finals round for the 2016 Funniest Person in Austin Contest is Mon., May 16, 8pm, at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research. For more information, call 512/467-2333 or visit

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Funniest Person in Austin, Cap City Comedy Club, Andy Ritchie, Rich Miller, Chuck Watkins, Ruby Elliott

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