Cap City Comedy Club Closes

COVID closure shutters the venerable stand-up home for good

Yesterday, Cap City Comedy Club, the venue that's kept you – and all of Austin – laughing for almost a quarter century, traded punch lines for a gut punch: The home for stand-up is closing permanently. The strain of being shuttered for six months during the pandemic finally took its toll, making Cap City one more victim of the coronavirus.

Margie Coyle surrounded by local comics on the Cap City Comedy Club stage (Photo by John Anderson)

Word of the move began to circulate late Tuesday afternoon on social media and was confirmed by owners Margie Coyle, Colleen McGarr, Rich Miller, and Duncan Strauss in a statement first reported by the Austin American-Statesman. "We laughed until we cried," went the first line of their open letter to "Austin Comedy Lovers," which went on to say they were "devastated" by the need to close the club but also recapped the many highlights of Cap City's history, including appearances by Maria Bamford, Doug Benson, Patton Oswalt, Ari Shaffer, Ron White, and the one-and-only Bill Hicks; its partnership with the Moontower Comedy Festival; its hosting of the annual Just for Laughs/Montreal showcases, which let local comics compete for a chance to go to that major comedy fest; hometown events such as Matt Bearden's Punch show and the Dale, Matt, and Bob Sideshow podcasts; and the club's "crowning glory," the Funniest Person in Austin contest, which was on track to celebrate its 35th year before COVID-19 interfered.

If you're wondering how the math works for a contest to have had a 35-year-old run in a club that's only been around 24 years, well, FPIA actually got its start in the comedy club that preceded Cap City in the same 8120 Research location: the Laff Stop, which opened there in 1986 as part of a chain with clubs in Houston and California. But even though the owners were different, Margie Coyle was there. She's managed the club since the late Eighties and provided invaluable continuity through the first change of ownership in '96 and the second in 2003, when she took it over with McGarr, Miller, and Strauss. Coyle's sense of continuity has extended beyond the club to the local stand-up community overall. She's seen generations of comics come through its doors, compete in its contests, and prove themselves (or not) on its stage. She's seen what it takes to work a room and seen the comics who can do it, and she's even shepherded a number of them into comedy careers that take them beyond Austin and onto the national stage. By being the club's boots on the ground, day in and day out, for more than 30 years, Coyle has done more for stand-up than anyone in the city. Not for nothing did the Austin Critics Table induct Coyle into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame. (And it wasn't just because Coyle allowed the critics to hold its annual awards ceremony at the club for free, though that's just one more marker of her generosity.)

It's hard to imagine someone filling Coyle's shoes and the history and experience that go with them, just as it's hard to imagine another club that's been as central to Austin's stand-up scene (all due respect to the Velveeta Room and its storied history) filling the gap that Cap City leaves. The owners close their letter on notes of gratitude and optimism they thank their staff, their "amazing" audiences, their collaborators locally (Moontower, KLBJ) and nationally (Comedy Central, Netflix), the comics, and "everyone that has made this such a proud and magical experience"; then they suggest that stand-up in Austin will be back, and perhaps Cap City will be, too, albeit in a different form. That's an encouraging thought, that someday when all the current madness goes away, we'll feel like laughing again. And there will be a place we can go to do just that.

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Cap City Comedy Club, Austin comedy, Margie Coyle, Rich Miller, Colleen McGarr, Bill Hicks, Velveeta Room, Matt Bearden

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