Can the Cap City Comedy Club take back its throne? Austin’s institution of comedy is back, but it returns to a radically changed stand-up scene
The stage is empty, but not for long: With a new mural by artist/comedian Ramin Nazer, Austin’s legendary Cap City Comedy Club is back (Photo by John Anderson)
On September 10, 2020, I posted a farewell letter to the Cap City Comedy Club when, after 35 years as a cultural icon, the doors to its home off North Lamar were locked, seemingly for good. I wrote Comedy Wham, “One day instead of mourning the end of the Cap City Comedy Club, I will smile for all the memories you gave me.” Nearly two years later, comedic entrepreneurs Brad and Marc Grossman have brought the legend back to a new two-stop location at The Estate.
With the support of their Helium Comedy Club network and its eight locations from Portland, Oregon, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Cap City joins a well-oiled and respected national comedy machine that includes the digital platform Helium Presents, a network of podcast, and a comedy record label. However, in recognition of the strength of the Cap City Comedy Club name, Helium chose to keep the name of the legendary Austin club unchanged.
You could say that the purchase by Helium was an event that has been in the works for 20 years. According to Brad Grossman, it was an easy choice to add Cap City to Helium’s portfolio as a legacy brand. “We’ve actually been friends with the owner of Cap City for 20 years, and [Cap City owner Rich Miller] helped us open Helium in 2005. He was our mentor alongside Louis Lee [of Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis].”
The sale was announced on February 10, 2021, with an expected September opening date. However, it wasn’t the pandemic or planning permission that caused that date to be slipped: Grossman even said, “The City of Austin has actually been pretty darn awesome through the whole planning process. .” The big bad wolf in a city where everyone is building is the notorious supply chain. Grossman explained that at one point, suppliers had to delay delivery of concrete to the new estate site for several weeks because it was sent to build Tesla’s Gigafactory.
Once the certificate of occupancy was granted earlier this month, the club had a soft opening a few days later on July 12 with a headliner by Mary Lynn Rajskub. Grossman was quick to praise the staff led by general manager Chandy Popp Kurzweil, a familiar face for nearly 20 years at the old venue, for a relatively smooth return to the soft open.
My personal collection of colorful ticket stubs confirms how much I enjoyed the shows at the original “Cape Town” (as I call it). But I wonder: with its reopening in 2022 in a very different comedic landscape compared to 2020, can the club regain its status as “the only big club in town”?
The factual answer is that it cannot. Cap City is reopening with two new large-scale clubs bringing their fair share of big-name comics to Austin. Former headliners including Tony Hinchcliffe [editor’s note: infamous for a racist May 2021 set that went viral] and Joe Rogan used to adorn the Cap City scenes; now they perform regularly at both Creek & the Cave and Big Laugh Comedy. Grossman’s response is that with Helium’s support, Cap City will find its niche. “Everyone will be fine, and we all offer a little something different.”
It’s a reflection of the city’s extravagant growth that Austin has three full-scale comedy clubs alongside every other place to watch comedy, with Rogan named behind a fourth added (details are scarce, but the rumors continue that Comedy Mothership will be located at the old Ritz Theater on Sixth Street). Rogan said he wanted Austin to be America’s comedy capital, and with his influence, Grossman said, “I’m in.”
“[Cap City] is the gold standard for booking and running a comedy club in a way that appeases the crowds and takes care of the comics. – Andrew Murphy, 2019 Austin’s Funniest Person Winner
Something else has happened in the years since Cap City closed in 2020: comedy fans have increasingly gone online to check out comic books. TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have become laboratories for emerging talent. Grossman said he’s looking forward to Cap City bringing not just more racial diversity, but a hybrid of online thrills and traditional club comics to Austin comedy fans.
But not everything has changed, and there is a tradition that sets Cap City apart. It’s an annual event dating back to 1986 that legacy comics (meaning comics that worked here pre-COVID) loved and hated in equal parts: the funniest person in Austin contest. The annual spring tradition has electrified the comedy scene with chatter about the prep (you gotta hit those mics!), gossip about who’s advancing or not, and lust after the big financial prize (or even the modest but hard-hitting for winning the joke of the night). It was the talk of the town, and this week Cap City is bringing back the longstanding tradition with only minor operational tweaks. Grossman even teased the idea of a joint contest to give winners a chance to compete against winners of similar contests at other Helium clubs “to give people a bigger opportunity to be seen by more people from industry on a larger scale”.
With Helium and Kurzwell’s nearly 20-year successes as general manager, there’s a distinct optimism about Cap City’s future — not just for audiences, but for Austin artists as well. Andrew Murphy, 2019 Funniest Person winner, called Cap City “the gold standard for booking and running a comedy club in a way that appeases crowds and takes care of comics. Everyone supported there. Obvious as it may seem, it’s surprisingly rare in today’s comic landscape.”
Between the FPIA, the new location and the large free car park, what does the club look like? The public can choose between two performance spaces: the main room and the more intimate red room. The halls can host shows simultaneously (a luxury not possible at the original location). Dustin Svehlak, longtime Cap City and Funniest Person videographer and owner of Voltaic Video, got a glimpse and shared, “What struck me [about the Red Room] that’s how much it resembles the Lounge of the old club. Low ceilings, intimate seating and a smaller stage lend themselves to an incredible comedy experience and, for me as a professional videographer, some of the absolute best recordings in the world. is there a balcony now, so the perspective will be quite unique in this new space!”
Admission to the new Cap City Comedy Club location at the Domaine (Photo by John Anderson)
Ramin Nazer, 2012 Funniest Person winner and prolific artist, is responsible for the artwork throughout the club, including the stage backdrops. He said: “I wanted the main stage mural to be interesting without being a distraction. When you first sit down, there’s no one on stage, so it gradually draws your attention as the show starts. .Comedy is best when you’ve fully emerged into the performer’s world.”
But there will also be a connection to the old place, and Grossman added that over the next year, audiences should expect to see more elements of the old place find their way into the new. venue. He said, “We’ve got a ton of stuff in Old Cape that we just want to get on the walls.”
Valérie Lopez is the executive producer of Comedy shot podcast. comedywham.com.
Cap City Comedy Club
11506 Century Oaks Building. B #100, 512/467-2333
July 28-30: Bryan Callen
July 31: Funniest person in Austin’s preliminary round
Aug. 2-3: Funniest Person in Austin’s Preliminary Round
August 4-6: Jeff Ross
August 6-7: Pinky Patel
Aug. 7: Funniest Person in Austin’s Preliminary Round
Aug. 9-10: Funniest Person in Austin’s Preliminary Round
August 11-14: Earthquake
July 28: Home Base: Best of Austin Comedy with Zac Brooks and Taylor Dowdy
July 29-30: Alingon Mitra
August 2: Chris Tellez and Friends
August 4: Glow Show with Joey Z
August 5-6: Ahamed Weinberg
August 11: Bryson Brown
August 12-13: Katie Hughes