Local comics mourn loss of 'the heartbeat of the comedy scene' in Capitol City Comedy Club

Capitol City Comedy Club in North Austin
The owners of Capitol City Comedy Club in North Austin on Sept. 8 issued a statement saying the club will permanently close, partially due to economic hardships incurred from the coronavirus pandemic. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

The owners of Capitol City Comedy Club in North Austin on Sept. 8 issued a statement saying the club will permanently close, partially due to economic hardships incurred from the coronavirus pandemic. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

In the hours after the Austin American-Statesman on Sept. 8 reported that late-night entertainment venue Capitol City Comedy Club is permanently ending operations, standup comedians from around the country took to social media to grieve the closing.

“So bummed to see that Cap City Comedy Club in Austin is closing for good after 35 years. I loved performing there. They were always so good to me. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of this kind of news and it is so sad,” wrote Fortune Feimster, a nationally touring comedian with a Netflix special, on Twitter.

In Austin, local comics said the club meant that much more to the city’s young, emerging talent. Cap City, which has produced shows since 1986 at 8120 Research Blvd., Ste. 100, in North Austin, had long been a second home for the city’s comics and provided a stage, consistent crowds and support, comedian Chris Tellez said.

“The whole comedy scene revolves around Cap City. Everybody wants to get work at Cap City. They want to get on the stage,” said Tellez, who has been performing at the club for nearly a decade. “It really was the heartbeat of the comedy scene, and now it's gone. It’s just devastating to everyone.”

In a statement published by comedy blog "The Comic’s Comic," Cap City ownership group Rich Miller, Margie Coyle, Colleen McGarr and Duncan Strauss said the closing comes after “a perfect storm” of challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, issues with the club’s lease and obligations to employees.

“We are devastated to announce that we have to close the club. After 35 years in this location, and 17 for us as owners, the struggle of being closed since March has proved insurmountable,” the ownership group wrote in the Sept. 8 statement. “We are part of the Austin COVID-19 story and stats—of entertainment venues that just could not survive.”

According to the venue’s website, Cap City first opened under the Laff Stop name and later rebranded to Capitol City Comedy Club in 1996.

Over the last three decades, Cap City hosted nationally touring comics in its showroom and partnered with the Moontower Comedy Festival to bring some of the nation's biggest comics to Austin.

Several comics have used the club as a venue to record their comedy albums, including legendary Texas comedian Bill Hicks, according to Cap City. Internationally touring comedians Patton Oswalt and Aris Shaffir have also recorded albums at the venue, according to the Sept. 8 statement.

Austin comic Amber Bixby was one of the last comics to record an album in the space, using the venue to record her album “Teen Mom” in September 2019—less than a year before Cap City was forced to close its doors to the public due to the coronavirus.

“It was the best room in the city to record a standup album. I was really grateful they let me do it there,” Bixby said.

Following the news that Cap City was permanently closing its doors, Bixby said that she and other comics and supporters of the venue visited the space in North Austin to leave notes and memories on Cap City’s doors.

“My best memories from my adult life are from that building and from that club. I'm forever grateful, but I'm devastated,” Bixby said. “My parents sold my childhood home earlier this year, and I'm taking this way, way harder.”

For more than 30 years, Cap City has also produced its annual Funniest Person in Austin contest, the club’s website states. The competition featured more than 200 local comics and helped launch the careers of some Austin comedians, including local radio personality Matt Bearden.

Austin comedian Sawyer Stull worked at Cap City for the past year as an MC during shows.

“The first and only time I got to do [Funniest Person in Austin] I didn’t even advance, but the feeling I got on the stage that night is something I’ve chased pretty much every night since,” Stull said. “That opened a huge amount of doors for me. I owe everything from the past year thanks to that club.”

The Sept. 8 statement released by Cap City’s ownership group seems to leave the door open for the club continuing to operate under a different name or owners.

"Live standup in Austin will be reignited at some point and please support [it]. Cap City may be back but different,” the statement from the ownership group reads.

Whatever happens next for Cap City, local comic Andrew Murphy—who first performed for the Funniest Person in Austin competition in 2013—hopes any incoming owners or another club will keep the essence of the decades-old comedy club.

“I really hope that we can keep the spirit that Cap City embodied alive. What they taught us will live on,” Murphy said. “They weren’t spiteful. They didn’t take advantage of young comics. They did the opposite—they helped comics thrive.”
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.


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