Austin's Longest-Running Stand-Up Showcase Ends After a Decade of Making Stars - Valerie Lopez for The Austin Chronicle

September 28, 2023

Austin’s Longest-Running Stand-Up Showcase Ends After a Decade of Making Stars

Sure Thing is a wrap at 512


Duncan Carson and Brendan K. O'Grady, the funny men who defined Austin stand-up with long-running showcase Sure Thing (photo by Jana Birchum)

Two transplants arrive in Austin and meet at a coffee shop open mic. A friendship forms. In June 2012, they launch a weekly stand-up showcase. 512 shows later, the longtime friends and co-hosts, Brendan K. O'Grady and Duncan Carson, announce that the October 6 Sure Thing at Fallout Theater will be the final one.

Sure Thing has featured over 500 comics, delighted over 50,000 audience members, changed its name from the Laugh Lounge, witnessed one marriage proposal, been lit by smartphone light when the electricity went out, endured one mouse running onstage while escaping a rainy downpour (causing one terrified comic to perform while standing on a chair), survived one fight threat from an audience member, missed only nine weeks (not counting COVID lockdown or venue closures), held one official Sure Thing Tour Thing (in support of Sure Thing Records' release of Mac Blake's debut album, Bird Drugs), and released 17 full-length comedy recordings.

One constant has existed. Sure Thing has had the same co-hosts its entire run. Long-running shows – and not many across the nation can claim 512 – change the co-host lineup when comics move away, as flavors shift, or as time commitments evolve. Despite the grind of putting on 512 shows and enduring a venue change (from its original Austin Java location to its current home at Fallout Theater), time slot shift, and COVID, it's heartwarming to hear O'Grady's answer when asked what he'll miss most about the show: "It's hanging out with my best friend every week."

Why has Sure Thing been such an institution in Austin comedy? Before the pandemic, it was a well-established goal for rising Austin comics to land their Sure Thing debuts. With time, landing a headlining spot became the big prize in the Austin comedy scene. Some of those stand-ups have stayed in Austin, while others have ventured into bigger comedy ponds. Future national acts like Andrew Dismukes, Maggie Maye, Devon Walker, and Martin Urbano are all part of the rising Austin comedy pipeline who've performed in the showcase.

Three-time Austin Chronicle Best of Austin winner Vanessa Gonzalez (currently touring with Chelsea Handler) remembers her first time on Sure Thing. "My parents and new boyfriend at the time came to the show because I told them it was a big deal." Fresh from a trip to Schlitterbahn and still sporting her wristband, Gonzalez shared an embarrassing story about the trip to the park. "That show is where one of my favorite bits got its start. So many amazing moments and firsts for a lot of Austin comics happen at that show. It will definitely be missed."

Even post-pandemic, the show has been an aspirational goal for comics. In 2012, Symply Courtney was getting his start in comedy and without knowing better asked Carson and O'Grady if he could be booked. It is a longstanding tradition that one does not merely ask to be on Sure Thing, one must be asked. After years of working on his set, Courtney was grateful to finally "crack the lineup of one of the best-run shows in Austin." After more work, Courtney headlined Sure Thing for the first time in August, "a thrilling experience, one I'll forever appreciate."

Go make your own thing
Brendan K. O'Grady

The show also booked established touring comics. Sometimes they were surprise drop-ins, sometimes they were listed in advance in the show's ubiquitous fliers. Beth Stelling, Shane Torres, Ron Babcock, and Nate Bargatze are among the names you could have seen in the days before they were selling out theatres. The show landed big-name comics in town for festivals or participated in festivals to keep their growing network of comics fresh. Carson and O'Grady not only knew how to host shows, they knew how to book shows to ensure that audiences kept coming back.

When Austin Java closed in 2017, Sure Thing was shuttered for nearly a year. Several locations were considered, but it just so happened that Fallout Theater co-owner Robert Segovia was looking for a stand-up comedy showcase for the venue known mostly for its sketch and improv offerings. It was kismet for both Sure Thing and Fallout Theater to join forces, but it required a change in the financial model of the show: For the first time ever, the show had an admission charge. By then, Austin audiences knew the dynamic duo put on consistently amazing shows. The modest ticket price and a change from Saturday to Friday nights were no deterrent, as Sure Thing frequently sold out Fallout.

When COVID hit, the show endured yet another road bump. When it returned, all seemed to go back to normal. But the comedy scene had changed radically. More showcases in a single night could be found within a square-mile radius around Sixth Street than could have been found in the entire city in a week before the pandemic. Deciding to end the show was less about the competition and overwhelming number of new comics moving to Austin and more about the two co-hosts agreeing that Sure Thing's weekly show should end when O'Grady leaves Austin to start a new job. Finding another co-host to fill in would never make sense for a show that is so indelibly representative of the duo's friendship and partnership. The pair will continue to produce comedy recordings with Sure Thing Records, including Mac Blake's sophomore album, out later this year. But the show ... will not go on.

2023 brings the end of an era. My fascination with comedy was born when I started attending Sure Thing shows in 2012. My son's first comedy show was Sure Thing: a standing room only event headlined by Chris Cubas. The show has always been adorned with red velvet curtains and a pair of vintage metal arrows decorated with light bulbs pointing to stage center. I've never gotten over my fear that tall comics would walk into an arrow's pointy edge and cause a memorable, if bloody, Sure Thing moment.

Rather than be sad about the end of an Austin comedy tradition, O'Grady urges everyone to "go make your own thing." Taking his friend's message to heart, Carson is launching Fallout Tonight, a variety show featuring sketch, stand-up, and more, on Friday, October 13, at 9:30pm.

As Sure Thing rides into the sunset, a small hole will be left in the Austin comedy scene's heart. Maybe, as we speak, two comics are meeting in a coffee shop, starting a lifelong friendship, and brainstorming their own legacy stand-up comedy show. They'll just need to find their own version of tattered curtains and lighted metal arrows.

Valerie Lopez is the executive producer of the Comedy Wham podcast.

Sure Thing
Fallout Theater, 616 Lavaca
Fridays through Oct. 6, 9pm

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Column by

Valerie Lopez