Emma Holder Loves Connection

July 23, 2023

Photo Credit

Emma Holder


Valerie Lopez


Cristy Salinas


Many chil­dren think they know what they want to do when they grow up, but few are lucky enough to be sure of it. Then, there’s Emma Hold­er… A thes­pi­an since birth, Hold­er jokes she may be the only for­mer aspir­ing-child-actor upset she didn’t have a stage mom. Why couldn’t mom be more like Dina Lohan? Hold­er even tried to per­suade her moth­er to ditch the rest of the fam­i­ly (in Maine) and move to Hollywood. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly — or rather, for­tu­nate­ly, she was forced to live a some­what nor­mal child­hood in the Pine Tree State. With her Hol­ly­wood dreams crushed, Hold­er set­tled for act­ing class­es, school plays, and per­form­ing dra­mat­ic mono­logues for her friends (she seems apolo­getic about the latter). 

Today, Emma Hold­er is much more ground­ed. The writer/​actor/​comic/​teacher/​social worker/​therapist/​human has been a beloved face in the Austin com­e­dy scene since 2008. And with her long list of cred­its and con­nec­tions, Hold­er may very well be our own Kevin Bacon. She loves the com­mu­ni­ty here, and the com­mu­ni­ty loves her. I pride myself in try­ing to be friends with a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple. That’s one of my favorite things about the com­e­dy scene, just how many amaz­ing con­nec­tions I’ve made.” (I met Hold­er through our mutu­al friend Yola Lu, so I have first-hand expe­ri­ence on what an empa­thet­ic, kind soul Hold­er is, as well as the good com­pa­ny she keeps around her.) 

I pride myself in trying to be friends with a lot of different people. That's one of my favorite things about the comedy scene, just how many amazing connections I've made.
Emma Holder

Recent­ly, Hold­er wrapped up The Tay­lor Swift Sketch Show: A Com­e­dy Of Eras’ and pro­duced the What A Char­ac­ter!’ solo sketch show­case at the Fall­out The­ater. She’s also a found­ing mem­ber of the local sketch troupe Pen­du­lum which had a month­ly run at the Cold­towne The­ater pre-COVID and has made many appear­ances in Austin Sketch Fest and the Out of Bounds Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val over the years. She’s also cur­rent­ly in the play Dead. Or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the End at the Fall­out The­ater, a mem­ber of Stool Pigeon, a main­stage show at Cold­Towne The­ater, and will com­pete in the first round of Fun­ni­est Per­son in Austin at Cap City next month.

But you may be sur­prised to learn that being a come­di­an wasn’t on Emma Holder’s radar — at all. It wasn’t that she didn’t like it; she was obsessed with sketch com­e­dy and made sil­ly movies with her sis­ters. Still, with few female comics at the time, Hold­er just didn’t feel like com­e­dy was meant for some­one like her. I was doing com­e­dy, but I just did­n’t iden­ti­fy as that, and I think part of that, hon­est­ly, was there weren’t that many women work­ing as come­di­ans then. I mean, there were but like, you had to seek it out.” Instead, young Hold­er focused on the dra­mat­ic arts and set her sights on being a seri­ous actor.” She stud­ied Beach­es and Fried Green Toma­toes for inspi­ra­tion (because death = good movies) and wrote and prac­ticed Oscar speech­es. I mean, it’s very fun­ny, but it was not meant to be fun­ny,” explains Holder. 

For her senior the­sis in col­lege, she wrote and pro­duced a play that inad­ver­tent­ly turned out to be a dark com­e­dy. It didn’t click until she heard the laughs. But I was like, oh, I guess I write com­e­dy.” Look­ing back, she was always doing bits, voic­es, and char­ac­ters. She just hadn’t rec­og­nized it for what it was: a sense of humor.

Hold­er returned to Maine after grad­u­a­tion while she tried to decide between mov­ing to New York City, Los Ange­les, or Austin. Feel­ing lost, she accept­ed a friend’s invite to Brazil where she stayed for a few months to clear her head, even­tu­al­ly choos­ing Austin for its cheap cost of liv­ing and bur­geon­ing film­mak­ing com­mu­ni­ty at the time. 

After a series of dis­ap­point­ing Craigslist gigs and act­ing class­es, Hold­er learned about improv through a friend who was tak­ing class­es at Cold­Towne The­ater. But it wasn’t until she begrudg­ing­ly did improv exer­cis­es in an act­ing class and dis­cov­ered that not only was she fun­ny, she had a lot of fun too. She quick­ly found her­self obsessed with improv and signed up for sketch soon after. Even­tu­al­ly she start­ed teach­ing the­ater, improv, and cre­ative writ­ing skills through a vari­ety of local youth and ado­les­cent pro­grams includ­ing Cold­Towne, Hide­out The­atre, and Cre­ative Action. Now some of her for­mer stu­dents are work­ing comics them­selves (Exhib­it A: Car­los Mor­ri­son).

I love performing so much that, even if I have a bad show, it still feels good to go out and do it. I rarely walk away from the show feeling really terrible about it.
Emma Holder

For years, Hold­er jug­gled sev­er­al part-time jobs to main­tain the flex­i­bil­i­ty to do cre­ative projects, but by her ear­ly 30s, the lifestyle was tak­ing its toll on her. At one point she had sev­en jobs to make ends meet and knew this wasn’t sus­tain­able. It was time for a change, some­thing where she could help others. 

Ther­a­py was some­thing she’d always had an inter­est in since it’d been a big part of her own life. In 2018 she was accept­ed into the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin and went on to earn her Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Social Work. She’s now a reg­is­tered Licensed Mas­ter Social Work­er (LMSW) and works pri­mar­i­ly with adolescents. 

While Hold­er admits that some days can be hard, she’s very hap­py with her deci­sion to become a ther­a­pist. I love per­form­ing so much that, even if I have a bad show, it still feels good to go out and do it. I rarely walk away from the show feel­ing real­ly ter­ri­ble about it.” In fact, her com­e­dy back­ground helps her work, and vice ver­sa. She sees the con­nec­tion, and Hold­er is excit­ed to con­tin­ue explor­ing that on and off the stage. 

Fol­low Emma

Emma can be seen and heard:

  • Stool Pigeon Improv — Sat­ur­days in August, Cold­Towne the­ater, 8:30pm
  • 2023 FPIA — Tues­day August 1st at Cap City Com­e­dy Club
  • Tay­lor Swift Sketch Show — A Com­e­dy of Eras
  • What a Character 
  • Twin Beds Podcast
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Emma Holder