Martin Urbano Is Toying With Us

May 21, 2023

Photo Credit

Jordan Ashleigh


Valerie Lopez


Valerie Lopez

2023 Moontower Just For Laughs Comedy Festival Series

The 2023 Moontower Just For Laughs Comedy Festival is blessing us with 2 weeks of comedy, film, live podcast, and afterparties. Comedy Wham is featuring our favorite conversations from this year's festival. Enjoy!

I’ve been in love with Mar­tin Urbano since the days of Sure Thing shows at the now-shut­tered North Lamar loca­tion of Austin Java. Throw­ing out small pic­tures of actress Park­er Posey to his audi­ence as part of a joke set­up, Urbano’s cre­ativ­i­ty has always been on dis­play. Even his Mad Lib bit from his ear­li­est days of per­form­ing is seared into my brain as some­thing that no one could ever repli­cate. Lucky for you, you can see a fine­ly honed ver­sion of the Mad Lib bit by watch­ing his appear­ance on Jim­my Kim­mel Live.

On his 3rd vis­it to our pod­cast, this is the most-self-assured and con­fi­dent (and def­i­nite­ly the most opin­ion­at­ed) ver­sion of Urbano yet. Did New York City play a part in this evolution? 

In the city that nev­er sleeps – and before the COVID pan­dem­ic – Urbano was able to refine his com­e­dy with ample stage time; in our 2018 episode with Urbano we dis­cussed the abil­i­ty to hit 4 – 7 mics and shows in a sin­gle night. It cer­tain­ly helped liv­ing in the same city that was home to the cre­ative alt-com­e­dy gem The Chris Geth­ard Show. Geth­ard’s show was an elab­o­rate take on the cable access show con­cept and Urbano per­formed reg­u­lar­ly. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly fond of Urbano’s mul­ti­ple part series of Com­e­dy Ama­teur­class” lec­tures. For legal pur­pos­es, I use the word lec­ture” very, very loose­ly here. 

Urbano still has an air of friend­ly Brownsville, Texas native more than a rough and tum­ble New York­er. New York­ers, if I may gen­er­al­ize, are known for hav­ing a con­fi­dence and self-assured­ness that they put on full dis­play, and I real­ly love that famil­iar­i­ty in this ver­sion of him as much as I loved the ver­sion I watched on Austin stages in the mid 2010s. 

It was­n’t just New York that shaped this cur­rent ver­sion of Urbano. COVID forced a lot of peo­ple to reshape their visions for the future. It was­n’t an option for him to come home to Texas, but don’t wor­ry, he’s not banned from the state: he just hap­pens to love New York too much to leave. After sev­er­al months of COVID lock­down, dur­ing which he lit­er­al­ly did noth­ing cre­ative – unless you count hours and hours of play­ing video games – Urbano was ready to cre­ate some­thing new.

I want to host ... Wheel of Fortune or something. That'd be fun. Eventually, Pat will die.
Martin Urbano

Would you have guessed that Urbano’s first large cre­ative project would be a game show? 

No, we would­n’t have either. The week­ly game show Who Wants $2.69 with Mar­tin Urbano? launched dur­ing the sum­mer of 2020. By the way, read that show title slow­ly for full effect: it’s anoth­er mas­ter­ful dis­play of his word­play prowess. 

Mod­eled after Who Wants to be a Mil­lion­aire–but with a decid­ed­ly small­er pay­off prize – Urbano, it turns out, is a great game show host. He authored the ques­tions him­self, which meant an aggres­sive exer­cis­ing of comedic writ­ing mus­cles. The show ran for as long as it took the New York live com­e­dy stages to reopen. 

The lim­it­ed run show offers insight into Urbano’s ambi­tion is to be a game show host on a larg­er scale. To that end, his lat­est endeav­or is a new game show con­cept debut­ing at the end of May in Brook­lyn called Why Would You Ask Me That?. This is clear­ly a man on a quest: I want to host … Wheel of For­tune or some­thing. That’d be fun. Even­tu­al­ly, Pat [Sajak] will die.” We’re ready to peti­tion for him to be hand­ed the keys to the wheel when Sajak retires. Again, for legal rea­sons, our peti­tion will be based on retire­ment, not death. 

The world needs to see more of the mag­ic potion that Urbano is brew­ing. Vul​ture​.com cap­tured Urbano’s comedic style apt­ly by say­ing: His work com­bines edgy, almost-over-the-line humor with – get this – real­ly good jokes”.

It’s easy to say jokes that cross the line…something that hap­pens more often than it should in the Austin com­e­dy scene. It takes hard work and per­sis­tence to tell jokes that get very close to the line, but keep you lik­able, which is pre­cise­ly Urbano’s gift. 

Urbano shares that after COVID he’d open for Geth­ard and the silence that those bits would get dis­cour­aged me. Should I just drop these jokes com­plete­ly? So I was like, okay, I got­ta drip the irony a lit­tle bit more, get a lit­tle sil­li­er with it, get a lit­tle whinier with it.” In typ­i­cal Urbano fash­ion, he wraps up the tale of his hard-fought retool­ing with And now those bits are very strong … You know, it’s more of a mixed bag. Like some­times they’ll like me, and some­times they’re like, Who’s this? What’s going on?”

And now those bits are very strong . . . You know, it's more of a mixed bag. Like sometimes they'll like me, and sometimes they're like, 'Who's this?', 'What's going on?'
Martin Urbano

Urbano per­formed at sev­er­al Moon­tow­er JFL shows this year, includ­ing the wicked­ly weird Good Pol­lu­tion show. At Good Pol­lu­tion, he deliv­ered a sol­id, tight, tra­di­tion­al standup set and his jokes reflect­ed who he was in Austin, but with a veneer and pol­ish earned in New York. The Urbano that I adored at Sure Thing is still there, but with even more crafty word play and the con­tin­ued per­pet­u­a­tion of the creep on stage” persona. 

I love Urbano the standup com­ic, but increas­ing­ly what Urbano excels at is char­ac­ter work. The oth­er Moon­tow­er JFL per­for­mance for Urbano was for the con­cept-bend­ing, Stamp­town, brain-child of Zach Zuck­er. Urbano’s char­ac­ter in Stamp­town was as a pseu­do-jour­nal­ist cri­tiquing the evening’s per­for­mance. Stamp­town ran over the course of 4 nights and each night is dif­fer­ent so Urbano had to be on his toes to impro­vise his jour­nal­is­tic cri­tiques. He excelled on the night I attend­ed and was one of the mem­o­rable high­lights of the evening. I can’t dis­cuss the oth­er mem­o­rable high­lights of Stamp­town, because I try to keep things fam­i­ly friend­ly.

Play­ing a mem­o­rable char­ac­ter is a new­found skillset for Urbano. If you did­n’t fall in love with Hulu’s This Fool, you missed a brief appear­ance by Urbano. I was sad it was one and done due to the nature of his role, but dur­ing our inter­view, Urbano dropped the excit­ing news that the show was bring­ing Julio Tam­bi­en back for sea­son 2. The oth­er excit­ing news shared is his atten­dance at this year’s Edin­burgh Fringe Fes­ti­val in August. The nerves, the plan­ning, the logis­tics, the finan­cial cost, all fright­en and thrill Urbano and we hope that he delights audi­ences in Scot­land as much as he delights them here. 

We should also not gloss over the fact that Urbano recent­ly com­plet­ed a stint as a writer for The Tonight Show with Jim­my Fal­lon. You can catch Urbano for his Apol­o­gy Come­back Tour, which has lim­it­ed dates in the mid­west and north­east. Self­ish­ly, we’d love to see a nation­al tour in Urbano’s future because frankly, catch­ing a 10 minute set and his role as pseu­do-jour­nal­ist at 2023 Moon­tow­er JFL was not enough.

While there’s a lot we miss about the Austin com­e­dy scene that Urbano was a part of, there’s a def­i­nite thrill to know­ing that we can say we knew them when”. (We’ve been say­ing that a lot late­ly of the alum­ni of the pre-COVID Austin com­e­dy scene.) Urbano holds a spe­cial place in our hearts because he’s always been will­ing to play along. 

Whether it’s play­ful­ly throw­ing pic­tures of Park­er Posey from his pock­et at the audi­ence, play­ing with Mad Libs on stage, or even his 2015 guest appear­ance on a Radio Tatas episode where he played along with Lara Smith’s and my warped vision of a sil­ly pod­cast. It was, and remains, the only time I’ve ever had a spit take, after he said some­thing so unex­pect­ed­ly hilar­i­ous while I was drink­ing my first (and last) Red Bull. Or the time he spent an evening with me and Lara on our 2018 vis­it to New York and we all play­ful­ly donned goofy hats to cap off the evening. All this play­ing along is exact­ly what con­tin­ues to set him apart. Sud­den­ly, it makes per­fect sense that all this play­ing along was train­ing for Urbano’s ulti­mate goal — toy­ing with audi­ences and keep­ing them on their toes.

Fol­low Martin

Mar­tin can be seen and heard:

Martin Urbano