The Long Awaited Return of Cap City Comedy Club

July 28, 2022

Photo Credit

John Anderson. Artwork in Main Room by Ramin Nazer


Valerie Lopez


Valerie Lopez

This article was written for the Austin Chronicle and published July 28, 2022. Link

Can Cap City Comedy Club Reclaim Its Throne?
The Austin comedy institution is back, but it returns to a radically changed stand-up scene

On Sep­tem­ber 10, 2020, I pub­lished a farewell love let­ter to Cap City Com­e­dy Club when, after 35 years as a cul­tur­al icon, the doors of its home off North Lamar were locked, seem­ing­ly for good. I wrote at Com­e­dy Wham, One day instead of cry­ing about the end of Cap City Com­e­dy Club, I will smile for all of the mem­o­ries that you gave me.” Almost two years lat­er, com­e­dy entre­pre­neurs Brad and Marc Gross­man have brought the leg­end back in a new two-stage loca­tion at the Domain.

With the back­ing of their Heli­um Com­e­dy Club net­work and its eight loca­tions span­ning from Port­land, Ore., to Philadel­phia, Pa., Cap City joins a well-oiled, respect­ed nation­al com­e­dy machine that includes dig­i­tal plat­form Heli­um Presents, a pod­cast net­work, 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.

It could be argued that the pur­chase by Heli­um was an event 20 years in the mak­ing. 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 own­er­ship of Cap City for 20 years, and [Cap City own­er Rich Miller] helped us open Heli­um in 2005. He was a men­tor to us along­side Louis Lee [of Acme Com­e­dy Club in Minneapolis].”

The sale was announced on Feb. 10, 2021, with a sched­uled open­ing date of Sep­tem­ber. How­ev­er, it was­n’t the pan­dem­ic or plan­ning per­mis­sion that meant that date slipped: Gross­man even said, The city of Austin actu­al­ly was pret­ty darn great through the per­mit­ting process.” The big bad wolf in a city where every­body is build­ing is the noto­ri­ous sup­ply chain. Gross­man explained that at one point, sup­pli­ers had to delay a deliv­ery of con­crete to the new Domain loca­tion for sev­er­al weeks because it was sent to build Tes­la’s Gigafactory.

Once the cer­tifi­cate of occu­pan­cy was grant­ed ear­ly this month, the club had a soft open just a few days lat­er on July 12 with a head­lin­er set from Mary Lynn Rajskub. Gross­man was quick to praise the staff head­ed by Gen­er­al Man­ag­er Chandy Popp Kurzweil, a famil­iar face for near­ly 20 years at the old loca­tion, for a rel­a­tive­ly smooth return dur­ing the soft opening.

My per­son­al col­lec­tion of col­or­ful tick­et stubs con­firms how much I’ve enjoyed shows at the orig­i­nal Cap” (as I refer to it). But I won­der: With it reopen­ing in 2022 to a very dif­fer­ent com­e­dy land­scape com­pared to 2020, can the club return to its sta­tus as the only big club in town”?

Everyone's going to do alright, and we all offer a little something different.
Brad Grossman

The fac­tu­al answer is it can’t. Cap City reopens with two new full-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 grace the Cap City stages; now they per­form reg­u­lar­ly at both the Creek & the Cave and Big Laugh Com­e­dy. Gross­man­’s answer is that with Heli­um’s back­ing, Cap City will find its niche. Every­one’s going to do alright, and we all offer a lit­tle some­thing different.”

It’s a reflec­tion on the city’s out­landish growth that Austin has three full-scale com­e­dy clubs along­side all the oth­er venues to watch com­e­dy, with Rogan’s named behind a fourth being added (details are sparse, but rumors con­tin­ue that Com­e­dy Moth­er­ship will be locat­ed at the old Ritz The­atre on Sixth Street). Rogan has said he wants Austin to be the com­e­dy cap­i­tal of Amer­i­ca, and with his influ­ence, Gross­man said, I’m in for it.”

Some­thing else hap­pened dur­ing the years since Cap City closed in 2020: Com­e­dy fans increas­ing­ly went online to dis­cov­er comics. Tik­Tok, Insta­gram, and YouTube became lab­o­ra­to­ries for emerg­ing tal­ent. Gross­man said he is eager for Cap City to bring not only more racial diver­si­ty, but a hybrid of online sen­sa­tions and tra­di­tion­al club comics to Austin com­e­dy fans.

But not every­thing has changed, and there’s one tra­di­tion that sets Cap City apart. It’s an annu­al event dat­ing back to 1986 that lega­cy comics (i.e., those work­ing comics who were here before COVID) loved and hat­ed in equal mea­sure: the Fun­ni­est Per­son in Austin con­test. The annu­al spring­time tra­di­tion elec­tri­fied the com­e­dy scene with chat­ter of prepar­ing (got­ta hit those mics!), gos­sip­ing about those advanc­ing or not advanc­ing, and lust­ing after the finan­cial grand prize (or even the mod­est but impact­ful prize for win­ning Joke of the Night). It was the talk of the town, and this week Cap City brings back the long-run­ning tra­di­tion with only minor oper­a­tional tweaks. Gross­man even teased the idea of a joint com­pe­ti­tion to offer win­ners a chance to face off with win­ners of sim­i­lar con­tests at oth­er Heli­um clubs to give peo­ple a big­ger oppor­tu­ni­ty to be seen by more indus­try folks on a greater scale.”

[Cap City is] the gold standard for how to book and run a comedy club in a way that appeases the crowds and cares for the comics. Everyone is taken care of there. As obvious as that sounds, that's surprisingly rare in the current comedy landscape.
Andrew Murphy

With Heli­um’s near­ly 20-year track record of suc­cess and Kurzwell serv­ing as gen­er­al man­ag­er, there’s a dis­tinct opti­mism about the future of Cap City – not just for audi­ences, but Austin per­form­ers. 2019 Fun­ni­est Per­son win­ner Andrew Mur­phy called Cap City the gold stan­dard for how to book and run a com­e­dy club in a way that appeas­es the crowds and cares for the comics. Every­one is tak­en care of there. As obvi­ous as that sounds, that’s sur­pris­ing­ly rare in the cur­rent com­e­dy landscape.”

Between the FPIA, new loca­tion, and plen­ti­ful free park­ing, what does the club look and feel like? Audi­ences can choose from two per­for­mance spaces: the main room and the more inti­mate Red Room. The rooms 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 sneak peek and shared, What struck me [about the Red Room] is how sim­i­lar it feels to the Lounge from the old club. Low ceil­ings, inti­mate seat­ing, and a small­er stage lends itself to an incred­i­ble com­e­dy expe­ri­ence and, for me on a pro­fes­sion­al video­g­ra­ph­er lev­el, some of the absolute best record­ings in the world.” Of the main room, Svehlak added, What’s real­ly cool is there’s a bal­cony now, so the per­spec­tive will be pret­ty unique in this new space!”

Entrance to Cap City Comedy Club's new location at the Domain

2012 Fun­ni­est Per­son win­ner and pro­lif­ic artist Ramin Naz­er is behind the art­work through­out the club, includ­ing stage back­grounds. He said, I want­ed the main stage mur­al to be inter­est­ing with­out being a dis­trac­tion. When you are first seat­ed there is no one on stage, so this draws your atten­tion grad­u­al­ly as the show begins. Com­e­dy is the best when you’re ful­ly emerged into the world of the performer.”

But there’ll also be con­nec­tion to the old venue, and Gross­man added that over the next year, audi­ences should expect to see more ele­ments from the old loca­tion find their place at the new venue. He said, We have a ton of stuff in the old Cap that we just want to get up on the walls.”

Valerie Lopez is the exec­u­tive pro­duc­er of the Com­e­dy Wham pod­cast. com​e​dy​wham​.com.

Cap City Comedy Club

11506 Century Oaks Bldg. B #100,


Main Room

July 28-30: Bryan Callen

July 31: Funniest Person in Austin Preliminary Round

Aug. 2-3: Funniest Person in Austin Preliminary Round

Aug. 4-6: Jeff Ross

Aug. 6-7: Pinky Patel

Aug. 7: Funniest Person in Austin Preliminary Round

Aug. 9-10: Funniest Person in Austin Preliminary Round

Aug. 11-14: Earthquake

Red Room

July 28: Home Base: The Best of Austin Comedy With Zac Brooks and Taylor Dowdy

July 29-30: Alingon Mitra

Aug. 2: Chris Tellez and Friends

Aug. 4: Glow Show With Joey Z

Aug. 5-6: Ahamed Weinberg

Aug. 11: Bryson Brown

Aug. 12-13: Katie Hughes