Over the past five weeks, I’ve performed at nearly thirty open mics around Austin. Going in, I knew that the city had an up-and-coming comedy scene. But after having dozens of conversations, I was fascinated to learn just how strong of a gravitational pull Austin has for comics. In fact, almost everyone I’ve met at open mics and comedy shows around town moved to Austin over the past two years explicitly for comedy.
The 2020 and early 2021 arrivals made their moves largely because of the pandemic lockdowns. While cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Seattle shut down due to COVID, Austin had less strict restrictions and more outdoor venues to perform at. Those antsy to hone their craft and make a career out of comedy flocked to take advantage of the stage time opportunities.
It was also early in the pandemic that legendary comedians with popular podcasts and large followings like Joe Rogan, Tom Segura, and Tony Hinchcliffe moved from Los Angeles to Austin. Over the past two years, they’ve promoted the Austin comedy scene on their platforms, have supported new comedy venues, and have featured up-and-coming Austin comics as openers.
Comics that arrived over the past year referenced the influence of folks like Rogan, Segura, and Hinchcliffe when discussing the reasons behind their own moves. Some of the more recent arrivals have also followed friends from their local comedy scenes that came here first and hyped it up. Austin being cheaper to live in than New York, Los Angeles, or Boston was frequently mentioned as well.
It feels like over the past two years, Austin has vaulted its way into becoming the third biggest standup comedy city in the US. Now, will it ever rival New York or Los Angeles? That’s less clear. While there’s a ton of impressive young talent and comedic activity, there’s not much of a proven model for folks getting big on the national stage out of Austin. Between talk shows, talent agencies, studio headquarters, and a built-in network of nationally touring comics, New York and Los Angeles have infrastructure set up to help comics gain national exposure that’s hard to replicate. As a result, Austin very well could be stuck as a primary “stepping stone” comedy city – the place comics go to hone their craft before moving to Los Angeles or New York.
That being said, the shift away from legacy media and toward more democratized talent diffusers like TikTok means that it’s easier than ever for people to “make it” outside of the established markets. And now that Austin has attracted nationally known comics, has stronger comedy clubs, and is home to some of the more popular comedy podcasts (such as Kill Tony), the infrastructure is building up to help Austin comics find national audiences. And since all of this activity has happened over just the past two years, it doesn’t seem out of the question for this trend to continue and for Austin to break into that upper echelon of standup comedy cities over the next decade.
But regardless of what comes next, there’s a buzz to the Austin comedy scene that’s attracting some of the best young comedic talent. So whether Austin becomes a city that launches comedy careers or not, it’s certainly a top-tier place to be if you like to have a good laugh.