Comedian Lashonda Lester was Funniest Person in Austin


Austin comedian Lashonda Lester, named the Funniest Person in Austin 2016, died Thursday.

No cause of death has yet been released, but Lester was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2015. She was 41.

The Detroit-born comedian opened a high-profile show for Marc Maron at the Paramount Theatre on March 31 and was a few weeks away from recording her first Comedy Central special. She had appeared on the NBC show “Last Comic Standing” in 2015 and can be seen in Katie Pengra’s and Dustin Svehlak’s 2016 film “Funniest,” a documentary about the Funniest Person in Austin competition that debuted at last year’s Austin Film Festival.

Lester was a beloved fixture of Austin’s stand-up scene, garnering near-universal respect from her peers in a field where that is extremely hard to come by.

“She was the queen,” Cap City Comedy Club co-owner and General Manager Margie Coyle said. “I don’t mean that in a superficial way. There’s a reason Austin comedians are torn up today. She was a dominating talent on the verge of becoming a national name.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES: A day with the queen of Austin comedy

Austin comic Matt Bearden was a friend of Lester’s.

“Lashonda was a great Austinite,” Bearden said Thursday. “She had that Wild West attitude of Texas loudmouth proud, strong women. She fit in with them, but she never let you forget she was from Detroit. If our scene was a car, she would be the hood ornament.”

He recalled seeing Lester many years ago at a Funniest Person in Austin competition.

“When you are in the business a long time and you watch comics every single night, it takes a lot for someone to stick out to you,” Bearden said. “The first time I saw Lashonda, she was very, very, very green, but I was sitting next to Margie Coyle and I said to her, ‘Is she going to be a star?’ You just knew. She kept developing and getting better and better.

“The thing that is killing (fellow comics) in town right now is that we work really, really hard at something that, in Austin, isn’t hailed as much as film or music,” Bearden continued. “And Lashonda was about to break out. Getting on the small late-night shows is great, but getting a Comedy Central special is a home run. (Because she didn’t get to make the special,) it feels like she got cheated and the audience got cheated.”

Fellow comic Brian Gaar noted that her life experience was a crucial part of her comedy. “I think she came to stand-up later in life than many comics, and she had done all these things that were reflected in her comedy,” Gaar said. “She was also someone who didn’t come to Austin, get a little famous and leave. She became a part of the scene and gave back to it and invested in it.”

Lietza Brass is a producer of the Moontower Comedy Festival and booked Lester into Moontower’s “The Next” showcase last year, which is set up for those in the industry to view the best of the best in Austin comedy. Lester was also scheduled to perform at this year’s festival.

“Her material and her energy that night stood out and apart from everyone,” Brass said of Lester’s Funniest Person victory in May 2016. “She was just so ready at that moment to win. She didn’t have to put a character on. She could just walk out and be herself, and sometimes being yourself on stage is the most dangerous and scariest thing you can do because the audience is sometimes taken aback. Not with her.”

Many people said that younger comics looked up to Lester. “If something like this had happened to someone else,” Bearden said, “other comedians would have gone to her for advice on how to deal with it.”

“She was a real person,” Gaar said, “and that is my favorite kind of comedian.”

Lester is survived by her mother, husband and son.

Lashonda Lester

1975-2017



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

What are you most curious about: Drug cartels, traffic lights or weirdos?
What are you most curious about: Drug cartels, traffic lights or weirdos?

It’s time to vote! We’ve sifted through hundreds of reader questions submitted to our Austin Answered project to pick the finalists for this voting round, and now we want to know which question you’d like for one of our reporters to answer. What are you most curious about? Got your own question? Hit us up at statesman.com/austinanswered...
Residents sue Central Health over funding of UT Dell Medical School
Residents sue Central Health over funding of UT Dell Medical School

After five years of arguing that the Travis County health district’s voter-approved contributions of taxpayer money to the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School are unlawful, activists have finally put the issue into the hands of a Travis County state judge. Travis County voters agreed in 2012 to raise Central Health’s property...
Judge: Stop blocking abortion for teen immigrant in Texas
Judge: Stop blocking abortion for teen immigrant in Texas

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Trump administration officials to stop blocking a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant from having an abortion while she’s being detained in Texas after crossing the Mexican border without authorization. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of Washington, D.C., ordered administration officials to allow the teenager...
Court: Examine if Austin crime lab botched death penalty evidence
Court: Examine if Austin crime lab botched death penalty evidence

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday ordered a closer examination of death row inmate Areli Escobar’s claims that shoddy work by the Austin police crime lab compromised evidence in his case. Escobar is seeking to have his conviction overturned, and a new trial ordered, after a Travis County jury sentenced him to death in the...
Houston school district apologizes for altering homecoming queen's photo
Houston school district apologizes for altering homecoming queen's photo

When Ebony Smith was awarded the homecoming queen honors last week at a Houston-area school, she posed for the photo in a purple-jeweled crown nestled on her purple-dyed hair. The brightly colored hair is a dress code violation at North Shore Senior High School in Galena Park, just east of Houston, but how the school handled it caught everyone off...
More Stories