Comedy is a profile in courage: to speak your own voice, to find your own sound, all the while briefly taming a wildly disparate audience into one cohesive unit. I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between performer and audience. Austin comedy audiences in particular are engaged and expect the best because they’ve seen it. So what’s a little heckling among friends?
Enter comic Arielle Norman, one of the bravest comics on the scene. Since relocating from Boston three years ago, she has honed her sound in shows like “Greetings From Queer Mountain” and the upcoming season of PBS’s “Stand Up Empire.”
Her new show, “Off Script,” actively encourages the audience to heckle the comics. This came from her own desire to be less scripted and more present as a performer. Unlike at other comedy shows, she says, where “heckling can get one thrown out of the building,” audience mebers at “Off Script” are not just encouraged to heckle but rewarded from a mystery prize basket. The gamble might be working, as comedians are coming from all over the country to try their hands at it.
The way Norman sees it, heckling can actually help. “When a comedian is heckled, the audience is automatically on the comic’s side in that moment,” she said. “Whatever happens next, the audience knows the comic is present and not just pushing through some memorized material. The tension is high, and everyone is on the edge of their seats to see what will happen next. Once you have the confidence to deal with them, handling a heckler is such an easy and fun way to heighten the audience’s experience.”
So come ready to heckle (hey, you just might win a prize) at “Off Script” on June 1 at the Fallout Theater.
Here is just a sample of some of the other epic comedy delights happening throughout Austin in June.
“Smile More” at the Institution Theater. Time to “break the glass microphone” once and for all. Since 2016, Valerie Nies has brought solid lineups to her monthly feminist comedy show, from veterans to beginners on the scene. This month’s lineup is no exception, featuring the talents of Lea’h Sampson, Holli Cuomo, Megan Tucei, Tori Jones, Jessica Leath and Becca Taute. Interested in trying stand-up? Nies also teaches an intro class for beginners.
“Sexy Future Space Lady” at Hideout Theater. Strap on those silver space shorts: “Sexy Future Space Lady” is a completely improvised show drawn on the adventures of “Barbarella,” that 1960s cult phenomenon we all know and love. Using suggestions from the audience, “Sexy Future Space Lady “will take you on an erotic space adventure you’ve never seen before and will never see again. Show creator Courtney Hopkin said she “loves how empowered Barbarella is with her sexuality in the movie. I’ve been doing lots of (improv) shows recently dealing with the fun side of sexuality, so it felt like a natural next step!”
“Broad Ambition” with Girls Girls Girls at ColdTowne. Girls Girls Girls is Austin’s longest-running, all-female musical improv troupe and is a two-time B. Iden Payne award winner. The Girls are Megan Flynn, Kim Finkelman, Amy Averett, Sarah Doering, Caitlin Sweetlamb, Shana Merlin and Cynthia Oelkers. Their newest offering is “Broad Ambition,” a fully improvised musical comedy about women working in the ’80s. With power ballads and tough girl rock of the Ladies of the Eighties, this show is a comedic commentary on the craziness that went on during the Me Decade for working women.
Austin Ladies Improv Jam at the Institution Theater. The ladies-only Improv Jam welcomes females and female-identifying improvisors across Austin and beyond. All levels of experience are welcome and encouraged to participate.
Michael Che at the Paramount Theatre. Che is the co-anchor of “Saturday Night Live’s Weekend “and its first African-American anchor in the show’s 40-year history. The Paramount continues to attract major comedy talent who bask in its vaudeville-era setting. Che cut his teeth on “The Daily Show” and is just coming into his prime, and it’s thrilling to see just what he’ll do next.
Abby Rosenquist at Cap City Comedy Club. Local fave Rosenquist has moved on to the greener pastures of New York, and this is a great one-night-only chance to see her again. Her dry delivery and brilliant writing are on full display. Check the Moontower and Just For Laughs Festival alum out at Cap City and welcome her home.
Mo Amer’s Netflix comedy special taping at the Paramount. Austin is quickly becoming a favorite place for national comics to tape their comedy specials for Netflix; Dave Chappelle, David Cross and Natasha Leggero come to mind. Next up is Amer, a pioneer of Arab-American stand-up. He has appeared on Comedy Central and :The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”; his chance seating next to Eric Trump on an airplane quickly went viral. His unique perspective as an immigrant in these challenging times makes Amer’s comedy extremely relevant.
“Arguments and Grievances” podcast taping at the Velveeta Room. Billed as “half comedy show, half rhetorical fight to the death,” “Arguments and Grievances” is a live comedy series and podcast featuring comedians debating outlandish topics, with audiences choosing the victor. It’s an outrageous enterprise exploring the heated issues of the day, including “Hugs vs. Drugs,” “Dr. Dre vs. Dr. Seuss” and “Batman vs. Spiderman.”
Brently Heilbron is a writer, emo puppet and host of the PBS series “Stand Up Empire.” Got a show to recommend? Reach out @Brently on Twitter.