Jimmy Pardo, Chip Pope, Mario Digiorgio
by Dustin Svehlak
The Velv. Maybe you know it as The Velveeta Room, or as that place next to Esther’s Follies. But what you should know is that it’s currently one of the best places in the city to see comedy. Although some might prefer to watch a favorite TV comedian perform at one of Austin’s larger theaters with seating for thousands, I’d prefer to see Todd Glass with a capacity crowd of only 80 or so fellow comedy fans––and Todd ending every show with a group sing along to Sweet Caroline.
For years, The Velv was known as one of the hardest rooms for comics to find laughs. Audiences comprised of 6th Street partiers, Esther’s ticket holders (who tend to have more delicate sensibilities than one would prefer), some dedicated comedy fans, and other comedians routinely made for an uneven experience. This was especially true with the late shows, which started at 11:30 PM and sometimes would play to mostly empty seats. This is what comedian Mario DiGiorgio had when he took over as booker and manager in 2013.
“That entire first year was non-stop learning,” says Mario. “How to handle booking, how to handle jackass patrons, how to get people in the door with $0 advertising budget, how to build a room that comics enjoy playing.”
Success! Credit Mario’s stand-up experience and his design skills (Mario is also the owner and creator of One Kolor Designs), but The Velv is flourishing. 2015 has been the strongest year of booking I’ve seen out of the Velv. Not that it was bad in the past but I find myself with even more FOMO than normal when I can’t get downtown on the weekends. Damn, Mario.
“More variety. Combined with Austin’s own, stellar locals, I can book a whole year without repeating a headliner,” says Mario. He’s not kidding––national headliners included Jimmy Pardo, Todd Glass, Giulia Rozzi, Ryan Stout, Michelle Biloon have made stops this year at 6th and Red River. The Velv also continues to support local acts with headlining weekend from Maggie Maye, Duncan Carson, Katie Pengra, Kath Barbadoro, Aaron Brooks, Brian Gaar, and so many more.
Having just celebrated his two year anniversary, Mario continues to make aesthetic improvements. For anyone that hasn’t visited recently, the interior will look vastly different. Gone is the weird floral patterned backdrop that hung for years prior, replaced with a striking blue velvet curtain adorned with lights. Cushioned bench seating lines both walls and all the table tops are chalk-tops, so you can draw on them with the supplied utensils as you wait for the show to start––Mario is always tinkering. “I just sent off the design for a new, hanging sign outside.” Damn, Mario.
Even with all the great moments 2015 brought to Austin Comedy, The Velv sticks out as one of the biggest triumphs of the year. If you’re already there on a regular basis, none of this is revelatory. If you haven’t been to The Velv in awhile, it’s time to fix that. And those late shows? Now they begin at 11pm and I actually prefer them to the early shows. The crowds are consistently filled with comedy fans and by my estimation, there’s no loss of laughs.
Plans for the new year, Mr. DiGiorgio?
“I’d like to see some new shows spring up. I’d like to start filming so comics can get a quick-n-clean set on tape at the last minute, while simultaneously building up our under-utilized YouTube channel.”
Dustin Svehlak is the owner and operator of production company Voltaic Video, frequently collaborating with the thriving comedy scene of Austin, Texas. Voltaic’s feature-length documentary based on the 30th annual Funniest Person in Austin contest is currently in post-production. Dustin is also the producer and resident laugher for the Almost Related podcast.