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Joe Rogan’s Comedy Club Mothership Lands in Austin: Opening Night Review

“UNVAXXED SPERM” reads the poster held aloft by a woman standing outside the theater, and you know you’re in the right place: Joe Rogan’s new mecca for comedy clubs. On Austin’s historic Sixth Street, Comedy Motherland had its opening night after two and a half years of development.

Comedy Mothership is the comedian and podcaster’s attempt to launch what he describes as an ideal location for comics and an effort to transform the Texas capital into a major live comedy hub. When tickets for shows opening week went on sale (for a surprisingly reasonable $40 per person), they sold out in minutes. Tickets resell online for $500.

“I’m drunk and on mushrooms in my new club!” exclaimed Rogan, wearing a rather strange Obi-Wan-esque sweater. “This is as high as I’ve ever been on the podium. I need to connect with this moment… You can’t fire me from my own club, bitch!”

The venue’s theme is aliens meets art deco (the latter, a respectful nod to the converted theatre’s centuries-long history). There is a UFO above the door in the lobby, warnings that “Hecklers Will Be Alienated” and a Stargate-esque arch above the main stage. The theater is awash in black and purple. By Austin’s comedy standards, it’s easily the coolest venue in town.

The opening run of performances is billed as “Joe Rogan and Friends,” and the first night featured Rogan fresh regulars Ron White, Tim Dillion, Roseanne Barr, and Tony Hinchcliffe (who brings his popular Kill Tony show to the theater and leads the audience in a game called “Kayne or the Jews?”). The audience in attendance was pretty standard for Rogan shows, meaning they index too much on the three Bs – bros, beards, and ballcaps. Within seconds of the first comic taking the stage, a homosexual slur was thrown, followed by jokes about trans people. The audience cheered. For the anti-cancellation culture, this is their new safe place.

Later, during a Q&A with the audience, Rogan was asked how it felt to finally have his club open. “It doesn’t feel real. I know it’s real, but it doesn’t feel real… I was super nervous today.” When asked what his next milestone is, Rogan replied, “I’m done with milestones. I guess I just like risk. I thought, ‘Oh yeah, let’s buy a building on a street full of crack addicts.’ Like I want someone to say no to me. They all say, ‘Okay, go ahead.’” He also noted that his dream podcast guest would be Hunter Biden. “I can turn this around for you,” Rogan said. “If my father had Alzheimer’s and I was on coke, I would would have done exactly the same as you. I really want to talk to him.”

The logistics: The venue is divided into two stages, a headliner space called Fat Man and a smaller stage called Little Boy. There is a bar named after Comedy Store co-founder Mitzi Shore. Rogan has said he hired “the best people” from his former Los Angeles store stomping grounds to run the club. Rogan helped lead the practice of banning phones from comedy shows, so it’s no surprise that those are sealed in a bag upon entry. Security is a bit intense as you have to get your face scanned like going through airport security at Heathrow. The staff are numerous and friendly. However, the floor seating feels rather cramped, and – in a move that feels antiquated – the venue has the old-school comedy club with a two-drink minimum.

“I want to thank Joe for building this wonderful mothership for comedians,” Barr said. “It’s so great in the green room with everyone up there drunk and smoking weed, just like in the Comedy Store when Mitzi Shore was alive, and comedy was king.” Barr then moved into a set of riffs on ‘Satanic Disney’. “After 30 years of fighting ABC to have black writers and black characters on my show and then having the same goddamn libtards flip and call me a racist, I got really fucking pissed,” enraged.

The club has been a passion project of Rogan since he moved from Los Angeles to Austin in 2020. Last year, on Theo Von’s podcast, Rogan told me, like you just had to be nice to comedy club owners because you never want to be one of those people. But when I knew I was moving here, and [Austin’s Capital City Comedy Club] was already closed. I was like, ‘Maybe I should buy a fucking club and start a club.’ And that became my focus.” (Cap City has since gradually reopened at a new location in North Austin).

Overall, Comedy Mothership looks likely to be a popular venue, injecting some much-needed investment and unique energy into the troubled Sixth Street entertainment district, which has slid from a “slightly sketchy” to an outright “no go” in recent years. for many local residents. But for some, the mothership’s arrival has been met with weary sighs. The new club so perfectly represents the city’s recent evolution into a post-pandemic boomtown fueled by money from outside the city. The building itself was a much-loved Sixth Street icon bought by a California celebrity who on his hugely popular Spotify podcast encourages people to similarly move to Austin – where home prices skyrocketed last year and became the second most expensive of all. become the country. “[Rogan] changed the game of comedy by moving us all here,” Hinchcliffe noted.

The Austin American statesman even ran an ad campaign last year criticizing Rogan’s local clout: “‘Pull that up, Jaime’ doesn’t count as journalism,” the city’s daily sniffed, referring to Rogan’s go-to phrase when he asks his producer for a fact check of an uncertain claim. “Journalism by journalists,” the newspaper added, “Not comedians.” As a wag on Reddit contradicted, “If a newspaper compares itself to a podcast, they’ve already lost.”

In a way, the venue itself – formerly called The Ritz – follows the changes in Austin throughout the last century. Built in 1929, the theater was the city’s first movie theater built specifically for ‘talkie’ footage. In the early 1970s, several entrepreneurs attempted to revive The Ritz as an adult theater and stage venue. Subsequently, the venue evolved into a live music club, bar and pool hall, which became The Ritz’s identity in the 1980s and 1990s, as Austin established its reputation as “the live music capital of the world.” The venue changed dramatically in 2007 when it was purchased by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema during Austin’s tech boom. It was a time when quirky, one-of-a-kind local Austin businesses like Drafthouse—with its then-revolutionary in-seat food and beverage service—began to expand into chains across the city and even across the country.

“Austin weird” became an investment asset, with the city regularly topping lists of the best U.S. cities to live in, but when the pandemic hit, Drafthouse filed for bankruptcy and was forced to vacate its flagship Ritz location, and that’s how Rogan acquired it. The theater chain was bailed out by new investors, and the most popular Ritz programming—the reliably sold-out Master Pancake live movie spot shows—has since shifted to the company’s other Austin locations.

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