40 Years of Follies

Story behind Austin's most famous comedy troupe revealed in new book

Story behind Austin's most famous comedy troupe revealed in new book

Esther's Follies
Comedy fans will uncover 40 years of history (and gossip) in new book, Esther's Follies. Courtesy of Esther's Follies

Austin’s comedy scene may be exploding, but its rich history can be traced back to an aquamarine building on the corner of Sixth and Red River streets. Esther's Follies, the satirical musical revue beloved by locals and tourists alike, began four decades ago on the site of a former Spanish-language movie house. Now, the colorful history of this landmark troupe is documented in Esther's Follies, a 200-page coffee table book by local author Jesse Sublett.

In 1977, co-founders Shannon Sedwick and Michael Shelton, who also owned the Ritz Theater (now Alamo Drafthouse Ritz) and Liberty Lunch at one point, wanted to create a new vaudeville-style show to reflect the political climate of the city they loved. They named the show Esther’s Follies after the iconic movie star Esther Williams, and for five nights a week for more than forty years, audiences have flocked to see the mix of music, magic, and comedy. The show was designed to poke fun at both sides of the political divide, and always includes sketches of particular delight to Texans, old and new. 

In the new book, Sublett chronicles the backstage antics and colorful characters that have populated the venue over the years. The book features performers like host and artist Kerry Awn, the volatile and larger-than-life Margaret Wiley, and flower-spinning street performer Crazy Karl, who audiences have likely seen through Esther’s stage window that looks out onto Sixth Street. The book is also packed with photographs, backstage stories, insider gossip, and memorabilia.

The book is available for pre-order now. Texas Book Festival attendees can catch Sublett in-person on Saturday, November 4 from 3-4 pm in the Texas Tent.