Amanda Austin: In Business to Make You Laugh

Amanda Austin, founder of the Dallas Comedy House, has built a business in the comedy world she loves with a three-legged model of shows, classes and corporate training. The rewards, she says, have been much more than financial.

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SOT Who is this? It’s your grandson.

AMANDA I think that it’s just hard for a lot of people to wrap their heads around a female that owns a comedy theater. Part of that is because there are so few people that do what I do, for example, looking for property, when you’re dealing in real estate, they don’t really have a business model to look at to see, “Is she going to be able to do it in this building?” And then they always want me to tell a joke. They say, “Why aren’t you funny?” And I say, “Well, because we’re doing business right now. So you don’t want a comedian doing your books. You don’t want a comedian signing a lease.”

TEXT Amanda Austin –Founder + CEO Dallas Comedy House – Dallas, Texas, USA

AMANDA Dallas Comedy House is a comedy theater and we focus on improv, sketch, stand-up, and storytelling. Part of our business is classes, part of our business is shows, and the other part of our business is corporate training

TEXT Amanda was born and raised in Texas.

AMANDA I started my first business in the fifth grade because my parents said that they would not buy me a Dooney & Bourke purse, that it was $300. And I said, “Okay, well what if I make the money?” And so my grandmother taught me how to make hair bows. And in the summer between my fifth and sixth grade year I made $4,000 selling hair bows.

TEXT Amanda majored in journalism at Texas A&M University.

TEXT After graduating in 2001 she worked in sales.

AMANDA I’d always been interested in comedy and I started going to some different clubs around the, the city and I would just watch people perform and so I quickly fell in love with it and realized, “Oh. I like this a lot more than I thought I would.”

TEXT Amanda immersed herself in comedy classes and began to perform.

TEXT She quit her job and sold her home.

TEXT In 2009 she started the Dallas Comedy House.

SOT We’re going to play a game called Whoosh, Bang, Pow. So, you guys
know how that works, all right? So, I’ll hop in and play this one with you.

AMANDA With our first class, I was very ambitious. So I had 36 spots, I think, available for registration and four people signed up. So I reached out to two friends that we asked if, “Would you please take the class for free?” Because it seemed like six seemed more legit than four. So that was our first class.

TEXT In less than a year, Amanda had 45 students
.
TEXT She rented a small space in a hip Dallas neighborhood.

AMANDA The biggest challenge at the beginning was just awareness. I knew it was a successful business plan because we had seen it working in other cities. But a lot of people are very nervous to go see a comedy show because they’re worried, “What if it’s not funny?” or, “What if I’m offended?” A lot of people think they’re going to be heckled if they’re sitting in the front, so a lot of people get nervous.

TEXT Dallas Comedy House grew slowly and steadily, often by word of mouth.

TEXT In 2015 Amanda expanded to a new space with two stages and offices.

TEXT She has three full-time staff and 75 part-time employees.

TEXT They put on 25 shows a week.

SOT Improv teaches us to become leaders in the most unconventional way. We learn to lead from the bottom up.

TEXT Corporate training classes make up nearly one-third of her business.

SOT You probably are going to have some divas. You’re going to have some people who are irresponsible, you’re going to have some people who are high maintenance.

AMANDA A lot of what we’re teaching them in these workshops, which to me is the most important tool in improvisational comedy, is to be an active listener, to actually listen to what people are saying and then respond.

TEXT Dallas Comedy House revenues are close to $1million a year.

SOT Wait. Then that means that the drawer is $30 short.

AMANDA The margins in comedy—well, let me say this: people don’t go into comedy because of the margins. But I know that what we don’t make in revenue we make in being able to see how it’s changed people’s lives. People finding a community, or finding their voice, people who have come up to me and said, “I’ve had the worst anxiety but after I started taking improv classes now I’m very open to coming up and talking to people in public,” all that stuff is far beyond any revenue that we could make.

Posted: October 25, 2017

Christina KellyAmanda Austin: In Business to Make You Laugh