Performing Sketch Comedy

HORSES MOUTH
Photograph by Dave Mead

NAME: Shannon Sedwick |  AGE: 61 |  HOMETOWN: Austin |  QUALIFICATIONS: Co-founded Esther’s Follies with her husband, Michael Shelton, in 1977 / Has performed in nearly 10,000 shows, playing roles such as Ann Richards and Patsy Cline / Won a B. Iden Payne lifetime achievement award for her contributions to Austin theater

● My husband studied architecture, and I was a drama major, so what choice did we have? We had to go into business together. We bought the old Liberty Lunch space in the mid-seventies. Michael built the sets, and we had bands and live performances on the roof. Then we moved to East Sixth Street in 1977, and we’ve been there ever since.

● Esther’s Follies was an overnight success. It wouldn’t have worked in any city other than Austin. No one in the audience was afraid to sit shoulder to shoulder with someone who was a little different.

● The first character I did was Aimee Semple McPherson, a religious nut who exhorted people to give money, and we had an actor play a little kid with some terrible disease that you couldn’t pronounce. Another early favorite was Rita Jenrette, a San Antonio native who became the wife of a congressman and posed for Playboy in 1981. I did her sketch with a pair of fake breasts over my outfit.

● In the early days, we performed a special show at the Zilker Hillside Theater, which was free and open to families. Well, we had a sketch that made liberal use of the F-word, and the Austin American-Statesman got more than a hundred complaints. We stuck up for our brand of comedy, but we don’t use the F-word nowadays. I think we’ve grown up a lot.

● We used to do much longer musical numbers. We would take four or five songs from West Side Story and do a sketch about the homeless and the residents of West Lake Hills. It was called “West Lake Hillside Story.”

● The audience is so much savvier now. We have to do something they don’t see on Saturday Night Live each week.

● Fans today know me for my role as Patsy Cline, in which I sing “She’s Got You” and pull things out of my dress like pipe wrenches and saws. Ann Richards and Lily Tomlin loved that act; Lily told me that I should be able to pull a kitchen sink out of there.

● Ann once sent me a picture of me playing her and wrote on it, “You’re much prettier than I am.”

● Thanks to the good ol’ boys down the street, the Capitol has provided us with a lot of material. Governor Perry is well taken care of in our show at this time.

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