Civic Night: when you laugh, you’re listening

As we dig further into Civic Night, we’ve had the challenge of immersing ourselves into Austin’s comedy scene. Nice work if you can get it, right?

On Monday evening we went to see a monthly comedy show called All In: Stand Up at The Sidewinder. On Thursday evening we saw QueerTowne’s Super Gay Valentine’s Day, a show featuring queer-inclusive storytelling, stand up, and improv at Coldtowne Theatre in East Austin. On Friday evening, Esther’s Follies entertained us with political satire, comedy sketches, magic and musical numbers. And firsthand we experienced some of Austin’s venues and bars, like The Historic Scoot Inn in East Austin.

It’s fun and serious work for us. We are building from a design research insight about perception being an essential factor determining if and how a person engages civically. How might we leverage the power of perception to increase meaningful civic participation?

We’ve combined the insight and opportunity with a powerful form of art: comedy.

We’ve gotten some quizzical looks. Comedy? We’ve seen it play out nationally with politics–Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Saturday Night Live– and much success. And numerous secondary sources are extolling the virtues of comedy as a means to shape what people think and even what they do.

In addition to learning about the scene firsthand, we’re there to talk with patrons about their experience and interest in comedy. What if we changed one or two things about a production–a heavy dose of civic life–will they be interested in a show like that and why.

Like many before us, we discovered that Austin’s comedy scene is alive and thriving. It’s a diverse mix of young and experienced talent, performing stand-up to improv to sketch shows every week.


In addition to immersing ourselves in the scene, we ran three experiments this week to test format, venues, and comics.


We believe there are three potential formats for Civic Night: civic comedy show, civic salon, or civic 101. We developed high-level journey maps to test with people to determine if there is a preference for one over the other. We anticipated that a majority would prefer one format over the other.

Civic Comedy Show - Journey Map

Civic 101 - Journey Map

Civic Salon - Journey Map


Results: the majority preferred the comedy show format. A common theme we picked up on was that many of the people spoke with thought the comedy show format would meet people where they are and introduce political and community topics in a fresh way.

“I like that after the show, people go and talk…”

“The population is not self-educated about topics. This gets you there.”

“This is an interesting idea. Cool.”

We spoke with 20 people to complete an experiment about a preferred format for Civic Night.
We spoke with 20 people to complete an experiment about a preferred format for Civic Night.


We believe there are venues in East Austin who will host Civic Night for little to no cost since there is an opportunity to make money on the drinks sold. We made outreach to six potential venues (including bars and traditional comedy show venues) to learn about availability, logistics, and atmosphere.

Results: inconclusive. We have not been able to speak one-on-one with enough venues yet to complete the experiment. We anticipate ending the test early next week. If we decide to pursue a traditional comedy show theatre, we learned that there are two on the East Side.


We believe there are diverse comedians In Austin, including Hispanic and African American, who will be interested in Civic Night as a potential event where they would perform. We made outreach to six diverse comedians to discuss Civic Night, and we expect that at least 2-3 of the comics will be interested in Civic Night as a potential event where they would perform.

Results: inconclusive. We were not able to speak one-on-one with enough diverse comedians yet to complete the experiment. Phone and face-to-face meetings are scheduled, and we anticipate completing the test early next week.

What’s next

We plan to continue work to understand the customer’s journey. We will further explore the front of the house, back of the house, stakeholders, and partners. We plan to explore a digital extension of Civic Night as an essential part of our service offering, co-design with a comedian, and develop additional experiments to test Civic Night.

Visit us online to signup and stay up-to-date with the latest news about Civic Night.

Joshua Browning, Scott Reed, and Maria Zub