A wave of shock and grief swept through the Austin comedy scene yesterday as news spread that 2016’s Funniest Person in Austin winner Lashonda Lester passed away unexpectedly. Known for her ease on stage, Lester was a consummate professional in both her writing and delivery with jokes that never had an unnecessary word and yet somehow seemed off-the-cuff.
Lester was diagnosed with kidney failure almost two years ago immediately following the 2015 FPIA contest. She received dialysis regularly, used the time to craft her jokes, and even talked about her hospital stays in her act. Lester had such a relaxed stage presence, you’d hardly know she read her crowds and tailored her sets with topics spanning from Bitcoin and slut shaming to the Detroit native’s prior life as a one-time madame and later a wrestling manager.
It’s bad enough to lose someone as young and beloved as Lester, but it’s made all the more cosmically wrong knowing her star was on the rise. Austin’s comedy scene is often under-recognized nationally, with comics moving to New York and Los Angeles to launch their careers, but Lester was busting out without changing her address, and deservedly so. Lester had just opened for Marc Maron at the historic Paramount Theatre in Austin last week and was set to tape her first Comedy Central special in New Orleans on April 19th and perform at the Moontower Comedy Festival the same week.
It’s little consolation, but Voltaic Video captured Lester’s set last week at the Paramount, and though we’ve been robbed of ever seeing her standup special, this video is evidence of her ability, her power, and her sheer funny.
The Paramount Theatre left a tribute to her on their marquee yesterday as she was known throughout the city: the Queen of Austin Comedy. She’s sorely missed.