With so much going on in Austin this week for the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, it’s impossible to catch every single thing happening on stages across the city. CultureMap’s comedy correspondents will be recapping the fest daily, highlighting their favorite acts, unforgettable moments and more.
What's there to say about Steven Wright? He performed for an hour and twenty minutes at the Paramount, telling hundreds of his uniquely surreal one-liners broken only by an occasional song on his guitar or bizarrely imaginary anecdotes. A fair amount of classic lines from his two albums were still in play, along with newer material that proved even the most classic of comedy thinkers can keep up with the current technology-obsessed age ("My nephew has HDADD... he can barely pay attention but when he does it's unbelievable"). Wright's presence has remained stolidly deadpan throughout the years, but in the space of an hour plus performance he had time to be a little goofier than you'd expect, unexpectedly hiding behind parts of the stage at one point ("This is my impression of the world's shyest stand up comedian"), or crooning a series of barely audible moans for the entirety of one song- allegedly he didn't press the pen down hard enough when writing the lyrics. It was an epic performance from one of comedy's most singular minds.
The late Super Serious show at the Stateside was notably physical — Josh Fadem opened the show with an extended, purposeful series of pratfalls, Eric Andre knocked over most parts of the set for emphasis at certain points, the Walsh brothers literally wrestled an audience plant (local comic Michael Priest!) out of the theater in a bit that led to a pre-taped video segment, Melissa Villasenor did a full-body impression of Lady Gaga and Rory Scovel (having a great Moontower by all accounts) ended the night by climbing perilously high on the metal faux-moontower set dressing, bemoaning his desperation for the audience's approval in his inimitable confrontational deadpan for the entire climb. Andy Peters and Dana Gould stuck more to prepared sets but still got into it with the amped-up crowd, and host James Adomian reset the energy between each act by throwing himself into the various voices his elaborate bits entail. Add in a few short films, and the variety of the Super Serious show delivered on the "oddity" portion of Moontower in a huge way.
Though there was an official wrap party at The Mohawk with live music and all, it seemed like most badge holders decided to wind down back at the Stephen F. Austin's Terrace bar, which had been the habit the last three days until 2 a.m. anyway. The crowd only seemed to get more talkative and loud as the staff chased them out at closing time, as if Moontower could last a little longer if the party just kept going. Among all the recapping of the fest and the fond farewells was a repeated varation on the same thought: "I can't wait for next year."
Does Culture Map need another John Mulaney recap? I think it does, because the man put in another incredible set at the Parish last night, and could he be any more charming? Mulaney has the perfect level of name recognition: Well known enough to completely fill a room, but not so well known that the audience is eager to yell his own jokes out at him. He opened with the newly-developed Austin material he'd tried out the night before, including a bit describing hippies he'd seen in a park today. "It looked like all the members of Rusted Root had reunited." Clearly, he'd had a run-in with Eyeore's Birthday Party and didn't know what it was. Was I going to yell that out to him? No. Because people who do that are the worst. Mulaney kept the crowd solidly laughing for a good forty minutes, including an extended story about meeting President Clinton as a child, along with several tales of his drunken antics before he was a teetotaler. Mike MacRae opened with an uncanny Obama impression, followed by Nikki Glaser who explained "the classiness of a good rogering."
After a snack stop (Royal Blue Grocery, I love you), I made my way to The Super Serious Show at the Stateside Theatre. Austinites, if there is one takeaway from this festival it is this: Take a chance on seeing some comedians you haven't heard of before. The comics on this bill were seriously delightful. It was hosted by James Adomian, who gave a hilarious account of putting in his "man dues" as a closeted gay football player in high school, and comics Eric Andre, Andy Peters and Dana Gould put in strong sets. Highlights included Melissa Villasenor's unreal voice impressions, Rory Scovel climbing the faux moontower onstage despite its obvious instability and Josh Fadem (who plays Liz Lemon's terrible agent, Simon, on 30 Rock) in a ridiculous, hysterical losing fight with his microphone stand and the stool onstage that cannot be described. Then there were the Walsh Brothers, who lived every comedy audience's dream by taking out a heckler — okay, an audience plant — and transitioning to a video bit of throwing said heckler off the South Congress bridge. Good riddance, folks who talk loud in comedy shows! You missed it all, Austin. Don't let that happen next year.
Moontower's learning curve may have been the shortest for a major Austin festival ever. On Wednesday night, volunteers seemed a little overwhelmed, and things like who was supposed to stand in what line weren't always clear. By Saturday, everybody seemed to have figured it out, and — at least from where I was standing — the movement was a lot more like clockwork than the clusterfudgery that's been known to besiege even significantly more established festivals.
And with that in mind, it's worth considering just how impressive all of this was. I mean, this is year one of the festival — a pilot program, for all intents and purposes. The first Austin City Limits Festival was even more humble in its scope (Aziz Ansari, Steven Wright, Seth Myers et al are bigger names in comedy than Ryan Adams and Wilco were in music circa 2002), and look what that thing's blown up to. If that's anything close to the trajectory that Moontower takes as it develops in future years, then anyone who was out and about the past five days has scored themselves some nice bragging rights.
The audience for the early Super Serious Show had someting up our collective butt. Maybe sitting in a theater next to where Steven Wright was performing made last night's very good show pale in comparison? Is there no booze Stateside? Whatever it was, the comedians were doing their jobs, I felt like we the audience were slacking. 30 Rock's Josh Fadem did a set I'd expect to see from a lunatic at an open mic, which if you can do and control, is a beautiful thing. The people in the front row looked scared when he rolled onto them in a cardboard box and muttering "No!"
I sat next to Austin comedian Michael Priest, who was asked by the Walsh Brothers to heckle the end of their set, then be dragged out of the theater and thrown over the Congress bridge. Priest is a weird, weird heckler and audiences love seeing hecklers get their comeuppance. Great sets from Dana Gould, James Adomian, Eric Andre and Maria Villasenor. I hope the late show had a better crowd.
Wanda Sykes absolutely exhausted me. If anyone wasn't ready for the festival to be over, after her set I don't think we could handle any more. She thankfully walked the douchebags who were sitting near me with her hour of material about Obama and Republicans. Spoiler: She supports Obama and has not found a Republican candidate who she likes. During her set, Sykes boxed a moth so large she thought it was a bat, and kicked a mic stand off stage almost falling on a woman in the front row.
I saw Sykes at the Stephen F. Austin Lounge thing before and after the show and being in her presence petrified me. I've been a big fan of hers for a long time, so at the end of her two hour set, I was done with comedy for a minute. Thanks Moontower, it was unbelievable.
Fact: James Adomian is the best. The best. I could write an essay on all the reasons why I think the comic — known for his frequent, character-based appearances on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast — is one of the most brilliant performers I've ever seen, and on the fast track to becoming a household name (and the most genuinely nice guy, to boot), but I won't waste time you could be spending seeing for yourself:
James Adomian at the Super Serious Show:
James Adomian riffing as Jesse "The Body" Ventura: