Would you believe that in less than three weeks Austin is facing another festival? But residents shouldn’t worry another invasion of indie bands, filmmakers and tech geeks coming into town to steal our cell phone reception and barbecue. Instead, Austinites should ready themselves to welcome a wave of comedians who are only here to make us laugh.
Enter: The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. In only its second year, the festival's ascent from its first year is apparent to all fans of comedy. (Take a quick look at the finalized lineup and schedule to see a full rundown of some of the hottest names in the comedy scene.)
One of the biggest names gracing the Paramount Theatre stage is master celebrity roaster, and lord of comedy darkness, Anthony Jeselnik. With the recent release of his second hit live album, Caligula, and the beginning of his own Comedy Central show, The Jeselnik Offensive, Jeselnik took some time to discuss with CultureMap his transition from standup to TV host, while keeping his line-crossing acts as fresh and offensive as ever.
CultureMap: Have you performed in Austin before? Are you well acquainted with the local comedy scene?
Anthony Jeselnik: It’s one of my favorite cities to perform in, actually. I like the people; I like the town as a whole. I think it’s just a good comedy town. The audience seems to get me. They seem to be excited to kind of go where I take them, and I’ve always had a blast performing there.
[Whenever I come to town] I like to hang out in the comedy scene. I’ll just headline my show at Cap City Comedy Club and then go and find an open mic somewhere and just hang out with some local Austin comics. It’s always a blast.
CM: With the launch of your new TV series, The Jeselnik Offensive, what’s the workload been, balancing time working on the show and writing new standup material?
AJ: It’s been tough. You know, I have to kind of make myself write standup stuff because I’m so excited about my show and working on it and getting better at being a TV host. Launching a show is the toughest part, but it gets easier after this.
But I’ve been making myself write standup jokes on the weekend. I’ll spend all week working on my show, and then we tape an episode on Thursday, and then Friday night, Saturdayand Sunday I’ll spend time working on jokes for my standup act.
And then once every two weeks I host a show in LA at the UCB Theatre out here, just to be able to try out my new jokes. And even though I’m tired and I’m exhausted and it’s the last thing I want to do, I make myself work on my acts so that once I’m done with the show in a couple of weeks, and [when I go on tour] at least I have a bunch of new stuff since my last special for people to come see.
CM: You’ve made a big jump from headlining celebrity roasts and performing to standup to now being a TV host. Does that impact your standup act?
AJ: It’s been interesting to go from kind of an up-and-coming comedian to being a TV host. More people know how to pronounce Jeselnik now, which is a nice thing. I don’t really know how it will affect my standup.
I’m curious to see if it gives me a different audience of people who come out to see more stuff from the show as opposed to seeing me. Look at that kind of Dave Chappelle kind of treatment, where people will just yell catchphrases from the show, which I hope is not the case. But I’ll be interested to see what kind of new fans I’ve made and how that changes the way people watch me do standup.
But I think I’ll just figure it out as I’m going; I’ll be able to take my experiences from the show to make myself a better comic, whether that’s just having a better stage presence or just being more comfortable. But the jokes will be the same. If you liked my standup before, you’ll like it now.
CM: Has The Jeselnik Offensive whetted your appetite to approach new projects, like writing or movies?
AJ: The show has got my full attention right now. I can’t even think of anything other besides the show; even if they offered me some big part in a movie right now, I’d have to say no, because I can’t think about anything other than the show.
I think that once the show is up on its feet a little more, and we’re into season two, then I can start looking out into possibly writing a book someday or doing more movie stuff, like writing a screenplay. But for now that’s all stuff in the future. I’m sure I’ll get into it, but I can only focus on one thing at a time, and that’s the show.
CM: As your popularity grows, will it become harder to press the boundaries as a comedian who regularly pushes the envelopes of dark comedy?
AJ: The thing that’s become a challenge now is more people get to learn my stuff and they get to learn what I do. It makes it harder to surprise people with the next joke. They’ve seen two hours of my stuff that I’ve released, so the jokes need to be kind of shorter and smarter than they were before.
People are just trying to guess my punchline, and they’re getting better at it. So I just need to make the jokes that much better this time around, which takes longer. If I write a new joke, it’s only 20 or 30 seconds of new material, so I've got a lot of work to do to get a whole new hour up.
The Moontower Comedy Festival returns to Austin April 24 - 27.