Moontower Day One: On social media and parking spots, and how Hannibal Buressand Maria Bamford killed it
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.
Wednesday kicked off the inaugural Moontower Comedy fest, and CultureMap was out to celebrate. Read on for our favorite first-day moments, plus a mini-review of Maria Bamford’s sold out show at Cap City.
"You looking for Moontower?" was the first thing that the doorman at the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin hotel said to this correspondent, not even allowing for a SECOND the possibility that this correspondent could have been a guest of the hotel, perhaps there for a business meeting or some sort of... stock exchange? Whatever rich people do. Sure, jeans and a New Pornographers t-shirt aren't the norm at the swanky downtown accommodation, but Austin has a lot of new money tech people, right? It didn't help that the even the bathrooms were so fancy that you feel guilty for using them.
A quiet, building energy characterized the happy hour/launch party at the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin's Terrace Bar at 5 p.m. It was the sort of bustling slow build that happens when lots of socially awkward comedians have to introduce themselves — at least until Bil Dwyer arrived and greeted an old friend with his unmistakable volume. At about 5:02, Moontower officially became an Austin Comedy event when Chris Cubas was mistaken for Reggie Watts for the first time of many (even though Watts is not even in attendance for the first Moontower).
There's been a lot of talk about "alt-comedy" lately, a perceived trend of self-indulgent tendencies in younger comics that's a hot topic of discussion in the young Austin arts community. The opening salvo of Moontower, The Divorce Show, was a welcome reminder that comedy never gets old — host Barry Weintraub and comics Shayla Rivera, Steven Kent McFarlin, Margaret Smith and Pat Dixon wowed a chronologically diverse crowd with material and life experiences that went well beyond drinking and the mid-twenties malaise that's the local scene's usual bread and butter.
Of all the sweet-ass perks that an Austin festival has ever offered badgeholders, a free downtown parking pass for the duration of the event may be the sweetest-assed of them all. No more biking home in the middle of the night through downtown on streets packed with party-time drunks or paying a panhandler five bucks to not pee on your car because he pointed to a parking spot? Other festivals in town, you are officially on notice: This one has twenty percent of the cast of Parks And Recreation AND free parking. What do you have? A bunch of bands and/or movies, and a chance to deepen our relationship with Capitol Metro. Time to step your game up, every other festival in Austin.
Okay, comedy audiences, we get it, you're psyched to be here. But Moontower is kind of a big coming-out party for Austin as a comedy city, and you're kinda embarrassing us when you shout over and over again during the opening night headliner's performance, which is exactly what happened during Aziz Ansari's early set. Specifically, when he started one of his final bits with, "It's Friday night, are you going to the club after this?" and seemingly two-thirds of the crowd felt the need to try and yell to him that it was actually Wednesday. When he responded to that with, "I don't care what you're yelling," and continued with the bit, you should have let it lie.
As it was, concerned audience members kept attempting to correct his calendar error until he finally acknowledged the minor misstatement. The result? An annoyed headliner, some lost momentum, and for what? So Aziz doesn't accidentally call his grandma two days before her birthday? Pipe down and let the performer do the talking, cool? People are trying to work up there!
As a line stretched around the block to see Aziz Ansari at The Paramount, a few blocks away, the crowd was filtering up the flight of stairs to the intimate Parish on 6th Street to catch the other first hour-long headlining set of the festival. Hannibal Buress might not currently have quite the same name-recognition as the man who plays Tom Haverford on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, but the buzz amongst those who had snapped up all of the available pre-sale tickets seemed convinced that that would change soon. “He’s not on TV every week like Aziz,” I overheard one early twenty-something explaining to a middle-aged couple, who had lined up for the show despite never having heard of Buress, “but he’s the guy who’s really blowing up in stand-up. A lot of people who know are coming to this show instead.”
He wasn’t wrong. Following strong opening sets by Portland’s Ian Karmel and Dallas favorite Paul Varghese, Buress took the stage and immediately had the crowd going with riffs on air travel, TV history, and a string of his nightclub-set romantic misfires, delivered at a noticeably louder volume and with a great deal more animation than many of us have come to associates with the famously sedate-seeming New Yorker. By the end of his set, Buress’ infectious sense of playfulness had gotten to even himself. Setting up a bit about the film Paranormal Activity, Buress reveled in his own ridiculousness: “This isn’t topical at all… Please indulge me… as I talk about this… four-year old movie…” The audience's delight was matched only by Buress' own, a comedian clearly having a blast and unable to help but giggle at himself for just a few more seconds than we did.
Despite being only a first-year fest, Moontower’s use of social media to reach out to attendees and solve problems as they arise has been thoroughly professional. When the volunteer door staffs of several venues had nebulous, conflicting stories regarding how many “IP” and “Press” badge-holders would be let into each show and when, tweeting @MoontowerComedy yielded swift, and definitive, results. Nothing quite makes you feel like the 1% more than holding your cell phone up to somebody’s face and shouting “Hands-off my 1/3 of seats, you unwashed masses!” Or, you know, the completely friendly and polite equivalent.
Last night was the first Maria Bamford show at Moontower and I feel like the pressure's already off: you did great, Moontower. Keep it going as well as last night and this is going to be fun.
But I have to tell you, Moontower, I was nervous. I've got a press badge and an artist badge, and I was still nervous about getting into last night's show. Is it going to be like this all weekend? I'm not going to tell how I got into last night's shows because I want to continue getting in, but I think it included totally in-bounds shenanigans.
Jackie Kashian was last night's feature and she killed. She's 8 weeks on the road now and you can definitely sense a change from her headlining sets at Cap a few months ago. This time, she dressed like the funnest lesbian at a tailgating party in Tuscaloosa, AL (see picture, that is what she wore on stage and I love her for it) and she told exasperating stories about her time in Portland ("I like Portland as much as the next guy, unless the next guy is from Portland.") She's all over this festival, make sure you see one of her sets.
Maria Bamford's just the best. I was irritated while eavesdropping on people in line calling her “funny, but crazy.” Like most comedians, she has plenty to tell her therapist, but she’s also inventive, brilliant, silly, thoughtful, and, yes, she does a lot of voices. Just the right number of voices if you ask me. Don’t go see her for the rest of the week so I can get in to see her again.
While clearly, the headliner of the night was the draw, the opening act Chelsea Peretti blew the eagerly-anticipating-Aziz crowd away. A writer for Parks and Recreation, Peretti didn't have to fall back on any trite women-based stereotypes for her jokes. Her act was mostly self-deprecating, like any relatable comic, and never reliant on periods references (because women have a lot more to talk about than cycles, right?). She swiftly took down one obnoxious, set-interrupting heckler with a cool "Your existence is noted" — the same person Ansari later told, "I'm pretty sure we wouldn't get along in real life."
I'd recommend checking out Peretti, a woman who can clearly hold her own on any stage, with any comic and any audience. A sharp, smart, non-sexualized set awaits.
General first day of the festival confusion and logistics frustration aside, Aziz Ansari and Chelsea Peretti were great. Peretti's mellow, deadpan set seemed the perfect way to kickoff a festival drenched in anticipation, and I found it a welcome choice to the confusion many were feeling as they tried to get in to the show. Not that that was her goal in opening the show — Peretti's laid back and self-referential humor has been her strong suit for a while now. In this setting, however, it seemed a great fit for a city just starting to hang out at it's first comedy festival of this magnitude. The scene shifted decisively when Aziz took the stage — the dude is a master of entering with energy and intensity and the crowd was certainly ready for it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but not only did Aziz do nearly 90 minutes of brand new material, he also worked the crowd in a way that demonstrates his increasingly confident presence. At one point, he spent nearly 20 minutes just talking to a couple in the front row about their decision to get engaged in Fredricksburg instead of Cabo. Without a doubt my favorite parts of the show, and one of those "you had to be there" moments that draw people to see stand-up.