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.
Removed from the downtown nucleus of Moontower, with its crowded Paramount Theater shows and lines of badge holders milling about, the Austin Wildcards showcases at the 29th Street Ballroom were let's say more modestly populated, but the giddy excitement of the festival found its way there as well. Both shows featured sets from the red-hot Nick Mullen, Funniest Person in Austin winners Mario DiGiorgio and Kerry Awn (the emcee), as well as some of Austin's funniest new and old faces (and incidentally various CultureMap contributors, ahem). On nights with so many options any crowd is hard-won, and the Ballroom crowd was ready to laugh. And the thing is, laughs always count.
The Velveeta Room is one of the most uniquely Austin venues — a narrow, candle-lit room with the din of Sixth street vaguely in the background, usually with a crowd that's a strong percentage of barked-in drinkers that have basically been tricked into supporting the local comedy scene (with uproarious laughter, on the right nights). So during Moontower it's almost a surprise to hear the focused, gratified laughter of a crowd that knew they'd find great comedy there when they arrived. At the late 3's A Charm show, the crowd was down to laugh at Pat Dixon's wry asides, Tom Rhodes' boisterous one-liners, Danny Palumbo's roasting of chain restaraunts and host Kath Barbadoro's tales of misadventure.
After two successive days of powerhouse showcases from core cast members of NBC's Parks and Recreation, here's an idea I'm sure Austin comedy fans can all get behind: Parks and Rec Fest, which could bring Aziz Ansari and Nick Offerman back to Austin — along with Offerman's wife and recurring series guest star, Megan Mullally, who joined her husband on the Paramount's stage on Thursday — along with sketch comedy from Amy Poehler (who appears in the movie Freak Dance, playing at the Moontower Film Festival), stand-up from Aubrey Plaza and Retta, a sit-ups demonstration from Rob Lowe and, I dunno, maybe Chris Pratt can blow into a jug or something? The fact is, for whatever reason, three of the four headlining performances at the Paramount in the festival's first two days featured a Parks and Rec star, so why not just cut this whole "we're doing a broad-ranging comedy festival" pretense out and give the people what they want? Do Rashida Jones or Adam Scott have any heretofore unknown live comedic talents? The people of Austin will clearly line up down Congress and around the corner halfway to Brazos on Seventh Street to find out.
Kicking off with Austin’s own Medallion Quartet (barbershop, natch) and interspersing sketch-y riffs with stand-up, Show House at The Parish — hosted by the brilliant Duncan Trussell — definitely brought the ‘oddity’ to Moontower, along with seriously strong stand-up sets from Chris Trew, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Johnny Pemberton, Brody Stevens, Brent Weinbach and Brendon Walsh. While it’s hard to erase the memory of a bit lampooning SXSW’s ‘hobo hot spots,’ which featured a very NSFW cameo from Chris Cubas, Pemberton’s electrically high energy act stands out; seen recently in 21 Jump Street, the actor / comic had the house in the palm of his hand within a minute of stepping onstage. (Psst: There are two more installments of Show House; don’t miss Friday and Saturday’s all new lineups, 10 p.m. both nights at The Parish.)
I was pretty excited to check out Seth Meyers. To prepare, I watched his entire speech at last years White House Press Correspondents dinner and laughed one more time AT Donald Trump. Meyers did talk about that fateful event onstage, lamenting the loss of "dear friend" Trump. For the comedy and political junkie in me it was great to hear Meyers tell stories of what was going on behind the scenes at that event as well as his frustration at not being the top news story the next day (remember Bin Laden?)
That being said, I wasn't sure what to expect with Meyers. The head writer of SNL is a major deal, but not one you generally associate with live solo performance. Starting off with a litany of jokes about former GOP candidates was funny yet I don't think I was alone in wondering if it was going to be an hour long Weekend Update — it was not. Meyers showed his stand up chops with plenty of personal reflection, including his discussion of the three stages of Vegas drunk and the horror of realizing he lied about his age to an 11-year-old who was schooling him on X-BOX Live. Meyers' closer, however, was classic Weekend Update and we are all the better for it. I can't think of a better way for the most influential joke writer in the country to close a show than to go through a list of jokes that NBC would not let him say on air. Definitely NSFW. FTW.
And then there was Ron Swanson. I mean Nick Offerman. I mean Ron Swanson. You know what I mean. What to say about a man who opens his show by walking out shirtless with a guitar only to then don an American flag themed pearl snap? Awesome. But wait, there's more. His wife, the lovely, talented "comedy juggernaut" Megan Mullally, opened the show with a series of folk songs that would have been right at home at an ACL live taping. Overall the show was reminiscent of the type of comedy/variety experiences found at the now legendary Largo shows in LA. Offerman's set was loosely structured around 10 "Tips for Prosperity" that aligned nicely with the persona Parks and Recreation fans have come to love about Mr. Swanson. Some of my favorites included "Eat red meat," "Say please and thank you," "Go outside-remain" and the surprisingly well argued "Maintain a relationship with Christ if is getting you sex."
The musical interludes were both hilarious and touching as Offerman repeatedly sang about how much he adores his wife, and what he wants to do to her (again NSFW). The crowd started to wane a bit as the show took a heavy philosophical turn at times, but all was forgiven as the two joined each other onstage for an encore and treated the crowd to the biggest comedy nerd moment of the festival thus far: A rendition of the song "5000 Candles in the Wind," otherwise known as the eulogy for Little Sebastian, the most beloved miniature horse in the city of Pawnee. Leslie Knope herself would have found it the perfect closer.
“Basically, it’s the opposite of South By, and its way better.” This was the phrase offered to me in explanation of the Moontower Festival’s door/seating policy when I registered to pick up my badge on Thursday morning. Is everybody (anybody?) still in agreement with that characterization at this point? At Moontower, unlike SXSW, individual event ticket holders are guaranteed first entry to festival shows. Yes, before non-VIP badge holders. That means a standard, blue “You Betcha!” badge is no promise of admission to see some of the biggest acts of the week.
Playing in no way fast or loose with my personal fest schedule, I arrived at Cap City Comedy Club, Thundercloud sandwich in hand, a little less than two hours early for the second of Maria Bamford’s sold-out headlining nights with the sole intent of being in the first handful of badge holders to form that line. An exploratory afternoon call to the box office offered the insight that the club expected to seat fewer than thirty non-VIP badges, and the crowd piling up behind me seemed none too happy to hear that would, indeed, be the case.
While the first two days of Moontower have yielded their share of positive accounts of badges getting in to see festival headliners Aziz Ansari, Seth Meyers and Nick Offerman, the early arrivers who were lucky enough to get into Cap last night watched superlative performances by Bamford, Moshe Kasher and opener Bob Khosravi from the side of the stage. But if there’s a definite positive to this system, it’s that most tickets at the festival are very well priced for both the talent and size of venues, typically around $15 dollars for most showcases, and this has allowed many more people the opportunity to see a Moontower show than would ordinarily buy badges for an entire week. No more buying a ticket to see your favorite performer and hoping that the bluebloods with their fancy neck signs leave you just enough space to squeeze into the back, lest you be sent, dejected, on your way to a refund window.