Moontower Day One
John Bender: My first stop at this year’s Moontower Festival was the happy hour at the Moontower Lounge (upstairs in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel). The Moontower Lounge is where all of the badge holders and performers go between shows to chill, hang, relax, or just whatever, and having this shared mingling space helps to create a real community vibe between Moontower attendees and performers.
As I shuffled through the crowd of belanyarded chatterboxes, I found myself starstruck by all of the performers I thought I recognized. Whoa, Bobcat Goldthwait talking to Todd Barry! I thought to myself as I zeroed in on a grizzled man in a flat cap talking to a balding guy. Holy cow, it’s local Austin comic Ryan Cownie rubbing elbows with an energetic older man in a paisley silk shirt! Could this be a Kid in the Hall? As I surveyed the wealth of comedy around me and tried not to breathe on the performers sliding past me in the crowd, I felt like my wildest fantasies had been made into reality.
I soon realized that “Bobcat Goldthwait” and “Todd Barry” were just two civilian badge holders who happened to be middle-aged and white, while the guy in the paisley shirt was not a performer of any kind, despite his costume. I’m pretty sure that local Austin comic Ryan Cownie was there, though, and that’s the magic of Moontower.
I saw Demetri Martin first. I was curious to see what he’s been up to in the years since his show went off the air. The opener, Levi MacDougall (“Levi McDonald” if the Moontower schedule is to be believed), was a collaborator of Martin’s on Important Things with Demetri Martin, and he brought a nervous energy to the stage to prop up some very conceptual, absurdist material. I thought he was mostly funny, with a knack for bizarre details and a willingness to push a concept from A to B then C and occasionally D. His closing bit, a fake fun fact about how all of those times when you see a single slice of swiss cheese floating on the surface of a body of water, there’s actually a Navy SEAL floating beneath the water and breathing through its holes, was exceedingly well delivered as it grew in scope and complexity. Nice.
But it verges on awkward when that voice takes on any kind of edginess, because the main function of that voice is to be naïve, even a little clueless, but open to all possibilities. At one point, he did a joke about how the phrase “enjoy your flight” makes no sense because no one ever actually enjoys a flight. There was no room in that perspective for the inquisitiveness and playfulness that accompanies his best gags, so it fell kind of flat.
Next for me was Hannibal Buress. Warning: I’m about to throw a tantrum.
Hannibal was playing the same venue as Demetri Martin (the Paramount Theatre) immediately after Demetri Martin. My plan was to watch Demetri at 7:00, leave the theater, and get right back in line for Hannibal at 9:30. Demetri got done at about 8:45, so I left the building, got in the badge holders’ line (which was long but by no means extreme), and waited to get into the Hannibal show.
I didn’t fucking get in.
Look, I understand the nature of single ticketing these events and the fact that only so many people can fit inside a venue, but this was kind of a load of horse shit. Demetri Martin was the earliest possible show, and it was at the exact same venue. By that logic, the Demetri viewers should have had the best shot at getting into the very next show at the Paramount, since all they had to do was step outside and get in line. Since I didn’t make it in, the only conclusion I can draw is that it was not possible for regular or press badge holders to see one of the earlier shows and also get into the Hannibal Buress show. If I had known I had to choose between the two possibilities, I would have chosen Hannibal over Demetri Martin. But I feel like attendees shouldn’t have to sacrifice an entire early show (or even part of an early show) in order to make it into a later show. You get maybe eight full comedy shows for the price of a Moontower badge. It shouldn’t be this easy to miss one of them.
Anyway, I walked from there to the Comedy Jackpot show at the Velveeta Room, which was also at capacity, before settling on Austin Towers at the Parish Underground. What followed was an utter delight and an unexpected surprise that I’m sure the other Loser City writers are going to comment on more elegantly than I ever could.
Dylan Tano: I don’t think I could have possibly picked two shows more opposite of each other to start the festival off than Demetri Martin and the Blue Moon show. Martin and his opening act, Levi MacDougall, were a low energy set that left me feeling tired. McDonald was a writer for Martin from his failed tv show and came out nervous. The first couple of minutes consisted of him stammering “Hi Hi um Hi”, which earned a few laughs at the start but soon you could hear the crickets. The crowd was nice enough and soon he launched into his bit. A couple of failed Canada jokes and some autobiographical comedy sprinkled with non sequiturs later it was time for Demetri. The crowd wasn’t exactly riled up by the opening act and Demetri came out with some decidedly edgier material. After the first few of them fell flat with the crowd, which was unfortunate because a slightly edgier Martin would have been better, he launched into a safer rhythm of non sequitur and storytelling. Gone were the guitar and sketchpad. His set was funny, he broke out the sketch pad for the encore, but by the time the show was finished I could have used a nap. Two low energy comedians paired together on a Wednesday night wasn’t the best opening act it turns out.
Morgan Davis: I like to kick off my annual Moontower experience by letting the other writers brave the larger crowds and inevitable disappointment while I go to the showcases Moontower has developed around such profound comedic themes as “these people have glasses.” Despite its amazingly pointless theme, Moontower’s “Four Eyes” showcase has been consistently great each year, with prior years including acts like Moshe Kasher, Myq Kaplan and Helen Hong and this year was no different. Andy Kindler started things off by making a reference to a joke told by host Kerri Lendo about the horrible names OKCupid suggests for you (“Kerri_Taco”) which got the expected enthusiastic crowd reaction before Kindler ran with it and turned it into meta-commentary on the roles of comedian and audience. Most of Kindler’s set was closer to commentary than traditional stand-up, but Kindler’s awkward, self-effacing personality made the material click. At a festival where a lot of comics are clearly recycling material, watching Kindler improvise and break down expected performer-audience roles was exciting, even if it wasn’t always hilarious. Not that Kindler didn’t get some good laughs in, as his stated goal to “set an extremely high bar for glasses-related jokes” paid off through the sheer number of puns and obvious glasses punchlines Kindler was able to dig up.
Many of the acts surrounding Schaefer also leaned heavily on either direct Austin material or, in Ari Shaffir’s case, material about subjects that Austin loves, namely pot. But James Adomian was the perfect balance of both ends of that spectrum, as he riffed on the Fleshlights Moontower apparently gave out as swag and local nutjob Alex Jones. During SXSW this year, Adomian put together a fantastic improv show based around on his spot-on impersonation of Jesse Ventura; Adomian is unabashedly a fan of Ventura, mostly because Ventura opened his eyes towards the Libertarian argument for gay marriage (“The government can’t tell you who to love! You can pry my lover away from my cold dead thighs!”). Adomian is a master at impersonations but rather than use them in a hacky fashion, he’s skilled at building material around combining them, like pairing up the equally gruff voiced Jones and Ventura for a deep speaking conspiracy theorist shouting match.
The comedian who came closest to matching Ramzinski on the line-up was Mac Blake, the reigning “funniest person in Austin” and the co-host of Jazz Cigarette, a local comedy night at Spider House Ballroom. Blake has a very warm personality that suits his dry, absurdist material well, particularly when he unexpectedly goes high energy, as he did with his best bit, a story about how he finally got to cross off a big bucket list item: catching a t-shirt from a t-shirt cannon at a basketball game. The punchline of the joke was Blake’s absurd reaction to his “achievement,” and how ever since he caught the shirt, he’s been unable to go back to “non-cannon clothes.” Too many of the other comedians on the line-up performed sets that were more or less the same as what they had performed last year, particularly John Ramsey, who barely changed his material other than a few minor additions towards the end. Matt Bearden, a longtime Austin comedy vet, even began by recycling a joke about the Beanitos Swag in the green room that involved him passing a bag of Beanitos around the crowd, something that was meant to seem improvised but fell flat if you had been there last year when he did the same thing. Still, the locals did well, I just hope next year they’ve created some new jokes.
James Pound: Night One of Moontower 2014 and I couldn’t have been more excited. After a brief visit at the Stephen “F This” Bar we headed to our first showcase, Four Eyes. I guess with comedians you sometimes have to grasp at some loose threads to tie everything together in a festival, so why not lump together all the glasses wearers? Whatever the reasaon to pair this group together, it worked tremendously.
Kerri Lendo was hosting, and I had caught her opening for Aziz Ansari’s secret show at “THE VELV” just last week. She did the same material, which was fine by me, I enjoyed it the first time and enjoyed her this time, unfortunately this audience was rather unreceptive to her.
Sadly, Mullen’s great build of energy was quickly deflated with Sara Schaefer. Low energy comedy can definitely work when placed right, but it wasn’t helping her last night. It’s painful when a comedian acknowledges bombing, and I know that’s what they’re feeling in the moment, but don’t dwell on it just pull us out of it. I think Schaefer rallied by the end of the set though. Maybe the self-deprecating thing just wasn’t for that audience. Rory Scovel was up next with furious energy. Schooling Austin on its overt weirdness and that we just need to, “SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT IT! WE KNOW! 2 Story bikes, tacos, WE GET IT!” Scovel was definitely another of my favorites of the set. Ari Shaffir (Two Shaffirs, two spellings, confused writer!) was next and was hiiiigh. Not that that encumbered his delivery by any means. Well, rather it elongated it. As he was going on about getting weed through customs, he mentioned how pot makes him lose track of time and wondered where he was on stage time, which garnered the “wrap it up light” (or as Kindler called it the “big jokes are coming!” light). This, however, was about the third time Shaffir had been warned. …then he did another 8 minutes. He was great, just maybe a little (unknowingly?) self indulgent. Finally came James Adomian, a clear crowd favorite, starting his set ragging on the gift bag Flesh Light he was given. As a gay man he took offense, “Do these come in butthole?” So one lucky audience member walked away with his own free pleasure tube instead. Adomian is known to be a master impressionist (“This is the only time having a good Andy Kindler is useful!”), and I really like his material. That being said, I know so little of Jesse Ventura and Alex Jones (I don’t get off on listening to crazy people scream… often.), so his heavy reliance on the two characters falls a bit flat for me personally. I did, however, love his manic energy and most of his set. For a VERY strong opening show, I’d declare Nick Mullen and Rory Scovel the bespectacled winners of this showcase.
I can’t wait to see what tonight has in store and how much longer my mouth can handle smiling!