Our Moontower coverage continues with Day Two of the festival, which included sets by Bobcat Goldthwait, Dom Irrera, Noel Wells, Brad Williams and more. For our day one coverage, go here.
John Bender: I didn’t feel especially drawn to any one show on the second night of Moontower, so I decided to roll the dice a bit. I chose to see the horribly titled “LA Movers and Shakers” show at the Speakeasy, which was hosted by Dom Irrera and featured a lot of other names I didn’t recognize.
It turned out to be a massive show that lasted for two hours and included eight comics (ten if you count a Brooks Wheelan cameo and distinguish between Sklars). First up was Laurie Kilmartin, a former Last Comic Standing contestant and current writer for Conan. Kilmartin’s stuff was solid, fairly standard stuff about single motherhood, dating, and the death of her father: “The last few months of my dad’s life took place toward the end of the year, so for Christmas, I had to decide whether to get a Christmas present for him or a Christmas present for me.” The one issue Kilmartin had was a spotty mic that kept cutting out at random points, which impacted her delivery somewhat. That’s not on her, though. The Speakeasy blew it.
Next up was Brent Weinbach, who I enjoyed the most out of every comic I saw. Weinbach’s material was the goofiest and most off-kilter—I won’t say “alternative,” but I could—which played surprisingly well off of the crowd. Moontower always has unpredictable crowds, and I think it’s because of the whole “comedy nerd” boom that’s currently going on. Standard, predictable club circuit material falls a little flat at this festival, while the stranger acts have a lot more runway than they normally would. It’s nice, and Weinbach’s stuff was a textbook example, as his wide eyes and furrowed brow conveyed a seriousness that in no way matched the slow-paced anticomedy he served up for a lot of the night. His voice alone sounded kinda funny; I kept expecting Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” to kick in after each punchline.
Myrin was followed by Andrew Santino, a late replacement for Laura Kightlinger. Santino started kind of slow but gained steam as his set went on. It wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking stuff (“fuck belts,” “fuck Macklemore,” “playgrounds are too safe nowadays”), but it was delivered and received in good faith.
After Santino came the Sklars, who were on their game. A small portion of the crowd consisted of vocal Sklar-heads, who frequently cheered in a vaguely sports-y way that I found jarring (and I even like sports). I understand that the Sklars have nailed both the Sports Comedy and Twin Comedy niches, but they’re just doing some jokes, folks. No need to get hysterical.
I forget the order of the last two comics, but I’m fairly certain Brad Williams was next. Williams is a little person, and a good portion of his act (roughly 100%) focused on his lifestyle as such. A lot of the material was conventionally “dirty” or “edgy,” mostly sex jokes that seemed to really delight the crowd. There was a thing about how he and his 5’10” best friend double-teamed a woman and had to switch places during the act, but they didn’t think to go around different sides of the woman, resulting in a big dick in his face. After the show, I overheard some dude on the street telling Williams what a great set he had, adding, “I was impressed with how confident you were.” Williams handled the condescension gracefully and moved along, which is a better response than I would have had.
In between sets, Dom was great as always, a consummate pro whose tough-guy/crowd work/insult comedy vibe is shot through with self-aware warmth.
After the show, I decided to call it a night since that was a shitload of comedy for one evening. Plus it was 10:00, which kind of limited my options as far as second shows. I went to Royal Blue Grocery instead and snagged my first-ever 6 oz. container of Jeni’s Ice Cream (flavor: Buckeye State), which was the greatest shit ever. If you’re in town for Moontower right now, you should really be sure to get this ice cream. That’s my primary recommendation at this time.
James Pound: Night Two of Moontower was a great success! First of all because I got into the shows I intended to go to, and secondly because both were damned good! I kicked things off at “NY NY” (I wish that space wasn’t just for private events/festivals, it’s great for comedy and I think 6th St. could maybe use a cooler venue for that…). Matt Bearden was hosting, and while I’ve now seen him a bunch of times and feel like I’ve heard most all of his material, I still love when he is hosting a showcase. He brings a great energy and makes sure the crowd is in a good place before passing the baton to the headliner acts. And he just seems to be an all around good guy.
Next up was my main attraction to this set, Mr Kurt Braunohler. I’d been lucky enough a few SXSWs ago to randomly catch him and Kristen Schaal doing their duo absurdist schtick and became an instant fan. Braunohler took the stage with a straw in his mouth, and I readied myself for some corny cowboy jokes of some sort. Instead he whipped out his Flesh Light gifted to him (and every comedian) by Moontower, and stuck the straw down in it, illustrating just how much they look like Slurpee’s from profile view. To top that he yanked out the inner “fuckable” portion of the device, crammed the microphone up it, and proceeded with the rest of the set, amplified by a rubber vag, occasionally tugging on its jiggling base and letting it snap back up. It was awesome (especially when some late comers walked in, “Hey ladies, LOOK!”). Another favorite moment was his one-liner, “I’ve become suspicious of those Englanders and the Queen… ever since they knighted Mix-A-Lot”, to which the fifty-year-old man in front of me had to explain the punchline to his wife.
Headlining this set was Joe Monde. You know when you hang out with friends a lot and you maybe start picking up some of each other’s quirks or mannerisms? Joe Mande and Aziz Ansari are good friends and are on tour together right now. And it shows. But that’s fine, Mande is still his own person, but the two definitely share a lot of similar stage presence. Dislike: Mande going to the iPad to blast us with cheesy sound effects time and again (never got that big of a reaction). Loved: his long story of tripping out at a Mike Huckabee show taping and working for Maury Povich. While he definitely had his own strengths, Braunholer really took the show for me here.
In the second round I rushed over to try and get into Bobcat Goldthwait’s show, only to find my rushing wasn’t necessary in the least. The audience only seemed to get about half full at the State (about 250 capacity), which made me a little confused and saddened. Bobcat was a late addition to the lineup and probably suffered by not being highlighted on the major acts docket. But then also, early in the act he made the crack, “Anyone here in the industry <crickets>…ah, great! I guess they’re all off finding the new young voice of comedy like Louis CK or Maron!”, indicative of possible bridges burned in the past or current general public opinion. I enjoyed the set’s host Bob Khosravi’s self deprecating style, but grew quickly tired of Andrew Santino’s near preachy set. But once Bobcat came out all bets (and set end times) were off. Goldthwait didn’t so much do a set of prepared jokes, but regaled us with crazy stories from his past. Some stories seemingly not something he would say on stage, “I don’t normally say this part of it…”, which had the audience feeling like we were getting a special, insider/intimate kind of experience last night. Stories ranged from doing gigs after a high school mascot horse’s death, a scary-ish show at the Meeting of the Juggalos, why he shilled for Snickers, and a famous old bit of nearly dying in a plane crash. His was by far the funniest set I’ve seen at Moontower this year, and easily showed his veteran comedy prowess. I can’t wait to see his next film about Bigfoot, with the obligatory plug during his set, and thought it was really cool he invited folks to chat and take photos in the lobby afterward (I couldn’t resist, given the invitation). He stretched his set probably an extra 45 minutes or so, and no one (save the stage crew, possibly) seemed upset about it.
Morgan Davis: Moontower really loves to give their showcases generic thematic connections, whether it’s “comedians with glasses” or “comedians with vaginas and one dude” or in the case of “Switch,” “queer comics and one straight lady.” Most of the “concept” showcases don’t really have cohesion, because spectacles aren’t much of a personality trait or background, but “Switch” made more sense than any of the other Moontower concepts because, as Erin Foley pointed out during her set, gay comedians frequently have to hide their sexuality for the first portion of their sets so that “when we take off the mask, we’ve already won you over.” By contrast, “Switch” was a showcase that let the comedians express themselves differently than they would for more general sets and the artists clearly loved the opportunity to not hold back.
Host Ralph Hardesty made it clear that that was the direction the showcase would go from the start, as he asked how many straight guys were in the audience (five of us raised our hands) and then affably but pointedly let us know “this showcase isn’t for you, boys.” Many of the comics played up the unconscious gay panic that sets in amongst some straight audiences, whether it was Cameron Esposito singling out a couple that moved their hands off each other when she made a joke about straight culture or Daniel Webb jokingly explaining that he definitely wasn’t gay, because being gay is “illegal in Texas.” Even Jackie Kashian, the inexplicable lone straight person on the bill, riffed on the way people just assume she’s a lesbian because “well, just look at me.”
Kashian and Jen Kober occupied a more downtempo spot on the showcase’s spectrum, but the bulk of the comedians were high energy, particularly Esposito, who stood out as my favorite. Esposito’s set was extremely playful and physical, and many of her punchlines landed specifically because of the extreme, almost crazed expressions she would make. A bit about how she’s currently engaged to a woman who isn’t exactly her type built to her admitting her type was “women in trouble,” which could have been flat if it were’t for the manic grin Esposito sported as she explained “I like to put my arm around them while they’re crying in the corner, and then just push them up against the wall.” A story about her first ever trip to a strip club was similarly great because of the way she used her body to sell a punchline about how she doesn’t understand why guys go to strip clubs with their friends because guys have a body part that clearly lets friends know if a stripper is “working” for you.
Wells was clearly nervous and it wasn’t surprising that not only was this her second ever set, but her first had been the night before. Most of Wells’ act focused on her time living in Austin and the back half of the performance was devoted to a bit about selling clothes to Buffalo Exchange. It was probably written as a sketch and might have worked better if it had been performed with a partner, but even with that in mind, it never built to much of a punchline and was too specific to work in non-Austin locations. Wells was followed by Justin Willman, a hacky magician whose big joke involved him teaming up with his iPhone to make a banana that Siri had mistaken for a bandana disappear.
Sean Patton fared better once he got into his groove. The first part of Patton’s set built up to a joke about getting stoned and imagining the inventor of the alphabet trying to decide what to name each letter and even he admitted it ran longer than it should have, but the latter half of his set paid off. Structured around Patton going to get an STI test because he had unprotected sex with two separate people in a week, Patton initially focused on the awkwardness of the days when an STI test meant getting a Q-tip shoved up your dick but then went in a different direction as he tried to figure out what the hell a Jamaican nurse at the clinic meant when she asked him if he thought he was Robocop after he confessed he had had unprotected sex. Patton then acted out the version of Robocop he thought the Jamaican nurse might have seen in Kingston, complete with a fake Robocop patois.
Dylan Tano: Okay, now that is how you do a comedy festival. Thursday night rocked hard. The evening opened with Always Be Closin’ with Rory Scoval. Hosted by Sara Schaefer, the show included the likes of Erik Charles Neilson, Sean Patton, Puddles Pity Party and Rory Scoval. After hearing reports that Sara Schaefer fell flat on opening night, I was pleasantly surprised by her opening set as host. It was funny, a bit self deprecating and it definitely hit home with the crowd.
First out was Erik Charles Neilson, the guy from Community who does the crazy scream. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but he was hilarious. Full of energy, he bounced around from bit to bit, peppering screams where appropriate. Erik was the most traditional comedian I saw Thursday and he was also one of the funniest. Sean Patton rolled out next and bounced around a bit in his set. He had some prepared material that mostly went by the wayside with on stage flubs that he managed to salvage that were definitely funny in the moment but try telling your colleagues that you laughed at a comedian who kept saying “Butter Brother” for two straight minutes and they give you some funny looks. And Puddles charged the stage and shit got real for the crowd.
Clowns scare a lot of people, I’m not one of them, but I know several people who would have been terrified by a clown on stage staring at them for three minutes while he felt the fuzzy balls of his costume. As the crowd reached the most uncomfortable quiet it could, Puddles broke out into song and the quiet was lost in a roar of cheers and an amazing singing voice. A lot of comedians talk about “next level” stuff but I think Puddles may be one of the few that is actively trying to find it. Rory Scoval closed out the show with an infusion of Fleshlight jokes, dad jokes, and dissonant piano melodies that one might find on NPR. He left the audience in stitches and I went out into the night with sore ribs looking for nourishment before catching Bobcat Goldthwait at Stateside.
And then Bobcat strolled out and all hell broke loose in the best way possible. He received the warmest welcome so far from a crowd that was a bit smaller than he was expecting. So he through out his bit and spent the next two hours telling jokes and true stories about Juggalos, the US Special Olympic Team, and the time he shot Chad Kroger of Nickelback’s nose with four different cameras on live tv. He ran long and after a while the guy flashing the light telling him to wrap it up just gave up and enjoyed the show. I’m willing to bet that come Sunday morning when I’m working on my wrap up for Moontower, Bobcat’s show at Stateside will still be the highlight for the festival for me. It was a virtuoso performance by a man who loves comedy and loves people who love comedy. He hung around after the show to meet fans, to take pictures, and I think to just stay in the moment we all shared for two hours a little bit longer.