Day three of Moontower brought huge shows by the likes of Colin Quinn, Kids in the Hall and Marc Maron, as well as some smaller showcases of varying quality. For our day one coverage, go here, and you can read yesterday’s coverage here.
John Bender: Day Three of Moontower was easy for me to plan: first Colin Quinn, then the Kids in the Hall. I grew up watching both acts, but I wasn’t quite mature enough at the time to fully grasp the brilliance of either. For a true ’90s kid like me who remembers these things, Friday evening was a chance to see how well everyone (including me) had aged in the intervening years—a friendly check-in of sorts.
Quinn took the stage at the Stateside to the sound of a fife and drum corps, then immediately launched into a 70-minute-long rant encompassing the entire scope of American history. The show, titled Unconstitutional, uses the loose framework of the U.S.A.’s political development as a launching pad for Quinn to make observations about the American character. It’s kind of a curious beast. The central conceit is that the Constitution and other formative U.S. documents were composed by flawed, often inebriated geniuses, which goes a long way toward explaining our country’s history of blind optimism, denial, and hypocrisy.
Quinn’s delivery is unique among working comics today, a staccato stutter-mumble that verges on unintelligible much of the time. There’s a clear distinction between his setups and punch lines, and the result is that Unconstitutional hits the audience as a series of bursts and lulls, rather than as a slow build. The material itself is reasonably good, and the occasional misses are quickly smoothed over by Quinn’s tireless pace. The crowd as a whole was more receptive to hamfisted pop culture references than I was (“A house divided against itself cannot stand. Kris Jenner said that.”), but some lines slayed the entire room:
At the time of the Constitutional Convention, there were two Souths. There was Virginia, which represented the gentlemanly sort of South, and then there was the dirty, seedy deep South. It’s like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. You didn’t just talk to the dirty South. You had to go through Virginia, and they’d relay the message to the rest of the South. Same thing. You don’t go straight to Larry the Cable Guy. You book Jeff Foxworthy, and then Larry the Cable Guy just shows up.
I had to bail on Quinn about ten minutes early to ensure that I got into the Kids in the Hall show, but overall, I thought it was a good act. Nice to see him doing well.
I’m not sure what to say about the Kids, since they have a second show on Saturday night that will probably be a huge draw and I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s weird to think that a sketch comedy performance could be spoiled in advance, but I really think my experience at the show was vastly enhanced by the fact that I had no idea what was coming next at any given moment. So I think I’ll keep a lid on the actual sketch content, except to say that there were a lot of new sketches and some old favorites, and I actually preferred the new stuff. That may be a personal preference, though—I feel like I’m watching a cover band when I see a sketch replicated verbatim, but the dude behind me was genuinely guffawing and shouting, “Yes!” at every single line of the Chicken Lady sketch.
Okay, so I spoiled the return of the Chicken Lady sketch. But so did the TV show, back when it aired the Chicken Lady sketch the first time.
Generally speaking, the show was a lot of fun, even with a large number of timing miscues and interrupted laugh lines. Scott Thompson, in particular, seemed to be a beat slow a lot of the night, and one major breakdown of his had all five Kids cracking up as Thompson giggled uncontrollably against Mark McKinney’s shoulder for a good twenty seconds. The audience was simply thrilled to be there, so naturally, seeing Scott (who I’ve always found to be the most lovable Kid by far) mess up so badly prompted a delirious swell of applause and cheering. Thompson tried to silence everyone by pleading, “Don’t encourage me!” but everyone was having too much fun to be annoyed.
It was actually kind of a delight to watch them recover from the weird timing and prop issues, as every Kid broke character at least once to address a hitch in the show but kept the bit chugging along just the same. It lent a high-wire feel to the performances, although there was never any real chance of the show falling flat. Following a flubbed line between two other Kids, Dave Foley asked the crowd, “You don’t have reviewers in Austin, do you?” I couldn’t even feel self-conscious about it, since I had become more of an overjoyed fan than a reviewer the instant the theme song sounded.
So overall, I guess, the Kids in the Hall were great, as brilliant and weird as ever, and a little bit more vulgar. The new material is good, and they’re all still excellent performers despite the kinks they had to work out on Friday. I think other Loser City writers will be on the KitH beat tonight, so they can add more details regarding actual sketch content once spoiler season has passed. It was wonderful to revisit these guys, though, and find that I could effortlessly become immersed in their idiosyncratic corner of the sketch comedy universe once again.
Dylan Tano: Oh, day three. How do I describe you? I opened the evening with the Austin Towers! event at The Hideout. The Austin Towers! show is all about local Austin comedians so I was excited to see some home grown funny. The show started out surprisingly well with the host, Ian Karmel, delighting the crowd with jokes about being fat Superman, other people’s babies and tasting your own semen. The crowd loved him and it seemed that we had a good audience on our hands for the evening.
Kerri Lendo followed suit and opened flat with some weather and allergy jokes but found her rhythm soon after by making her set a bit more personal. The next comedian, Carey Denise, had the crowd laughing with her brutally honest and self deprecating set about growing up as a fat kid and getting the sex talk waaaay too late. Derek Phelps was next and while funny, his set didn’t land on a lot of the crowd, which contrasts later when we told a lot of the same jokes at the show I caught at The Velv which had the crowd rolling, but more on The Velv in a moment. Maggie Maye was the delight of the show, opening with getting “sniffed” at the bus stop and then rolling right into dating guys with Grindr. The crowd was laughing from start to finish with her. Cody Hustak definitely got stronger as it went on, the highlight of his set being a joke about a 6 year old getting pubes… from the YMCA drain. All in all it was a strong showing of local comedians.
Morgan Davis: Since the bulk of the LC crew was at Bobcat Goldthwait’s headliner show at the Stateside the previous night, my only real mission on day three was to catch him at the more intimate Stars in Bars showcase at the Parish. I know I’ve harped on these showcase names and themes every day of these write-ups, but I seriously can’t tell you what the fuck the concept behind Stars in Bars was meant to be. Ari Shaffir and Bobcat were the biggest names on the bill, so it wasn’t exactly star studded, although at one point during the show host Matt Bearden came out to tell us news had just broke that Shaffir had landed a series on Comedy Central. Regardless of the mysterious concept behind Stars in Bars, it was a surprisingly strong and consistent showcase, maybe the most consistent I’ve seen at the festival.
Bearden, as always, was a great host and even though I’ve seen him a stupid number of times by this point, his smarmy demeanor and well-honed delivery made him a perfect fit for what wound up being a decidedly dark showcase. The only real dud was John Ramsey, who barely altered his material from the previous night and wasn’t a good fit for the show. Perhaps most surprising was Dana Gould, a legendary writer for The Simpsons who dedicated his set to proving that any subject can be funny if the jokes are good enough, even if those subjects are rape, AIDS and 9/11. Like a lot of comics from his generation that were at the festival, Gould seemed to delight in the opportunity to work a crowd as clearly liberal as Austin, both in the political and personal sense. Gould went from a joke about the order in which chimpanzees maim you– first they break your jaw so you can’t bite, then they chew off your hands so you can’t scratch and then they rip off your genitals so you don’t rape them because chimpanzees are so arrogant they think you’d still want to rape them after all that– to a joke about how any whistle can be a rape whistle, except maybe a penny whistle. The material was an intriguing mix of dark and absurd and Gould’s professorial air made it even more bizarre. Though the set was far, far darker than an average Simpsons episode, Gould’s love of language and absurdity made it easy to see why he was such an integral component to that show’s success.
Moving on from that diatribe, Shaffir’s act this time around was more energetic and lively and the crowd ate it up. The last part of his act was built around the ways he likes to fuck with TSA agents, which climaxed with a story about the time he farted on one after being scolded for refusing to take off his shoes. Shaffir’s stage persona is structured around a hilariously childish anti-authoritarian streak and the gist of the back half of his set was that TSA agents have no real authority and we should all fuck with them to keep them in line. Shaffir’s previous set was naturally more meandering since he was high as fuck, and while pot is an easy way to win over an Austin audience, I felt this set, which was more story-driven and cohesive, was a better showcase for his talents.
From the Parish I left for the Velv and the “Moon Rocks” event with Dylan. “Moon Rocks” was exactly what it sounds like, a showcase combining music and comedy hosted by the dry as fuck Derek Phelps. To be blunt, it was a great idea that was lacking in execution. Phelps did an admirable job as host and his opening number featuring a rapper who translated his cerebral jokes into freestyles in order to help the audience understand it better was great. Likewise, Dom Irrera’s set, which began with a back-and-forth with Phelps about their high school days, was as strong as you would expect from a veteran showman like Irrera. Irrera wasn’t even remotely musical (though he did spend a while talking about his early hip-hop career), but he won over the audience far more than anyone else on the bill.
James Pound: Round Three of Moontower I was knocked out of most of the night’s happenings due to a prior engagement, but thankfully I was still able to catch some quality stuff because of the one midnight show of the fest. Before making my way to get in line for Marc Maron, I popped into Speakeasy for just a little bit of the Sklar brother’s hosting. Those twins are pretty great and seemed to be the main attraction for the present audience. I lingered in the back, which was rather quiet compared to the front. I guess a lot of internalized laughers were back there (or haters). After some great bits in their distinctive Sklar style, building sentences together (how do they do that, is it incredibly well rehearsed delivery or some freaky twin telepathy?!), they brought out the next comedian, Andrew Santino. I had already rolled my eyes once through his set before, so I took a deep breath and sat it out. Even he noticed the back of the room wasn’t feeling it (and rushed to the bar for a shot after he was done). I felt his energy was better than it was before, but he just wasn’t for me.
So then I sped off for the Paramount (my first Paramount show this year, how weird!) and hopped in line for Maron. Lines can be great if you let them. I ran into multiple friends while standing there (including our own Losers) and spotted the massive Puddles the Clown giving out hugs in front of the Paramount. Once seated in the fourth row, I looked to my right and two seats away were Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald of Kids In The Hall!! Sweet, gotta love this fest! I couldn’t muster up anything to say other than I was excited to see them Saturday night, so I thought best not to bother ’em. I can’t recall the host’s name for this showcase, and he’s not listed, but he was great. Some really solid self-deprecating humor but then his listing of sponsors dragged on for-ev-er. Andy Kindler, next up, said he “made a meal out of those names”. Kindler was great again, with his self-aware/loathing style. Then was James Adomian, another repeat comic for me, but his energy for the large crowd and manic delivery was on point. And hey, he got to use his Andy Kindler impression again to great affect. He did his usual Jesse Ventura/gay rights bit, the advertising for men gag, and a few other impressions, but my favorite that might’ve been special to this set given the lineup, was Marc Maron being tucked into bed by Loius CK. Both were amazingly spot on and he switched between the two seemlessly. I can’t wait to dig into more of Adomian’s stuff after the fest. Then came the main course, Mr Maron.
Marc Maron is a scab picker. He’s that type that truly can’t ever, ever let something go. And he discussed this heavily in his act, and we even had a live demonstration when a (albeit very rude) woman in the front row kept talking to her friend. He picked on her, apologized, snarked, sorried, yelled, walked away, but finally after a second time being thrown off by her chattering (because she “had a bad day”), Maron basically demanded she leave. It took a second but once the audience was rallying behind him for her departure she took off. I think things got blown a little out of proportion, but then again she was talking in the VERY front row center in front of him. And with the position he assumed, hunched over on a stool at the edge of the stage for the majority of the set, she was the very closest person to him. Maron is an interesting figure. I still can’t decide if I 100% like him. Hell, he doesn’t. I enjoy his rants and self hatred bits, but I can’t always relate. I suppose I’ll be suffering the “anger tumor with the face of my parents etched on it” by not letting things out always, but then again, I love my parents. And I’m not a fighter/yeller like he is. His combativeness can be hilarious but at the same time exhausting. What’s really gotten me into him is his IFC show, which is more of a Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Louie type of scenarios, with awkward situations and people shitting on him (while he shits on himself sometimes… not literally… yet). But while he can do short bits outside of his inner turmoil or relationship happenings, he still has to get meta and start verbally writing the blogger’s review for the next day (which makes this feel totally weird) on how the show took dips when he did “non-Marc” material. The audience unabashedly loved him (and he did seem humbled by that), and I really do dig him too, but I think I’ll keep Maron to my measured doses.
David A. French: What a weird night at the NY NY venue.
She-Bang kicked off its female focused show with male host Brooks Whelan getting up and doing some of his stand up routine. Brooks got his start writing for College Humor, and is part of the recent crop of former Internet skit people making the transition to mainstream broadcast work. He was a gregarious host and did a great job of getting the crowd amped and kept things moving. The inclusion of a male host, in an all female show, much like the inclusion of a straight woman in the queer focused show is interesting, and in this case I think functioned well.
I most enjoyed the following set by Jackie Kashian. The thing that makes a female focused comedy shows interesting is also the thing that makes it a possible failure. Stand-up is a male dominated industry, and having a show focused on female-comics bolsters unique and interesting voices in the industry that otherwise might be ignored. At the same time, routines can become so focused on their role in an identity that they become flanderized and inauthentic. Jackie is a comedy nerd, married to a video game developer. While there are plenty female comics willing to talk about sex, Jackie’s approach to her various ribald subjects felt weirdly…heartfelt? She discussed sexual assault and sexual healing, the weirdness of online dating, and the ways that working her way up in the male dominated comedy world affected her relationship with her husband. She wasn’t another blonde lady on stage talking about dicks (a joke that her following act Laurie Kilmartin made reference to). It wasn’t a schtick, it was personal.
The second show I saw, also at NY NY was the Blue Moon comedy show, covered by Dylan Tano on our first day, though this time there was a slightly different line up. Having this show follow the female focused show was an exciting contrast, but ultimately didn’t work out.
The host Bobby Slayton came on stage, and from his very first set it seemed things were only going to go downhill. The first “Asian racecar driver” joke was so bad, that at first I thought he was trying to create some kind of ironic meta-commentary on offensive humor. Does anyone these days honestly make Asian driver jokes? That’s a stereotype so dated, that it feels like something a lame Uncle would quip after having a few too many. It isn’t that it’s offensive. It’s actually the incredible innocuousness of it that makes it so bad. I, and people my age, grew up with The Internet. By the time we were starting to grow badly groomed peach fuzz, we’d seen a man’s badly distended anus, orgies of elderly grandpas jacking each other off, and every known childhood cartoon character gender-bent and taken for an incestous anal blasing ride by their cartoon siblings.
I guess you could give Bobby points for at least trying, but as Godfrey said when getting up for his act “you need to update your racism, man.”
Cody Hustak was a local comic who opened, and while his jokes were not particularly clever, his spacey quiet delivery was dead on. Damien Lemon followed him, cracked some jokes about pitbulls but overall didn’t deliver anything particularly groundbreaking or racy. Beth Stelling came on, and basically repeated her exact same bit from the previous show, this time with a little more angst, a telling problem with this so called “blue” show.
Nick Mullens another local comic mixed things up a little bit. He started by expressing his confusion on being put in the Blue Comedy group, as he was really more of a nerd comic. The punch to this set up was how he seamlessly transitioned that into a 9/11 joke that for once actually took me by surprise. While 9/11 jokes usually come off as too easy and hack, this was a pretty nice subversion. He had a bit on how diarrhea used to be the number one cause of death in 19th century America, and then used that premise to play around with modern terminal illness taboos. Overall, I see Nick Mullens as having some of the best material of the show.
The next guy, Chad of “The Dirty Show,” was a last minute addition. Not much to say other than it was pretty standard blue subjects. Near the end he tried to play the crowd some and goad them on their views over gay marriage. Once again, this fell flat for me. I was wearing a tie and look like the kind of person with a stick up their ass, so its not surprising he began to prod for a reaction from me on the subject. It was a bit like when your kid brother thinks he’s being really edgey by farting on your bed. Sure, gay marriage is still very much a real issue for many people in America, but rather than being offensive it merely came off as sort of boring. Rory Albanese followed and seemed to use most of his set to lament how everyone was standing up to leave the show, and how much he regretted leaving his gig with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. Maybe this kind of sadness could be turned into a funny uncomfortable bit, but mostly it sounded like a whiny middle aged guy who got sidetracked from his material. Godfrey was last, and went on for far too long. Godfrey is a funny guy, but the set lacked cohesion and failed to bare its teeth. The closest he got was when he broached the subject of rape. Now while Chinese car drivers are pretty dated material, rape is something that still has some fangs in it. I was hoping that we might finally see some material that tread uncomfortable territory but instead what he got was largely neither transgressive, nor insightful. He did mention that he was trying new material, and I will say that his bit on Bill Cosby’s rape accusations was actually pretty good.
The fact that pretty much every single set of She-Bang was laden with sex jokes, cursing, and references to other “risque” material is a good example. Beth Stelling’s set was virtually unchanged. Probably the only thing that even approached edginess that night was Brook Wheelan’s starting introduction on how much he loved doing cocaine. The biggest names in comedy regularly do bits on sex, race, and all those various words that start with letter’s of the alphabet. George Carlin’s groundbreaking Dirty Seven make regular appearances on TV these days. Eddie Murphy of 80’s “Raw” fame voiced a cartoon fucking donkey. Four times! The issues that “blue” comedy deals with are still with us, but their distinction as verboten has all but disappeared, at least in comedy circles, which is the kind of people who are in comedy clubs. These guys just ended up sounding like old-fogeys. Every rock band is “alt” or “indie” these days.
The comics that stood out to me were ones who were willing to make their work and transgressions personal. In a time where the average kitten YouTube video is populated by vehement Holocaust deniers hearing some generic riff about slanty eyes just doesn’t cut it. To make something powerful, I have to believe it has weight to the person saying it, and the affected transgression and simulated bigotry just ends up ringing hollow.
The last thing here was Puddles the Clown, already covered by Loser City. Puddles closed out She-Bang ,and his act makes for a nice contrast for what I’m talking about here. I had a head’s up on this, but a 6 foot something man in clown make-up looming over you, slowly rubbing Kleenex in his hand while not breaking eye contact is still a surprising situation to find yourself in. This may be just a personal belief, but to me comedy is best when it is about connection. It is a primal fear and nervousness that roils in your stomach busting like a bubble into a chuckle. Comedy is at it’s strongest when it confronts us with the difficult, making it possible to process all the darkest parts of ourselves into something new. Sometimes that means having a clown sing you ABBA songs.