By Wil Henneberger
For reasons regular readers of this monthly will easily ascertain, I could not attend Austin’s Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival in 2015. The Moontower before that was my first comedy festival experience and if you were following my journey then, you remember how inspired I was after seeing several of my heroes live, especially The Kids In The Hall. 2016 was no less stimulating! Due to my 9-year-old’s kickball game on Wednesday evening I missed the first night of the fest, but I made up for it by hopping in the first bus out of town Thursday morning. By 5pm I had checked into my hostel and had my Press credentials in hand. Just in time to stand in line for the first show I planned to see. Would you like to kick off the weekend with a comedy legend? Um, sure, why not…
Thursday 4/21 – Paramount Theatre 7:00pm– Martin Short
All the big acts at Moontower play the Paramount Theatre, which as you see maintains the classic spelling of the word theater. That’s because it’s a f***ing classy joint. Shoes and shirt required and the whole bit. No popcorn sold in this Theatrah.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the smallest, yet spunkiest, of the Three Amigos. I knew it would not be a typical stand-up comedy show. I figured we were at least in store for some charming stories, a few characters, and some political commentary, given the season. What we got was some charming stories, a few characters, and some political commentary, but it was much more than just that.
The only awkward moment came early was when Martin Short first took the stage. I waited for the standing ovation, and it never came. Was it my responsibility to facilitate it? If so, I failed you miserably Mr. Short. I take full responsibility and I won’t ever let it happen again. I thought Austin knew better. The comedy master, played it off and thanked the crowd for their “sitting ovation” and went right into his act.
He treated us to a modern bouquet of his personas including Jiminy Glick who interviewed a local musical celebrity that I had never heard of. Franck (the Father of the Bride, wedding planner) made an appearance and had more than a few nasty things to say about some recent aspiring presidential nominees. Yes of course there were some Three Amigo type antics, but my favorite bit was when a large man in full Scottish garb paced the stage, cradling Short in his arms, as the tiny star played the role of bagpipes. This was an old bit, he explained, but it was every bit as funny that evening as it must have been decades before. True genius doesn’t erode.
Thursday 4/21 – Paramount Theatre 9:30pm– Maria Bamford
While the newly married Bamford did have a few new marital bits attached to her set most of it was material many of us had already seen. She did warn us that her turnaround for a completely new set is about four years. Don’t get me wrong, seeing a few of the same jokes again was fine by me. The laughs came just as hard as they did two years ago, it does however give this lazy writer an excuse to simply copy and paste his 2014 review of that same headlining show.
Erin Foley opened for Bamford. If you’re not familiar, look her up. If I had to describe her with words, which I do, I’d say she reminds me of a younger, just as gay, more brunette Ellen DeGeneres. After a very clever and energetic set, Erin introduced Bamford and any idea of me being there to work went out the window. Within seconds I was hypnotized. On my way out of the theater I saw another younger pressman with several pages of notes. Uh-oh.
Could any notes I would have taken actually done justice to the quiet force that is Maria Bamford? How do you notate a facial expression or jot down a particular cadence? I’d like to read your piece Mr. Ruffled Legal Pad.
Not to mention, I’m not entirely familiar with the etiquette for comedy show reviews. (note to self; read more) Do I spoil the jokes that I do actually remember? That doesn’t feel right. Who am I to burn Maria Bamford’s material, in this two-bit publication?
It was an amazing show and there were some priceless moments that I will remember for many years to come. I only wish I felt comfortable sharing them with you. But I just don’t. So stop asking.
Friday 4/22 – Paramount Theatre 7:00pm– David Cross
If you are reading this magazine, then you should be familiar with the 1990’s HBO cult sketch show Mr. Show with Bob (Odenkirk, aka Saul Goodman) and David. The two spearheaded the comedy show not long after a stint as writers on The Ben Stiller Show. These aren’t just funny guys, they are comedy giants with hysterical, albeit off the wall, ideas. I haven’t yet had the pleasure to see the more coifed half of this pair live, but after almost two decades of fanboyishness, I have finally taken in David Cross for what was at least a solid hour of sinkers, thinkers and stinkers.
The stand-up pro choose Austin, Moontower and the Paramount as the venue for a live taping of his new special Making America Great Again. Yes, my laugh will be part of David Cross’ mark on humanity. If you’d like to isolate my guffaws amongst the crowd, just listen for the bellow that sounds like an overweight, butch lesbian trying not to giggle too femininely through her sleep apnea mask.
This was a big show for me, so huge that I didn’t even mind that I was seated in the last row of the balcony for the event. I’m going to try my best not to assume that some shallow, capable producer made sure all the weirdoes and fatties were out of the reaction-shot camera’s view. The show was hilarious. For some reason I assumed Cross’ performance would be angry or bitterish, but it was a very balanced and clever, not to mention perfectly offensive. At one point during the Virgins for ISIS bit, I thought, yes, that might be too much for 90% of human people, but I admire the commitment to coarseness.
The next day, my nosebleed seating would quickly become irrelevant, as I found myself in the hotel lobby and elevator with my bald/bearded hero.
On the mezzanine of the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, I stood by patiently as Cross had, what seemed like, the greatest, most heartfelt conversation ever with comedian James Adomian. I prepped my iPhone for audio recording, yes audio, I’m a print man, remember. Careful not to interrupt, as he said goodbye to James, I approached and asked for a minute of his time as I made him aware of my press lanyard. He politely obliged. Somewhere during that exchange we stepped onto the elevator. I assumed he was headed down and out, but he was actually on the way up to his 6th floor room. I asked my first question.
Vent: How can I sell my wife on the idea of polyamory?
David: Well, the first thing I’d do is… get a divorce.
Amber Tamblyn: This is us.
(Holy Traveling Pants! Amber Tamblyn aka Mrs. David Cross was here the whole time!)
Vent: Oh, hey… uh… Sorry, I thought you guys were on your way out.
(At this point I excuse myself awkwardly back into the elevator)
Vent: Sorry ‘bout that.
Amber Tamblyn: It’s okay, all good. Goodnight.
And I never saw David Cross again. You’re next Odenkirk.
Friday 4/22 – Paramount Theatre 11:59pm– A Nightcap with Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith is usually the first person to admit that Kevin Smith is overrated. I used to agree, but in recent years, as he has stepped further into the absurd I have realized an entirely new depth of appreciation for the, still quite, indie filmmaker. He is the ultimate poster man for DIYers of the Arts like myself and really everyone these days. He always has something encouraging to say to fan wannabes or mightonedaybes. “You can make a movie with that phone” or “Just do it” are regular anthems. Along with, “No one is going to care more about your screenplay than you are”.
Smith is well-known for his Q&As and the anecdotal insight they reveal into the movie industry and its ridiculous nature. This Nightcap was no different. He fielded approximately four questions over 90 minutes, including one proposition for a threesome by a chubby couple celebrating a birthday. He countered with a birthday hug and an offer to watch the two fornicate. The audience that night was only privy to half of the transaction, no telling if there was any follow-through on the voyeurism.
Of course I would like to have gone up to ask something more meaningful, like would Kevin have a 3-way with my wife and, well not me, I don’t roll that way, but maybe my wife and some other guy. The truth is, unlike most of the people in that theater, I haven’t had time to keep up with every Q&A he has done over the past two decades and God forbid I should get hissed out of the room for asking a question that was answered on Q&A #37. [Kevin Smith has done 37 Q&As! In a row?] Thank Alanis Morissette Kevin takes these mostly idiotic queries and somehow sculpts them into entertaining narratives staring Johnny Depp and other less famous people like his own family.
I’ve met Kevin Smith before at another Q&A in Austin years ago, at which he screened Kid ‘n’ Play’s House Party, one of his favorite movies. Since then, what he has lost in actual pounds, he has gained in wit. He converses and jokes with the crowd in a way that most of us can only do with our closest friends after a couple of hours of warm-up sh*t-shootin. He was a gracious host and, even at 2am, an inspirational example of what a funny writer can become.
Saturday 4/23 – Stateside (at the Paramount) 9:30pm– Jim Norton
I took Saturday off from the actual Paramount. I did peek in for the Leslie Jones/Colin Jost show, but could not wrap my head around it. I think the infra-white Jost was only teamed up with the ultra-black Jones so I wouldn’t feel so racist skipping that show. Which, didn’t entirely work, I think I might actually be racist. Oh well… so Jim Norton.
This show was next door to the big, fancy auditorium, but was no less brilliant. Jim Norton was actually one of the more natural performers of the weekend. He engaged with the crowd in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in an otherwise grander venue. He covered everything from childhood sexual exploration to adulthood sexual exploration.
Norton is one of the top no-apologies comedians doing stand-up today. Who else is going to talk about the rules involved in having a sexual experience with a transsexual partner? I mean, besides maybe Dave Attell or Big Jay Oakerson or 20 other comics on the scene. By the way, Rule #1 seems to be; Don’t look at the feet.
These headliner shows were just the five big tips of a deeper and extremely funny iceberg, but I know you star-f*ckers only want to hear about the people you sort of might recognize from a Chipmunk movie here or Target commercial there. Next year, don’t just wait for me to get back from the festival and fail to do these live performances justice. For just a little over $100 you can see them personally then come back home and fail to do them justice for yourself, because when it comes to Moontower, you really just have to be there.