Moontower Comedy Festival 2013 Night Two- Funny Ladies, Moshe Kasher and The Rise of PuddlesA column article, Shot For Shot by: John Bender, Nick Hanover, James Pound, Janelle Revord
We survived the second night of Moontower, and covered more diverse ground this time out. The CB crew was all over the place, catching comedians like Maria Bamford, Neal Brennan, Amy Schumer, Moshe Kasher, and even Puddles the clown!
John Bender: I spent a lot of Moontower’s second night thinking about comedy venues. For the first session, I caught an event titled Comedy Church, which was a lineup featuring Myq Kaplan, Chris Hardwick, Neal Brennan, Sean O’Connor, Emily Heller and host Amber Bixby in—you guessed it—the Bethel Hall Sanctuary of St. David’s Episcopal Church. The performance room there is a small auditorium with a huge gothic window above the stage and a pipe organ tucked neatly in the corner. The unconventional setting did not go unremarked upon by the performers, as there were plenty of jokes about how we shouldn’t be saying these racy things in a church, and also how church is boring. I monitored an elderly woman in the front row to see whether the religious material was landing, and she seemed to be giving it a C- overall.
The evening’s host, Amber Bixby, is a local comic, and her style relies to a great extent on her ability to project nervous energy and a disarming insecurity. This is probably effective in many contexts, but hosting isn’t one of them. I would have liked to see someone else in the lineup handle the hosting duties, but it seems to be a task automatically assigned to the local talent during Moontower. Luckily, Sean O’Connor came on after Bixby and upped the energy level in the room. I had never heard of O’Connor before, but he was sharp and in command of some strong material about a run-in with the child pornography division of the FBI. He recently taped a Comedy Central Presents special that has yet to air, and I’d have to assume that a lot of what I saw was the act from that special. Then Chris Hardwick went up, and his loose, conversational approach played nicely with the intimate early show crowd.
Neal Brennan followed that with the show’s best set. The Chappelle’s Show co-creator was able to mine man/woman and black/white differences in mostly novel ways while simultaneously milking very long silences and thoughtful pauses à la his most famous collaborator. After that, Emily Heller did what she could to keep the energy rolling, taking some time to win the audience over before hitting her stride with an extended bit about how dating is the only activity that people force you to pursue even when you clearly suck at it. Myq Kaplan closed out the show with a set that I honestly didn’t enjoy as much as his set from the previous night’s Hader show. Tonight’s Kaplan material was mostly about relationships and parenting, which for me couldn’t compare with his genius bit from the night before about time-traveling Jews directly causing the Holocaust with their failed attempts on young Hitler’s life.
I spent the second session of the night at the Parish Underground seeing the Double Trouble show, which featured Mario DiGiorgio, Matt Bearden, and Moshe Kasher. As with Comedy Church, local comic and event host DiGiorgio took some time to warm up the crowd, but his difficulties weren’t necessarily his fault. I could tell early on that this show had an energy problem somehow. It was almost as if something died in the walls. It was there before DiGiorgio, and it persisted during the other two acts. Since “vibe” difficulties are to some degree within the artists’ control, I was worried that these comedians were simply failing to engage their audience, but then I realized that, no, there was just some bullshit music playing next door and forcing the audience to strain in order to hear most of the show. I think the lack of full-out laughter in this show wasn’t anything to do with the performers, but rather the result of having to strain our hearing to catch all of the nuances of three hyperverbose performers. I guess there’s not much the Parish Underground can do about it, but it was an unfortunate circumstance of the night.
Having said that, though, the comics did a great job. DiGiorgio picked up steam as he went. Local favorite Bearden delivered a confident, meandering, self-aware set, and Kasher did his spastic Ira Glass routine as if we were actually, you know, a responsive audience. I’m going to chalk up the crowd’s indifference to the fact that it was a work night that falls late on a festival night, and I’ll try to cheer up in time for tomorrow’s Maron-Pete Holmes-Maron coverage sandwich.
Nick Hanover: John is right to cheer up for Pete Holmes, because his hosting job at this evening's She Bang event was one of my favorite moments of the festival, a perfect way to start night two. Holmes began by mocking the fact that he was even on the bill, confirming to the audience that they were right to be weirded out by him being part of She Bang because he actually does have a penis. A woman close to the front row groaned and Holmes made her a permanent part of the evening as a result, telling her she was totally welcome and encouraged to "blur the penis out" and giving her the nickname "blur penis" after. Holmes' act is uniquely self-aware, as he would purposefully derail and break down his jokes like we were getting live internal commentary from the performer. He turned his sore thumb status into a comedic boon and it was a great example of how to involve the crowd without derailing the show.
Of the She Bang performers, Helen Hong and Christina Pazsitzky stood out the most, even though much of Hong's material was also part of her Bro Show performance. The difference was that the crowd at the Parish was much more excited and involved, likely because the performers-- Holmes included-- were mostly all highly energetic, with the notable exception of Jackie Kashian, who held her own but felt slightly out of place due to the monologue-like nature of her material. Pazsitzky had a ridiculous command of the stage and her willingness to make her body part of the act was especially noteworthy. Pazsitzky's material is sort of the body comedy antithesis of David Cronenberg's body horror, and she opened the set up with a riff on the tight "jeggings" she had just bought from Old Navy that were "a complete mistake," but which nonetheless gave her an opportunity to do a ridiculous dance while rubbing her belly, asking why there were no black men in the audience because "they're usually super into this."
The Double Trouble show at the Parish Underground after was more consistent, but the crowd-- as John mentioned-- was slightly off, making for a more awkward disparity between what was happening on stage and what was happening in the crowd. Where the She Bang crowd was super excited even for the less impressive acts on stage, the Double Trouble audience couldn't seem to give less of a shit about what was happening at any point. James Pound and I were in the front row, because we took too long getting falafel and wound up at the venue a minute before the show started, but even so, every performer was killing on the stage yet the crowd couldn't get into it. We were seated next to a guy whose stoic indifference to the comedians made him an instant target for Moshe Kasher, who forcibly inserted the guy into the majority of his set (except when he gave the guy a break and focused in on me, asking when I last had my heart broken and what the details were). Kasher tends to perform at peak insanity no matter what the crowd is doing, but for Matt Bearden-- who honestly performed one of the best sets I've seen him do-- the meh-ness of the crowd was more noticeable. Which is a pity, because Bearden even tried to bribe the crowd right out of the gate with a bag of Beanitos he took from backstage, which he claimed had a "bed made out of Beanitos bags."
James and I had a similar experience at Amy Schumer's midnight set, which closed out the night. And by similar experience, I mean that James literally had a stranger pass out on him and attempt to cuddle. Schumer's crowd was noticeably more female populated, which is great, not just because of how boring that "women aren't funny/don't get humor" bullshit gets, but also because it set up an interesting rivalry between Schumer and Anthony Jeselnik's crowds that was apparent; Jeselnik had instructed his audience to chant his name before Schumer went on and exactly one guy attempted this, before being shut down by Schumer ("Oh, that's cute, Anthony's fans kind of know how to pronounce his name"), later setting Schumer up to vaguely joke at Jeselnik's expense, with winking cheers from her fans. I'm still not entirely sold on Schumer, mainly because I feel she could add some more variety to her material, but she knows how to work a crowd and her timing and body language are impeccable. Still, it's easy to see why she has a new show coming up on Tuesday on Comedy Central, and there's no doubt that she's only going to get better.
James Pound: Another fantastic night at Moontower! I first attempted to get into Dana Carvey but it actually sold out! So I ended up at Maria Bamford next, which was not an upsetting fall back in any regard. Bamford was fantastic and brought all of her signature weird voices, mom and dad impressions and quiet rage to the stage. We made the mistake of watching her latest “Special Special Special” the night before the fest, so much of her material was fresh in my mind. That being said, the order of jokes rearrangement and being in a live audience definitely enhanced the experience. I really enjoy the fact that she will touch on hard personal subjects like her bipolar disorder in her act, as I feel mental illness is a very under represented/understood fact of many peoples daily life, and it’s great to bring some humor to it while still making people consider what others around them might be going through. Bamford’s opener, Jared Logan, did a great set as well (better than his set with Bill Hader, since I actually remembered him this time). I’m betting we’ll be hearing more of him in the future.
The next showcase I went to, Double Trouble, probably had the most consistently awesome lineup I’ve seen. Opener/Host Mario DiGiorgio set the tone well with stories of crazy exs and dead dogs. Then came Austin favorite Matt Bearden, with more dead dog tales, driving horror stories, and free Beanitos (thank goodness for sitting in the front row before everyone stuck their filthy hands in the bag!). I love Bearden’s non-stop, machine gun delivery, all the while keeping a self deprecating attitude about everything. I definitely am going to start checking out his weekly PUNCH! shows at Cap City Comedy, and agree, “Japanese School Bus” does need to become a dirty euphemism. But then it was time for the man of the hour, Moshe Kasher. I love his story-form comedy, that was just as breathless, if not more so, than Bearden’s delivery. The audience definitely seemed to be enjoying the show, but not exactly to the extent that we were in the front row. Maybe it was the combination of the two main acts pummeling us with words that just flat out exhausted people, but I thought Kasher was brilliant.
Finally, I ended up making a last minute decision to check out Amy Schumer at the Paramount at midnight. The audience felt super pumped to be there, especially the female contingent. Opener Kurt Metzger did a good job warming the crowd with his nervy, twitchy New York accented delivery, and had a number of great lines, even starting with mentions of the Boston bombers. But the crowd really went nuts once Ms. Schumer came on stage (wine bottle in hand). She launched into her set full throttle covering everything sexual, from butt sex to facials to going condom free with a stranger. I like her style and, I don’t know if it should be thought of this way but, female empowerment. My only problem with her is that 90% of the set was spent on sex talk. I’m okay with that but after awhile it starts to feel one note and tiring. Literally, since the leather cowboy hat bro next to me passed out and tried to use my shoulder as a pillow! She definitely has her (female) followers, and I am interested to see what she does with her Comedy Central show, but worry that she needs to broaden her focus.
Another great night, and we’re halfway through! I’m jumping up and down at the chance to see Michael Ian Black, Judah Friedlander, Brian Posehn, and Janeane Garofalo tonight, and keep the shmooze/booze train rolling!
Janelle Revord: WHO RUN THE WORLD? Is what I would be singing and dancing to right now if I had any energy left in my body what-so-ever, including the synthetic kind I have been fueling my body with for the entire day just to get by. Not like watching a bunch of comedy is hard work or anything, but I can rarely admit to sitting down for the majority of the day and laughing and being entertained so much that I have hit physical exhaustion. Cardio isn't really my thing, and I'm sure laughing in large doses is kind of like cardio, and my body just isn't used to it.
Ladies today, were awesome. I'm gonna write about the ladies.
It would make sense to start from the beginning of my day, but I'm going to start closer to the end where Amy Schumer had a bit about blacking out, going so far where your brain goes to sleep but leaves your body with the authority to keep on going. I'm kind of at that point right now, and the sad thing is, definitely not from drinking. Exhaustion, totally. So that's a preface that probably will be a good explanation for the rest of this.
A whole lot of what I saw today were things that I had heard or seen before, which a lot of people would think is a bad thing, but really it all boils down to delivery. I can't even count how many times I've seen that episode of Degrassi TNG where Craig made Ashley mad and kept saying "sorry" in his Canadian accent, but it's the delivery that has a strong effect on if you're going to enjoy hearing something you've heard before.
Jared Logan opened up for Maria Bamford, and I'm pretty sure I saw him yesterday at Bill Hader's showcase, and by pretty sure, I mean I couldn't see anything but it said he was on the line-up. The great thing was, I wasn't able to recognize him by recycled material from the night before! I did however recognize some of his bits that I've heard played on Comedy 102.7 here in Austin, and instead of enjoying it less, it was still fucking awesome because of how well everything was delivered. When Maria Bamford came on, I was quick to realize, "Hey, this is totally the Special Special Special that a group of us watched a few days ago! Was I disheartened any by it? Not at all. This was my first time seeing Bamford live, something that I had been looking forward to for a while. My experience watching her live was way better than watching her special. The sound quality was better than that of TV speakers, everyone in the room was actually captivated and paying attention opposed to everyone being on their computers and phones when watching things at home, and there is no way you can exchange the experience of seeing first hand Maria Bamford's fluent pretend tiger live. The order of her routine was slightly different as well, which I felt had a good flow. It was interesting to be in the crowd when the bits about suicide and depression came about. I still have never seen a comedian as good as Bamford come up with metaphors for how society still views mental illness. You could feel an ever so slightly lower level of response to those jokes in comparison to the rest of her material, probably because with mental illness something that still isn't commonly discussed, there was some uncertainty on how to respond.
After Bamford, I saw yet another one of my most anticipated comedians to check out for the first time, Emily Heller. Again, there were things that I had heard before in her set, and that is literally only because I was so impressed with her appearance on Conan, I showed that clip to at least 5 different groups of people, watching it along-side with them every single time, and this was just a couple of days ago, but the power of her delivery still had me laughing and loving it. There are a lot of female comedians out there that I feel like I resonate with on different levels in different aspects of my life, and Emily Heller is definitely one of those ladies. A lot of female comedians talk about relationships, hell, a lot of male comedians do too, but what was so awesome about a large portion of her set was the intense positivity she had for being single and filling the void that society expects you to fill with other people, with yourself. Like, if I had a lady friend, or hell who cares, any friend, I find in a situation getting sad about being single, I want to point them in the direction of Heller's stand up. They don't even make self-help books that positively effective about being single, not that I would know or anything.
Closing out the evening was Amy Schumer, the perfect midnight artist to see. Her set was of course more blue than anything else I had seen today, and it was the perfect closer to round out three awesome lady comedians of all different comedic styles.
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 41.06 in the Mecha Marathon minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, where he reigns as the co-managing editor, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness and Pontypool.
Janelle Revord is one of the few authentically born and raised Austinites you'll ever encounter in your lifetime. When she's not yelling at people who have just moved to town to "get off her lawn," or attempting to holla at celebrities to get drinks with her when guest-hosting on CB's own Paranoid Video, you can find her on twitter basically doing the exact same thing in 140 characters or less.