We closed Moontower's second year out with a Pete Holmes/Jim Gaffigan double bill and then some epic drinking. Which is how all second anniversaries should go, right?
John Bender: As the Moontower Comedy Festival drew to a close, I had a decision to make. In the interest of covering as much of the festival as possible, the responsible journalist in me wanted to select two lineups populated by lesser-known comedians. I’d heard great things about Michael Che, Helen Hong and John Tole, and I really pored over the schedule in an attempt to cobble together the most efficient evening of comedy coverage possible.
Then I spotted the Pete Holmes/Jim Gaffigan show at 9:30. Look, I realize that I’ve already covered two Pete Holmes shows this week—both of which I praised effusively—and we all know what kind of act Jim Gaffigan brings to town. This was a sure bet, a hot ticket, a known quantity, and it didn’t really need more coverage. But I couldn’t resist. I had to see Holmes one more time, and I figured I might as well enjoy a smooth Gaffigan chaser while I was at it. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that a 9:30 show with two big names basically ruled out my attendance at anything else for the night. I had to be in line early to ensure that I would get in, and when the show ended, the second round of acts was already firing up or in full swing. So, sadly, I only saw Pete Holmes and Jim Gaffigan last night, and I feel bad for not doing the right thing and catching other bills.
That’s not to say that I regret my choice. Pete was great yet again, although his set was short. Two of the bits were from his Impregnated With Wonder album, but it was nice to see how he’s tweaked them in the time since they debuted. His Subway joke was a wise decision for the audience of Jim Gaffigan fans, and the set never got much weirder than his observation that the stage’s backdrop looked like “The Matrix from the Sixties.” He also did a decidedly lowbrow joke about how telemarketers aren’t allowed to hang up on you, which featured a silly voice and a delightful twist at the end. I knew going into this week that there was no way Pete was going to disappoint me, but after seeing three superb performances from him in four nights, I’m ready to declare him the winner of this year’s Moontower festival.
Gaffigan was excellent as well, as much as I want to be over him. I’ve long lamented his overreliance on food- and laziness-themed material, but his timing and delivery are so finely tuned that it’s really impossible to not laugh at him. And even though he’s firmly entrenched in his comfort zone, no one does his stuff better than he does. Observations like “the best thing about fruit is that it isn’t vegetables” and anecdotes about his kids’ indifference to the splendor of Mount Rushmore might not be groundbreaking, but they have been diligently honed to perfect observational bits. Even when he dusted off his Hot Pockets routine—which I have basically committed to memory by now—his utter command of the joke had the audience laughing at punch lines they could have finished for him. I try to defer to greatness when I can, and in this case, Gaffigan deftly silenced the comedy snob in me and closed out my Moontower festival with a delightful set.
Nick Hanover: The thing about festivals is that no matter how good they are, the closer you get to the finish line, the more you just want it to be over. You want to sit back, reflect on your experience and drink until you pass out. Or at least that's how I've approached festivals. John, his girlfriend Shannon and I spent our time before the Gaffigan/Holmes double bill enjoying bombers from Royal Blue Grocery, a local cafe/grocery story on 6th and Congress that recently built a surprisingly nice patio where you can drink alcohol you've purchased from them at about a third the price of anything else in the area. We could have gone to other sets, but we knew the rest of the crew was off doing exactly that, and we decided to "take one for the team" and hold everyone's places in line for Gaffigan. And since we had two and a half hours to kill before doors would even open, why not drink?
Unlike John, my only exposure to Holmes at this festival had been his She Bang hosting job, which obviously wasn't Holmes' show and so I was eager to see the comedian perform a set with more freedom and flexibility and I was not disappointed. I'm honestly surprised Holmes isn't more popular than he already is, because he has an easy affability that instantly ingratiates him with any audience he performs for. He has that goofy grin and his self-described "lesbian Val Kilmer appearance," but he's also just a transparently good guy with impeccable timing and smooth crowd management. Pairing him with Gaffigan was an interesting choice, since Gaffigan makes his lack of smoothness a selling point, but it was a great opportunity for Holmes to be exposed to a larger crowd than he might normally have, and it didn't hurt that the crowd was probably more receptive to him than they might be elsewhere.
Gaffigan was exactly what you'd expect; his set wasn't filled with groundbreaking new material, but he's a crowd pleaser through and through and the Moontower audience was happy to watch him do his thing. Gaffigan so superbly sells his frumpy demeanor and gentle self-deprication that it's hard to hate on him, even if you prefer your comedy to be a bit sharper. The CB crew spoke afterwards at the CB Bunker about what we'd like to see from Moontower in the future, and one thing we all brought up is that we'd be interested in a kind of Coachella-style take on curation, where road vets like Gaffigan and up-and-comers like Holmes are still rounded out by the fresh new talent bit also flanked by legends who don't perform often or who have been out of the game for a while. Sure, this year we had Dana Carvey, but as we were talking, I stated that my no. 1 choice would be someone like Steve Martin, who still looms as
such a large influence on the current crop of alt-comics that his sad current film career is easy to forgive. I feel this is the only thing Moontower could really use to improve itself as far as bill selection goes, but overall, the festival impressed me this year and I'm confident it's only going to continue to evolve and get better.
James Pound: The last day of the festival, and though my cheeks were a little sore from all the laughs I was excited for the last few headliners. After a nice interview with Jim Norton in the afternoon (video forthcoming), I made my way to my first showcase featuring Chappelle Show co-creator Neal Brennan. Before the headliner was the Lucas Brothers, whom I had heard a little bit of buzz about. The identical twins were possible the most low key performers I saw at the entire festival, but nonetheless they put on a good show, in particular their bit featuring a letter they’re sending to the NRA citing Notorious B.I.G. (using his lyrics) as reason for gun control. Brennan’s set was a lot more high energy, and unsurprisingly, focused mainly on racial stereotypes/separation. It was interesting to me to see some of the same mannerisms and delivery that you would expect from Dave Chappelle coming from this skinny white dude, but since they’re long time friends and collaborators I guess it’s to be expected.
Next was Jim Gaffigan’s second sold out headline set at the Paramount. The audience was interesting for his show, as I suspect it had the most general public sold tickets, because I noticed a number of people in my section dressed up in cocktail attire. A far cry from the hoodies and jeans most badgeholders wore throughout the festival, but regardless everyone was there for a good time.The opener was the great Pete Holmes, whom I saw earlier in the week. Though he did much of the same material I had seen before it was interesting to see how he made adjustments for a room ten times the size I had seen him in. I agree with our other reviewers that he’ll probably be a major headline act in the very near future, and I’m glad to have seen him now. Then the lights went out and the spotlight came down on The Pale One. Gaffigan did a wonderful show as expected, starting out with some material I had not heard before, garnering huge laughs from the audience. The second half of his set registered a sort of a greatest hits, touching on working out, eating (of course), and the infamous Hot Pockets bit (which the crowd cheered at the mere mention of). He made enough minor tweeks to the material to keep it fresh for those of us that have those jokes practically memorized, and I really enjoyed it.
Finally, came Jim Norton’s filthy finale. Host Matt Bearden (once again a repeat performer for me) did a great job warming the crowd into the Norton mindset, and as I said before I’m definitely going to support his Cap City show upon its return. Next was Christina Pazsitzky, which took us a step further in the dirty realm of Jim Norton’s comedy. I loved how unabashed she was, literally letting it all hang out as she exposed her beer belly and humped the air, jiggling away. Her brash sense of humor made me think of a lost friend and endeared me to her even more. Then Mr. Norton came out and gave the filthiest set I witnessed in the four days. And I loved it. Early on he touched on the Boston bombers, saying, “If anyone should be given guns, it should be photographers. Whenever they photograph one of those wild eyed lunatics, they should be able to take care of the problem right there. Look at Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and now this Dzhokhar fuck. They all have the same dick shit crazy look in their eyes!” He also talked candidly about his (struggling) sex life, swiftly took care of some seriously stupid hecklers, and did a few quick bits of his characters from the Opie and Anthony Show. He seemed generally pleased with the turnout and reception of the (not quite sold out) audience, and greeted fans and sold merch in the lobby immediately afterwards. I was so happy to have gotten the chance to meet him earlier in the day, as I feel he is quite an under appreciated comedian that has been working hard for years!
The fest was an awesome experience on the whole, and while I have a couple of minor gripes about the way ticketing is run and still thoroughly enjoyed attending it and can only imagine it will get bigger and better each year, which I can’t wait for!
Janelle Revord: I feel like if you do any festival right, by the last day you are exhausted, yet fully satisfied with what you have already accomplished, and willing to give yourself a break from the strain of following a strict schedule. Saturday was probably the tamest day of the entirety of Moontower. Or at least by this point, I had become incredibly familiar with so many different comedians that there wasn't the overbearing pressure of a long list of comedians that I still needed to see weighed in the back of my mind.
I checked out the Four Eyes showcase for a couple of different reasons. The obvious "derp, I wear glasses" reason, which I feel a lot of people in the crowd related to. In fact, there were two young ladies who came in late to the show and sat up front during Moshe Kasher's set, both with glasses, and he asked them if they came because of the whole glasses things, and yes, one of the two did.
I had been looking forward to seeing Moshe Kasher perform all week, but with so many conflicting showcases it ended up being on this last day that I finally got that chance. I feel like Moshe Kasher's comedy works best in a crowd that can actually match his enthusiasm level. The sold-out audience at Four Eyes would get into it, but then would kind of retract enthusiasm depending on how far he would take a joke. The previous night when he was hosting She-Bang, it felt like it surpassed his Four Eyes set. Considering how many non-stop, different showcases he had performed throughout the week, I can understand how a person could lose steam, especially if the audience isn't giving you back as much as you would probably need at that point, but it's not to say that the show wasn't great regardless. He told the audience that before the show he wanted to get on stage and not tell any jokes and see what would happen, and at that point he had admitted that he had only told one joke that was actually a part of his routine. That's what feel makes a really great and versatile comedian though, is to perform based off of your environment and the reactions that you receive as well as perform your material. It keeps the audience feeling like each show has its own unique flare.< /font>
Four Eyes continued with Helen Hong, whose set was amazingly received with this audience in comparison to The Bro Show. I really do hope by next year that these showcases will be named better. She opened her set with a couple of appropriate glasses jokes and didn't drop a single beat in her set, constantly keeping the audience laughing uncontrollably. This may have been the first Austin has seen of Helen Hong, but it certainly will not be the last.
After that there were performances by two comedians I was at the time unfamiliar with starting with Ryan Cownie. I wasn't incredibly impressed by his set, which gave reason for concern that the Four Eyes showcase was just put together, not because people with glasses have a certain comedic charm, but because they just have glasses. The set was fairly juvenile with an exertion of low energy that was hard for me to handle as my energy was just something that felt like a tale of lore by this point. I almost feel like all of my opinions of the festival by this point should be taken with a grain of salt because I feared that I had actually laughed myself dry of laughter, or the sleep deprivation convinced me that that was something that was possible.
I met up with the rest of the CB Crew in line for Jim Gaffigan's set, after pounding a pint of beer at Royal Blue Grocery, because like every festival I go to, I realize how much money that I end up spending on overpriced drinks, and the smart thing to do would be to drink a large quantity very quickly and hope for the best. I also forget that when I'm already exhausted and sleepy, beer makes me sleepier, but that didn't stop me! I headed down to the press photography area at the Paramount and was ready and thrilled to close out the festival. Opening for Gaffigan was Pete Holmes, who I had been a fan of ever since he filmed a Comedy Central performance here in Austin last year and I got to go for free, barely being familiar with his material. I had held off on seeing Pete earlier in the week with expectations that since he and Gaffigan were the only two people on the bill, he would have an extended set, but it seemed like his set was short to moderate in length, with two of his pieces being things I recognized from his upcoming Comedy Central special, which by the way, I am anticipating even MORE after that set. My only disappointment outside of the set not being as long as I would have liked, was I didn't get my "beers/pierce" joke, which I mention almost always when I drink beer, which is almost always.
Once Gaffigan took the stage, I was ready for it, ending it like we started it, the whole CB crew in the same theatre watching the same show. I took my press photos, went back to the chaired area where press could sit and tuned in. He had a fairly long bit about showering, which in my head I thought, "Yeah! I know how you feel! I had to make time to shower today too!" because of how chaotic Moontower had been while both working my day-job in Austin and covering the festival which rounded it out at 20 hours a day for half a week. Not soon after though, I fell asleep sitting up. It wasn't Jim Gaffigan, well okay, maybe it's the his soft sing-songy voice that still gets me every time, maybe it was the pint of beer I had pounded 15 minutes before I went in, maybe it was those 20 hour days I had just mentioned, but I just nodded off. If it wasn't there, I'm sure it would have happened at the Maron screening, like it almost did at the Maron SXSW panel. NOT because Mark Maron is boring, but because these events happen to line up with my exhaustion and lack of sleep. I awoke during Gaffigan's set once he started talking about drinking, which just goes to show that Austin really is a town full of alcoholics, myself included, who perk up at the fucking topic of alcohol. (Also +5 points to every comedian who make a joke about Austin and drinking at Moontower this year.) I ducked out to the restroom at a part he brought up his children for the second time, because I hope that I will never be unfortunate enough to relate to ANYONE's being the, like owner, or parent, or whatever of children jokes, and when I came back with an empty bladder (questioning if I would have peeing issues in my future from Janeane Garofalo's set that still haunted me from the night before), I was in time to hear the Hot Pockets bit. Not just a mention, or the bit with things changed to make it more current/relevant, but the whooooole bit. Which being drunk and sleepy made me happy, but not thrilled either. It was something that I recognized and liked and didn't have to put any effort into to enjoy or recall, which was basically all the energy I had left to give to anything at Moontower, and all the energy I have left to talk about it until I can hibernate for a few days.
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.
James Pound is a movie nerd who’s not sure how he stumbled onto this comic website. He sporadically tweets and checks in to TV shows at @JSterlingPound and hosts a weekly Geeks Who Drink pub quiz in Austin, TX.
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.