Things were going well at Moontower on night three, with excellent sets by Pete Holmes, Emily Heller and Brian Posehn. Then it got ugly…
John Bender: I had high expectations for night three of Moontower. My ambitious plan was to catch the advance screening of IFC’s Maron, then follow that with a full Pete Holmes set at the Parish, and then make the tight turnaround necessary to see the loaded, live WTF podcast with Maria Bamford, Dom Irrera, Jim Norton, Michael Ian Black, Janeane Garofalo, and Todd Barry. Much to my delight, the plan went off without a hitch, and the night was an unmitigated success.
Maron played to a mostly full house at the Stateside Theatre, with a handful of comedians among the audience members (Greg Fitzsimmons, most notably, made sure to loudly add his show to the prerecorded plug for upcoming festival events). It wasn’t made entirely clear before the screening whether this episode was the season premiere—IFC has since made a different episode available for free that plays more like a first episode—and I didn’t stick around for the ensuing Q&A to find out.
The episode I saw, which I believe was titled “Internet Troll,” was vaguely funny, but it suffered from some weak writing and editing. The plot centers on Maron’s obsession with one of his haters on Twitter, which inevitably leads to a confrontation in the back of a convenience store. Early reports that the show is vaguely Louie-esque proved to be accurate, as Maron’s podcast and the related guest appearances are used to frame the episode thematically and drive the plot. The issue is that while Louie makes use of a low-key, surrealist sensibility to showcase great writing, Maron employs the same jazzy rhythms in service to stilted line deliveries and odd end-of-scene hooks. Too often does the seemingly improvised banter between Maron and guest Dave Foley feel mundane or forced as they discuss Maron’s general unhappiness or Foley’s alarming alcoholism. The episode online now at IFC is actually much stronger (and better written) than the one that screened at the Stateside, so I’m hesitant to pass judgment on the show as a whole. But I would characterize the live audience’s reaction as “lukewarm,” which was appropriate given the episode’s quality.
Pete Holmes’s set at the Parish was preceded by a short but killer set by host David Angelo and a solid ten minutes from Alex Koll. Angelo, who was also a guest on the live You Made It Weird this week, has a voice “like butter,” as one audience member put it, which he uses to deliver pun-based material that toes the line between brilliant and groan-worthy. His deadpan delivery—accented at points by Holmes’s booming cackle from the VIP section– was an excellent warm-up for the high-energy set from Holmes that followed. I’m a huge fan of Pete Holmes in both the podcast and stand-up format, so I’m not sure my recap is entirely reliable, but he seemed to have a killer set. The really great thing about his stage presence is that he doesn’t allow jokes to bomb. If something doesn’t quite land as he’d hoped (which is rare), he either immediately fills that space with a new joke or dwells on why the material didn’t play well. It’s this constant self-evaluation that endears him to his audience and allows him to try out his more oddball stuff, like a riff on how lucky we all are to not be pedophiles (“It could just as easily have gone the other way!”). This set left me excited for Holmes’s upcoming special, which is due out on May 12, and it also confirmed for me that Holmes is likely to be a full-on headliner at future Moontowers.
The live WTF was great, easily the best thing I’ve seen Marc Maron do, and I think this is because it strayed from the standard WTF formula immensely. By bringing out each guest in order and only taking ten to fifteen minutes to speak with each one, the show brought Maron’s interviewing skills to the fore while also encouraging snappy repartee between the members of the all-star lineup. We might not have gotten extraordinarily in-depth conversations with the guests, but this was more than made up for by the relentless spite-fest between Maron and Michael Ian Black, the exchange of notes about airline tweeting between Maron and Todd Barry, and the graphic descriptions of Jim Norton’s sexual proclivities. At one point, Maron remarked that he never thought he’d see Maria Bamford and Jim Norton on the same show, and the audience, after a moment of reflection, seemed to agree that this was a very special occasion. It was a strong cap on what I expected to be the strongest night of the festival, and I would go so far as to say that Friday night will probably be the one I remember best from this year’s Moontower.
Nick Hanover: Like John, Friday will indeed be the night I remember most from this year's Moontower, but for entirely different reasons. The evening began smoothly enough, with a She-Bang event that Puddles the clown happened to crash, performing a few songs just before Moshe Kasher started hosting the actual event. Although Kasher seems like he'd be best suited to solo performances, he always make for an ideal host because he's so willing to control a crowd, make sure the sound is dead on (he even tweaked the sound from the stage before any of the She-Bang performers got on) and call out anyone who isn't behaving themselves, like the woman in the front row that he targetted after he caught her texting ("it's okay, everyone does bad things sometimes, you just happened to do your bad thing in front of a crowd of people"). Kasher's set was standardly excellent, and he did an excellent job keeping the focus on the ladies while still doing his thing.
Of the two She-Bangs I caught, this was the better
one, with a more consistent energy level and riskier material from the performers. Maria Bamford headlined and while her material was mostly what was on the Special Special Special, it nonetheless felt fresh and exciting. Emily Heller stood out as well, but she was more adventurous with the material she chose to perform, leaning less on established bits and more on material that was consciously different from what her peers were performing, as Janelle details later in her recap below. The biggest surprise for me personally was Morgan Murphy, who started off slow and seemed unsure of the crowd, before finally finding her zone and altering her performance style just enough to fit in better with the other, higher energy performers. That's not to say that Murphy, who normally operates at an energy level slightly above Stephen Wright, radically altered her style, but she quickly picked up on what the crowd was responding to and catered to it accordingly, which is an important skill for any comedian to have. None of the She-Bang performers on this set stuck out as awkward fits and the local comedians, including Amber Bixby, more than held their own.
The main show of the evening, however, was a completely different experience. Brian Posehn and Janeane Garofalo were co-headlining, with Baron Vaughn as the opener/host. Vaughn did an excellent job warming up the crowd, though his style is completely different from the two alt-comedy icons that followed him. Much of Vaughn's set was devoted to mocking people's expectations of black comedians; like most of the comedians in town for Moontower, Vaughn pointed out how white the Austin crowd was, which led into his problems with being expected to do "bitches be crazy!" comedy. Vaugh specifically feels uncomfortable with that because he's friends with quite a few lesbians, so he's got a handle on heteronormativity– "If you're asking what heteronormativity is, don't worry, that just means you are it." Moontower is a surprisingly well-rounded, diverse comedy festival, and it was interesting to see the lack of diversity in the crowd trend as a talking point for the comedians.
Posehn, of course, is about as white as a comedian can get, and the crowd was quite obviously mostly there for him and his brand of geeky fart humor, but even he got in on the action, telling us that he was glad to have Vaughn as an opener, because he's a black man in his '30s rather than "some mid-20s hipster douche who talks about how much he hates himself," which is apparently the description of his previous opener. Posehn used that point to lead in to his realization that making it to your 40s is a way for you to learn entirely new ways of hating yourself. Though he's an extremely self-deprecating comedian who uses his appearance and general grossness as a springboard for most of his bits, there's something inherently lovable about Posehn and the crowd was eating out of the palm of his hand for the entirety of his set, which made Garofalo's set all that much stranger. Where Posehn and Vaughn are different levels of tightness– Vaughn in particular is a consummate performer, with a meticulousness to his act and demeanor that is almost strange in how different it is from most of his contemporaries, while Posehn makes his set feel conversational and loose, but still mostly structured– Garofalo appeared hellbent on treating the crowd like a kid cornered by their crazy aunt at a dinner party. Garofalo began the set somewhat normally, riffing on the recently unveiled Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, but then she went wildly off track with a rant about Life of Pi, a film she hasn't actually watched, but instead only saw parts of while on an airplane…without headphones. Garofalo repeatedly asked the crowd if they had seen it, slumping down on the stage to moan about how sad she was to see a zebra get eaten by a jackal, then proceeded to argue with the crowd about what the film meant. If it had just been a slight detour before a larger point– which seemed to be the original intention, as she briefly touched on her need for proof before she can commit to religion– it would have been salvageable, but it went on forever, with minor segues into bizarre mini-rants about political subjects she apparently thought Austin had opposite beliefs from her on. It was frankly painful to watch, so most of us left to call it an evening, but as far as memorable events go, it's hard to top.
James Pound: Once again I had a great night at Moontower! I started off making the mistake once more of not getting to the Paramount early enough and ended up getting shut out of Michael Ian Black/Judah Friedlander’s show. Dejected, I huffed away to go wolf down a sandwich and beer while I found my alternative showcase. I decided on Pete Holmes at The Parish, and I’m actually really glad I did!
The host for this set, David Angelo, was an oddball surprise. He has a silky smooth, radio DJ of the 70s type of voice and a Jeff Goldblum look/delivery that just somehow worked. Some ladies up front couldn’t stop giggling at how sexy they thought his voice was. Angelo’s jokes were nearly all hokey or bad pun related, but his delivery and swagger heightened the material. Plus, he thinks we’re a “fantastic audience”, as he repeated after nearly every joke. I’m making him sound bad, but trust me, he was hilarious. Then came Alex Koll, an Air Guitar Champion (none of this talent was displayed however) and Moshe Kasher collaborator, whose nebbish Ira Glass like demeanor gave way to some rage out moments in his set. Finally came the headliner, Pete Holmes. There were many die hard fans of his podcast in attendance, forcing Holmes to trod out some lesser done material which I really enjoyed. I loved his numerous pop culture references, Grover/Louis Armstrong like voices, and his bit on the voice actors for Street Fighter. Once again there was a solid portion of audience interaction, this time with a spry young lady in the front named Kia. Too many car jokes sprung from that to name here. Holmes worked over the crowd like a champ and in our brief talk afterwards comes off as being a very gracious and genuine guy. I plan on digging into his podcast, &l
dquo;You Made It Weird” very soon!
After that I rushed over to the State Theatre to check out Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast taping with the most insane lineup I’ve seen at the fest. I got a prime seat, third row center, and was looked dead in the eyes by Mr Maron during his introduction! He first brought out the highly respected comedy heavyweight Dom Irrera, who was great. Them being old friends made easing into the conversation very smooth, and though Irrera had to leave early, he made a strong mark on the evening, garnering big applause from the audience. Then came Janeane Garofalo followed by self proclaimed “crowd favorite” Todd Barry. Both of which had very laid back quiet demeanors for most of the panel, though Barry did chime in with a couple of great one liners. They were followed by the adorable Maria Bamford, whom I was so happy to be close to this time to catch all of her wild facial expressions. And then out stepped Michael Ian Black. I was unaware of the faux (?) animosity that he and Marc Maron have for each other, but their barbs back and forth were one of my favorite parts of this show. “How is your wife and kids Michael?” “Oh, we’re bringing our families into this Marc? They’re good… how are your wiVES? And your kids… oh, right…” Lastly, Jim Norton joined the group, and we descended into a very deep hole of sexual honesty. Much talk of Norton’s proclivities of Golden Showers, transgender encounters, and that one threesome he had with Ron Jeremy. All of which left Maria Bamford hilariously squirming in her seat. It was amazing to see all of these popular comedians with such varied styles all gathered on one stage, led by ringmaster, Marc Maron.
(photo by James Pound)
The midnight show I went to was the Brian Posehn/Janeane Garofalo double bill, and it started out being a lot of fun. I recognized host Baron Vaughn from a recent appearance on Conan, and liked how his jokes were heightened when not restricted by tv’s standards & practices. Brian Posehn’s set was as lewd and geeky as ever. And although much of the material he performed can be seen in his latest (awesomely named) special “The Fartist”, seeing him live can never be topped. As his body has started to wear down on him, letting farts escape with every step, and his propensity for not giving a fuck grows, I find that he is one of those comedians that has only gotten better with time in my opinion.
I wish the same could be said for Janeane Garofalo. She began her set fairly strong, with some haphazard political humor, but was quickly erratic and not fully finishing thoughts. It really felt like she didn’t come with much of anything prepared as she launched into a long segment discussing Life of Pi, which she hadn’t really watched and was asking the audience to explain to her. I went to get a beer in hopes that by the time I returned she would’ve moved on, but I had no such luck. Even by the time I was halfway through my drink, she still hadn’t broached a new topic, so I decided I didn’t want to stick around to hear her half baked opinion on the other Oscar nominees and split. I hate walking out on shows, especially a headliner like her, but I really kind of felt disrespected as an audience member in a way. It was very sad and odd, but I hope it was a fluke and not the norm for her performances now.
Tonight should be an epic end to the festival with comedy giant Jim Gaffigan doing back to back sets at the Paramount, and I for one can’t wait!
Janelle Revord: My Moontower Friday began with a video interview with comedian Helen Hong, that I'm incredibly excited to have done, and I can't wait for you all to see it. With the unfortunate lack of a Press Room at Moontower, to escape the loud crowds of the Esquire Happy Hour and some other awkwardly unaffiliated party that was also booked at the SFA, we traveled a corridor and came about an empty room with miscellaneous, toppled furniture and a dresser filled with a large stash of sweet-n-low. In interviewing Helen, I realized I fucking love interviewing stand-up comedians, partly because I have the most basic background in comedy and can throw the right lingo around, knowing what I'm talking about, but mostly because their job is to write and find the best construct and usage of words and language, and then to find the perfect way to articulate that message, which also translates so beautifully into the interview process. Needless to say, I'm excited to share that interview with everyone in the near future.
The first show that I went to was She-Bang, which was the first time I had caught this showcase during the festival. The line-up was solid and I was excited to hear some female comedians I hadn't heard of before. The show started out with a set from Puddles Pity Party, singing 3 beautiful songs (which somehow only after this short of a time I'm already knowing some of the words?), rounding out my Puddles encounters to 2 so far this festival. It felt like a game of Where's Waldo, if Waldo were incredibly noticeable and found you?
All of the ladies in that showcase were great, but again I can't help but point out again how impressed I am with Emily Heller. As you know from my last re-cap, I saw Emily perform at the Double Trouble showcase, which was the longest set she would be doing at the festival. I was ready and excited to hear that material again (because it was just. that. solid.) and she knocked it out of the park in two different ways. 1. She performed some material that I hadn't heard the night before, which was SUPER exciting because at these kind of festivals with comedians performing multiple shows in a week, I get It, you're going to hear a few things more than once if you see the same comedian more than once. It just caught me off guard that after seeing a full 30 minute set the night before, there more jokes! 2. She made a bold and intelligent decision to perform material other than stuff about relationships at an all girls show, which again, if you read my recap from yesterday, her being single material is probably some of my favorite material on the subject that I've ever heard. I feel like most people expect female comedians to talk about relationships, so it was great to see a divergence from that to prove that lady comedians have more things to talk about.
Maria Bamford was headlining this showcase, and yes, I had already seen her the night before. I thought there was no way it could have gotten better from watching the Special Special Special, to seeing most of that material performed live. I knew I would enjoy it regardless, but I didn't set any expectations beyond that. I ended up running into Maria as she was entering the building and I was about to head out to grab a slice of pizza before the show, so I stopped her briefly and told her how much I enjoyed her set from yesterday and told her I really appreciate her using comedy to bring awareness and less stigma to mental illness and she gave me a high-five. I'm not sure if she was aware of this, or if anyone in the audience was aware of this, or if anyone reading this was aware, but that morning in Austin, someone fell off of a parking garage and it is speculated that it is suicide. The majority of Maria's set was devoted to all of the pieces of material from her special involving mental illness, and reasons to not kill yourself. The crowd for the entire sold-out show was incredibly well behaved, excited, and receptive. It's still difficult for me to ignore the parallels in time to both of those events, and what an important thing it is that Maria does with her comedy spreading her message of awareness.
Closing the evening was something that literally overwhelmed me, and not in a good way, and I hate that I have to say that. We went to the midnight show of Brian Posehn and Janeane Garofalo, with Janeane being a comedian I had wanted to see since I was a kid (which she later mentioned in her set, she hates hearing, more on that in a bit). Our tickets weren't bad up in the mezzanine, but I opted to go down to the lower level of the Paramount to take press photos. There were two obvious empty chairs right in the front fucking row that stayed empty the entire time. It felt like a cosmic sign to just sit there for Janeane's set if no one had shown up, and they hadn't. I'm not saying in retrospect that was necessarily a bad idea, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. To try to keep this short (unlike most of Janeane's set), I almost felt like was watching Jody Foster's Golden Globes speech. The set had a fairly solid start, or solid in comparison to the cliff it drove over. She had material on a stool I assumed she was going to get to (which she did, well after 2am), but got on this tangent about watching Life of Pi without headphones in on her flight to Austin. It really went off the deep end having a full blown discussion with the audience about what it meant, and from there the entire set felt like it lacked direction, people kept yelling things out because of the Pandora's box that was opened, which she would then discuss, and fell so off track that it was past 2am and then she tried to perform as much of the material she had prepared as possible, which was funnier than the trip down the rabbit hole (of getting old, being old, problems with peeing, spoiling Walking Dead because she believes people should watch it when it airs and we've had weeks, then revealing that she's never watched Breaking Bad?) the audience was taken down, a rabbit hole that I could not escape sitting in the front row and being pointed out and told that 1985 was a real year and not something that John Hughes made up even though I was born in the 1980s? Did reading this paragraph make you feel even a fraction as confused and overwhelmed as I did experiencing it?
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.