It would be fun to say that comedy took center stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest Saturday and Sunday, but it wouldn’t be true. Instead, comedians were relegated to the Yellow stage at the far south end of the outdoor, Auditorium Shores venue as well as the New Movement Theater, 616 Lavaca St.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The distance of the Yellow stage from the other stages meant that beating drums, thumping basses and crunching guitars were only occasionally a minor nuisance — there were just a few times when comics were compelled to pause and mention the seeping sound creep.
And the mishmash of comedians and schedules between the outdoor and indoor venues gave comedy fans a rare chance to see headliners on both the sardine-packed festival grounds and the intimate, sit-down-and-enjoy comfort of the New Movement. It was doubly interesting because comics had a tendency to repeat identical sets (or truncated versions of them) on both stages.
For instance, Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani and Jimmy O. Yang (of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) performed sets at New Movement on Saturday night and then hit the Yellow stage on Sunday. Joe Mande and W. Kamau Bell played Auditorium Shores Saturday afternoon and then repeated truncated sets that night at the New Movement.
It was kind of a blur.
Of the three “Silicon Valley” stars, Nanjiani fared best, talking about cultural differences (Yang did the same closing out the Saturday night show, to a more rambling and less-entertaining effect) and playing a game with an audience member, who had to guess whether a quote was from a piece of famous literature or a Twitter post. Middleditch was the most physical of the three, enacting an imagined, suggestive scenario taking place in a dorm room.
The scheduling of the New Movement show was interesting. Most venues would have front-loaded the lineup with locals and built to the big names. The theater, instead, interspersed them and not always to great effect — it’s difficult for less-experienced comics to follow Mande or Nanjiani.
The highlight (and, for many fans, possible low-light) of the Yellow stage Saturday performances was the extremely short set by former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Fred Armisen.
As expected, he opened his stint in front of a sardine-tight crowd that spilled out of the stage’s tent and onto the grounds in the guise of his punk rock alter-ego, Ian Rubbish. He and his band performed a trio of songs (“Hey Policeman,” “Living in the Gutter” and “Sweet Iron Lady”) before stripping off his wig and costume.
Then, strangely, he spent the rest of his time performing songs in earnest, beginning with a cover of Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain.”
As the band kicked into a cover of “Sound on Sound” featuring guest Tim Kerr (from Austin’s Big Boys), many fans realized that there would be no comedy from Armisen and began to filter out of the tent. It made standing in there more comfortable, but it was weird.
He closed the set just 30 minutes after it began with a cover of The Damned’s “Life Goes On,” saying the lyrics had “gotten me through all kinds of good times and bad times.”