Moontower memories: Trump impressions, Martin Short and a musical, cathartic tribute to Prince in ‘Princess’

By Dale Roe, Special to the Statesman

The fifth annual Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival has come and gone. The laughs have died down and, with a day’s separation to mull over the experience, here are some random thoughts.

Though the great James Adomian delivered a killer Bernie Sanders impression, Donald Trump’s footprint was all over this year’s festival. The best Trump joke I heard has to go to British comedian Jimmy Carr. “I love America,” Carr cracked Saturday night at the fest’s new 800 Congress venue. “I’m excited to see how it ends.”

Best Trump vocal impression honors go to “Saturday Night Live” featured player Jon Rudnitsky. By the way, Rudnitsky is extremely funny and woefully underused by “SNL.” His talents go way beyond the vocal. During his set at the “G— D— Comedy Jam” on Saturday at the Parish, the comic showed off impressive physical skills, especially during his bizarre and hilarious impression of the unconfident son of a world-famous break dancer.

Another fine bit of physical comedy came, unexpectedly, from former “The Simpsons” writer and Moontower stalwart Dana Gould, who did a bit Saturday at the Townsend in which he fantasized about hijacking a time machine and traveling back to attack baby Hitler with baby Manson. During the flailing pantomime, Gould shouted, “I know this looks wrong, but trust me … these are bad babies!”

By the way, that show featured killer sets by Gould, Arden Myrin, Andy Kindler, Jackie Kashian, Erin Foley and the Lampshades, but the undisputed highlight was former Funniest Person in Austin winner Brendon Walsh. The unkempt comic had the crowd in stitches and must have been a hard act to follow.

The Townsend was a new venue for the festival this year, and some growing pains are to be expected. Even so, the performance room was really small, with audience members packed in. It’s debatable whether it was more comfortable to stand for the whole show or sit in one of the super uncomfortable chairs.

At least there were no hecklers at that show, unlike during Piff the Magic Dragon’s Thursday headlining gig at the Stateside. We’ve been through this before, notoriously during a performance by Dave Chappelle several years ago, and you’d think we’d have learned our lesson. Yet here was one idiot – drunk, high or just obnoxious – trying to turn the crowd’s attention to himself and spoiling the show for hundreds in the process.

The comic magician deftly dispatched the heckler early on, but he piped up again toward the end of the show, causing security guards to stand at the end of his aisle and stare him down. It wasn’t the best atmosphere for a smart show that required the audience’s undivided attention.

The best Austin joke I heard came from little-person comedian Brad Williams during Saturday’s Stars in Bars. He talked about our city’s “toxic” Lady Bird Lake, in which we’re not allowed to swim. To mess with people, Williams said, he waded out into the water then waited until somebody came by. “Then I walked out, looked down at my body and screamed, ‘Aagh! What the hell happened to me?’ ”

It was great to see Janeane Garofalo back in form after a meandering and unfocused headlining performance a few years ago. Her tight, short set featured hilariously dry observations on St. Louis (“Have you been there? You needn’t bother”); the “Twilight” movies and television. “Who out there is under 26?” she asked the crowd as hands darted upward. “I have something to tell you,” Garofalo went on in serious tone, giving the set-up an air of gravitas.

“There was a time, before you were born, when ‘Law and Order’ was not on.”

More from our Moontower crew

Thursday night at the Paramount, Martin Short reminded fans that he is a master of showbiz smarm, able to wring belly laughs out of material that in a less comic’s would have the audience cringing. He even subjected Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson to his Jiminy Glick character, the latter one of the nastiest parodies of celebrity journalism ever devised. It was hilarious. — Joe Gross

Ron Funches, an exceptionally strong midlevel comic, headlined three nights at Cap City Comedy Club, delivering confident sets (he recently dropped about 100 pounds and was feeling good about it) without sacrificing any of his laconic charm. His sets included a brilliant description of walking around sans pants that involved a beloved childhood literary figure and an unspooling bit about getting into a fight in a Canadian weed dispensary. — J. G.

Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum lead Princess, a Prince cover band, at Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival Saturday, April 23. Credit: Rustin Gudim / contributed by Moontower

Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum lead Princess, a Prince cover band, at Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival Saturday, April 23. Credit: Rustin Gudim / contributed by Moontower

Princess,” a full Prince cover band led by comics and longtime friends Maya Rudolph and vocalist Gretchen Lieberum, had been on the lineup since February. It seemed like a fun musical curiosity, something along the lines of Fred Armisen’s Ian Rubbish show from two years ago. With the death of Prince, the show became so much more. What was already going to be a tribute to Prince’s music and persona became a necessary, cathartic tribute. At times it was funny; Rudolph’s Prince-like sexy declarations and her on-point dance moves and shoulder hiccups made it impossible not to giggle. But it was also incredibly sad, especially as the night concluded, when a tearful Rudolph clearly didn’t want the performance to end. After throwing batches of flowers to the audience, she thanked the Austin audience and said the performance was therapeutic. Read the full recap. — Omar Gallaga

David Cross preaches to the converted: On Friday night, comedian, writer and actor Cross taped two shows at the Paramount Theatre for an upcoming TV special. The prolific “Arrested Development” actor and “Mr. Show” co-creator is calling the special “Making America Great Again!” and for potentially wary longtime fans of Cross, the title was a clear tip-off of what he’d spend the most time covering in a 90-minute run with no opening act. — O.G.

SheBang lineup delivers: On the “Statesman Shots” podcast last week, one of the featured stand-up comics on the annual “SheBang” show, Maggie Maye, called the show a collection of the funniest people around… who also happen to be women. She was right and then some when Friday night at the new and spacious 800 Congress venue she and many more stand-up comics took turns blowing minds and winning hearts with one great set after another. I wasn’t able to stick around for some the lineup’s biggest names including Janeane Garofalo and Erin Foley, but 90 minutes in as it was time to run to the David Cross taping across the street, I’d become a new fan of Jo Firestone, Debra DiGiovanni and host Greg Behrendt, sole male of the night, who kept the show moving at a brisk clip after a stellar bit about his 11-year-old daughter’s cartwheels and drinking habits. — O.G.

Leslie Jones is fierce: It’s becoming increasingly clear that Leslie Jones might be getting too big for “Saturday Night Live.” And that’s a great problem to have. The comedic powerhouse couldn’t even be contained by the massive Paramount Theatre stage on Saturday night at Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. In a 7 p.m. show called “Leslie Loves Colin” with fellow “SNL” Weekend Update star and head writer Colin Jost, Jones erupted with a fiery stand-up set that saw her coming down from the stage to address audience members right to their face. It was a crazy, brilliant, absolutely electrifying set that didn’t return to normalcy until Jost (who is a fine comedian, but was completely outmatched here) returned to the stage to do a filthy Q&A bit with her. — O.G.


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