Moontower of babble: Reflections on the music of comedy

Patton Oswalt performs at the Paramount during the Moontower Comedy Festival.

By Wes Eichenwald
Special to the American-Statesman

The Velv, aka the Velveeta Room, is Austin’s comedy analogue to the Continental Club. Twenty-nine years after its founding, it’s become a local institution: a performer’s club, intimate without inducing claustrophobia, it’s definitely one of the classier joints on the carnival midway that is Dirty Sixth. Matt Ingebretson — an Austin native living in LA who, besides standup, writes, makes amusing YouTube videos and has a deal with Comedy Central for a sitcom, “Corporate” — is there emceeing a Thursday early-evening Austin Towers showcase during the Moontower Comedy Festival, with a dozen performers doing sets averaging about seven minutes apiece.

Some use their seven minutes more effectively than others. Brassy, stalwart local fixture Kath Barbadoro, with a date to open two nights later for Patton Oswalt at the Paramount, starts out with some inevitable remarks like “I like weed” but really energizes the room with some grade-A lines like “I’ve gone on so many dates in Austin that I know how to brew my own beer now.” Fellow Austinite Bob Khosravi, 35, bearded and cranky, gets laughs with rants like “I don’t like things if they make things easier for younger people. They don’t deserve it.”

If you spend enough time in comedy clubs – and I did three straight Moontower nights, seeing headliners Jay Pharoah, Colin Quinn, Margaret Cho and Oswalt, plus that showcase – you’ll realize the parallels with the music scene. Not just Austin’s, but any music scene. Instead of notes, comics play truths. Or at least, their particular truths. Some routines play like Coltrane-style jazz (solid, smoothly flowing), others like punk rock (aggressive, no prisoners taken), others like funk or salsa. And the 12-person showcase? That’s just another record-company promo sampler given out at South by Southwest; explore further if you’re interested, otherwise toss it.

The obvious musical analogue for Pharoah is freestyle rap; he’s done some of the actual stuff himself, and he streams his consciousness as he stalks back and forth across the stage Paramount stage, discussing Uber and drugs and President Donald Trump and marriage (“Marriage is hard. God knows it’s hard — that’s why he ain’t married”) and flowing from one to the other of the scores of impressions he’s famous for: Obama, Denzel, Eddie Murphy and Eddie’s recently deceased brother Charlie, a mentor of his whose death he mourns. “Be gangsta!” he advises towards the end.

Friday night over at the State, Quinn, a 57-year-old Irish-American from Brooklyn, holds forth with his working-class, self-taught philosophy, squinting into the lights like a mongrel cross between Cliff from “Cheers,” a vaudeville comic and a crusty old police sergeant in a 1940s Preston Sturges movie. Quinn titles his show “Bully,” and though he touches on the schoolyard anecdotes you’d expect, he veers off into the roots and history of bullying, from the Greeks (“Socrates: the passive-aggressive friend’) and Romans through to communism, capitalism and our current dysfunctional world.

What kind of music does Quinn’s monologue suggest? Garage rock with literate lyrics, maybe, or an experimental post-punk cult band from the ‘80s. Prowling the stage like Burgess Meredith’s Mickey, the aging boxing trainer in “Rocky,” he defines intellectual bullying in addition to the physical kind, and bemoans the shortage of democracy in even a supposedly democratic society: “Work is a dictatorship. Family is tribal. Traffic, a failed social experiment. Then you’re asleep for eight hours. You maybe experience democracy about two and a half hours a day.”

By the end, when the audience, rising, applauds vigorously, you realize that even considering everything, and despite all his faults, there’s something noble about Quinn’s quixotic endeavor to explain why things are the way they are. You also realize that this former “Saturday Night Live” news anchor, though he may have been a gigantic jerk at certain points in his past, may fit the living definition of “too smart for his own good.” Colin Quinn: the last of the moralists. In 20 years, he’s going to make a great old man.

As with musicians, the best comedians make it look effortless, a grand illusion of ease and simplicity. This was certainly the case with Cho and Oswalt in their back-to-back headlining sets at the Paramount on Saturday, Moontower’s closing night. About 80 percent of Cho’s set can’t be mentioned in a newspaper; let’s just say that she mounted the stage in ultra-high heels and black leather shorts, making a point to discuss her outfit and its effect on her, and things spiraled away from there. Cho is the extrovert’s extrovert, even for a comedian, and after her riffs on celebrity feuds and one-nighters, and extended bits on bodily functions and malfunctions, you felt directly wired into her thought process in real time. Her musical parallel: gutsy mainstream pop, probably.

Finally came a brilliantly woven set from Oswalt to a packed house, likely Moontower’s hottest ticket this year. If you wanted to design the perfect thinking man’s standup comic, it might look and sound a lot like Oswalt, who showed quicksilver wit and impeccable timing in his interactions with the audience (“Everyone here is well-adjusted!” he complained. Nothing to work with!)

The actor/comedian took the stage just one day after the first anniversary of his wife Michelle McNamara’s untimely death. Everyone waited for him to talk about it, which he did towards the end (it’s hard to follow that kind of material with jokes about fast food).

Expressing his disgust with platitudes like “I wish you strength on your healing journey,” Oswalt, who described his experience as more of a “numb slog,” spoke movingly about breaking the news to his young daughter, about suddenly having to be the point person at her school, and his feeling of unreality about it all.

In the end even this, too, is great material for standup. Oswalt was an outstanding comedian before his wife’s death; now, with his venture into widower standup, he may be something close to inspirational. To me, it sounded for all the world like one of the better classical symphonies.

How are comedians reacting to life under Trump?

Colin Quinn at the Moontower Comedy Festival.

By Wes Eichenwald
Special to the American-Statesman

If stand-up comedy in America is an expression of the national psyche, one problem in particular these days is afflicting its practitioners: How do you make jokes about a reality whose very possibility was, until very recently, widely considered to be itself a joke?

Whatever your political preferences – and yes, the vast majority of stand-up comics lean to the left – the Trump Hangover must be acknowledged to be as real as the current situation in Washington. To comedians, this is one elephant in the room that everyone has to talk about, but even for the more politically vocal standups, the risk of Trump overload and burnout seems ever-present.

At least from my observations at the just-concluded Moontower Comedy Festival, President Donald Trump is mentioned, more often than not, with weariness by the comic near the beginning of their set, more out of obligation than burning desire. But most seem to feel the elephant must, at least perfunctorily, be addressed.

At Thursday night’s Austin Towers showcase, where a dozen comics performed for an average seven minutes apiece, Kerri Lendo compared Trump negatively to Bill Clinton: She preferred the latter because at least, she said, Clinton “was a fun pervert.”

PHOTOS: ‘My Favorite Murder’ from opening night at Moontower

The ever-popular standup topics of online dating, sex, drugs, rude bodily functions and the comic’s physical flaws were mentioned both more often and more enthusiastically than the present occupant of the White House.

“How do you feel about the president?” Matt Ingebretson asked, emceeing a Thursday night showcase at the Velveeta Room. “I just don’t think anyone should ever have children again…”

“Why did Trump win?” asked cranky, middle-aged barstool philosopher Colin Quinn at the Stateside on Friday. “Trump is the manifestation of all of us, for the past eight years,” arguing past each other on social media. “There’s going to be another civil war,” he said. “Instead of the blue vs. the gray, it’s going to be Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Starbucks.”

At the top of her Paramount showcase, Margaret Cho speculated that Trump was “our punishment for everything that didn’t happen during Y2K,” adding, “I’m not sure if Trump is an alien.” Echoing a few other comics’ thoughts, she applauded legalizing marijuana but said it wasn’t enough to cope during a Trump presidency: “They should legalize heroin and meth, too!”

Many comics alluded to a feeling of unreality, or of living in an alternate universe; Patton Oswalt, whose Twitter feed is chock-full of anti-Trump tweets, played with this theme with his usual adeptness, at one point wondering if a Trump presidency was just a hallucination induced by his grieving his wife’s recent death.

But perhaps Jay Pharoah had the most adroit adaptation of the theme, opening his Thursday set at the Paramount: “It has been rough as (expletive) …I cannot believe this actually happened … the Verizon man switched to Sprint!” He later imitated Trump, though it sounded more like an imitation of Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression.

Although for professional comics, Trump has long been a gift that keeps on giving, you do get the sense that most of them would just as well prefer to take the gift back to the Returns and Exchanges counter, with receipt in hand.

PHOTOS: Ali Wong at the Moontower Comedy Festival
PHOTOS: Thursday night at the Moontower Comedy Festival
PHOTOS: Chris Hardwick and more from Friday at Moontower

 

Moontower preview: Margaret Cho’s deep Austin ties include recording with Patty Griffin and David Garza

Margaret Cho performs on April 22 at the Paramount Theatre as part of the Moontower Comedy Festival.

You know Margaret Cho is an iconoclast. You know she is merciless and brave and gives zero flips. You may know she had a show on network television two decades before “Fresh off the Boat” became a hit.  But did you know she got her comedy career started in San Francisco as part of a comedy duo with Sam Rockwell? She did. And, did you know she has made regular visits to Austin for years? She has.

Cho, who headlines Moontower Comedy Festival next weekend in Austin, has been a regular visitor to Austin,  which she calls her “musical Mecca.” Not only has she recorded with singer-songwriter David Garza, her Grammy-nominated album “American Myth” includes a song called Topaz about Austin saxophonist Topaz McGarrigle, and she even recorded a song with the great Patty Griffin, whom Michael Corcoran once dubbed “The Meadowlark of Hyde Park.”

We caught up with Cho before Moontower to talk about her 33-year career, Donald Trump and how to Keep Austin Weird. Read the entire interview here. 

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Festival information, headliners, set times, et al

5 reasons why Leslie Jones may be the fiercest comic out there

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Leslie Jones might be getting too big for “Saturday Night Live.”

Leslie Jones Credit: Jason Lee - jwlphotography.com
Comedian and “SNL” cast member Leslie Jones. Credit: Jason Lee – jwlphotography.com

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.

What made Jones so great at Moontower? Let’s enumerate the ways:

She’s great on “SNL,” but completely unleashed live

On “Saturday Night Live,” she can leave her mark on a sketch with a single memorable line, but she can only go so far on live, national TV. When her Moontower set began, she warned the audience, “This ain’t gonna be (expletive) like ‘SNL!’ ” and she was right. Her set was raw, completely hilarious and very unpredictable. When she left the stage to do some crowd work, the first thing she did was begin screaming in an audience member’s face. It was a blast of energy worthy of Sam Kinison.

She knows how to use her physical presence

Jones, who wore bright orange Nikes, is very tall and she uses her body effectively, leaning forward deeply for emphasis, stalking the stage, convulsing and moving around constantly like another triumphantly aggressive stand-up comic, Godfrey. And she has perhaps the greatest scream in comedy since Bob Odenkirk’s “Mr. Show” days. Next to Colin Jost, she looks like she could crush him without even trying, and that makes for some great comedy when he squirms at her (presumably mock) sexual advances.

Her material is as strong as her bluster

I’ve seen other comics do material about those Sarah McLachlan rescue dog commercials, but Jones has one of the best takes on it, unleashing a torrent of fury at dog owners and McLachlan alike for making her feel so much sadness.

Her crowd work is fantastic

She sat on laps and begged for a spanking, went past the front row of audience members “Back here to the poor people,” and ridiculed one unlucky man’s denim shirt for what felt like a full five minutes, culminating in a closet-hunting bit that she performed beautifully with her back to the audience. When she talked to a group of guys who’d left their significant others at home to see the show, she asked, “How many prostitutes have you killed?” Jones looks young for her age and has been doing stand-up for a long time, long enough to develop a fearlessness at doing on-the-spot comedy with a live crowd.

She put Jost in his place

Colin Jost can write a fine joke, but on “Weekend Update,” he can come across as a little smug when he’s not telegraphing punchlines from a mile back. Jones continued the ongoing “SNL” joke of treating him like her personal sexual fantasy. When she called him her “Little red Corvette,” the audience erupted. Topical, hilarious and weirdly poignant.

Can’t wait to see her as a “Ghostbuster.”

‘Jay and Silent Bob Get Old’ and really dirty at Moontower Comedy podcast recording

Now that Dick Clark is gone, Jason Mewes might be America’s oldest living teenager.

Kevin Smith (left) and Jason Mewed record an episode of their podcast "Jay and Silent Bob Get Old" at Speakeasy during Moontower Comedy Festival on Saturday, April 23, 2016. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Kevin Smith (left) and Jason Mewes record an episode of their podcast “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old” at Speakeasy during Moontower Comedy Festival on Saturday, April 23, 2016. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The perpetual adolescent co-hosted “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old,” a taping of his intervention podcast with filmmaker and prolific podcaster Kevin Smith at Moontower Comedy Festival on Saturday.

The podcast, which began in 2010, is described by Smith as a way of keeping Mewes clean and sober after some harrowing years of drug abuse. But over time, the podcast, which is always recorded live in front of an audience, has also become an entertaining excuse to keep up with Smith’s career moves and for Mewes to tell incredibly raunchy stories.

After six years, you’d think Mewes would have run out of material, right? You’d be surprised!

Playing to a crowded and friendly house at Speakeasy, Mewes unloaded some lusty masturbation stories, including one so fresh it described an incident from the same morning’s flight from Detroit. He also talked about a recent sexual encounter with his wife Jordan that resulted in a knocked over nightstand and waking up their 1-year-old. Mewes, not content to just tell the story, also got up and gave some visual demonstrations and provided sound effects. He’s actually pretty good at this.

This shouldn’t work, especially if you stopped hanging around with horny teenagers after you yourself aged out of the demographic, but Mewes’s particular talent (his superpower, if you will) is somehow remaining boyishly likable no matter how ridiculously raunchy he gets. Some of that is due to Smith’s incredulity (and at times, awe) and the way the two friends make it clear they are far from ladies’ men.

Apart from the sex stories, Smith got to talk about his recent stint as a guest director on the show “The Flash,” which resulted in a guest star role for Mewes (who urged Smith to watch the show in the first place) and the news that he’ll return to direct another episode for the CW series in its next season.

The recording will likely pop up on their podcast feed in a few weeks, and there were enough laughs that you should seek it out when it’s available.

FIlm director and podcaster Kevin Smith performs at the Paramount Theatre for a Q&A event as part of Moontower Comedy Festival in the early a.m. hours of Saturday, April 23, 2016. Credit: Rustin Gudim / contributed by Moontower
FIlm director and podcaster Kevin Smith performs at the Paramount Theatre for a Q&A event as part of Moontower Comedy Festival in the early a.m. hours of Saturday, April 23, 2016. Credit: Rustin Gudim / contributed by Moontower

 

Moontower Fest ends on emotional high with Maya Rudolph-led tribute to Prince

Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum lead Princess, a Prince cover band, at Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival Saturday, April 23.
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 already been on the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival 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 on Thursday, 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; Maya 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.

“It’s nice to be sad with you all and happy at the same time,” she said earlier in the show. “It never occurred to me that we might ever perform this music when he’s not alive.”

Was there ever a chance the show would be canceled? Not at all. “I couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do more than play this music now,” she said defiantly at the start of the show.

Kicking off with “Let’s Go Crazy,” the show dispelled any notion that it might just be an indulgent karaoke romp of Prince’s hits. Rudolph and Lieberum are clearly hardcore fans and they focused on Prince’s early work, eschewing his later work for songs from “Dirty Mind,” “Controversy” and “1999.” They even threw in an unreleased song, “Purple Music,” and played nothing from after “Purple Rain.”

No “Diamonds and Pearls,” no “Gett Off,” nothing from “Sign O’ The Times” or as one audience member called out for, the “Batman” soundtrack.

Which speaks to the breadth of Prince’s discography: it was a lengthy and complete show even focused on just that early timeframe.

Audience members were given purple glow sticks they waved around in the Paramount Theatre and for at least the first half of the show, it was a standing room, more concert than comedy show. “You can call Uber in 85 minutes,” Rudolph said, urging everyone to stand and dance after the first song.

Rudolph and Lieberum earned laughs with their half-naked all-male band and their shirtless helper “Tampico,” who wiped mustache sweat from Rudolph’s upper lip and showered the singers with rose petals at one point.

How did the band sound? A little shaky toward the end of “Let’s Go Crazy,” but more confident as the show went on and Rudolph, the daughter of “Lovin’ You” singer Minnie Riperton, and Lieberum, have got pipes. Whether solo or in harmony, they sounded great and were well-composed despite what must have been the crushing emotional weight of this week’s loss.

“The Beautiful Ones” was a goosebump-inducing thrill and “Jack U Off” still had a raunchy, eye-popping impact 34 years after its release (Rudolph and Lieberum’s hand gestures only enhanced the not-so-well-known song). “Darling Nikki” even had the backward-singing part at the end, which Prince Rogers Nelson himself advised they include.

The duo got to meet Prince backstage at one of his shows after he’d seen their covers performance on TV, which he enjoyed. “I’ve got you programmed on my DVR,” he told them, perhaps the sexiest use of the word “DVR” in recorded history.

Rudolph described seeing Prince in concert for the first of many times when she was a pre-teen and Lieberum told in detail the story of seeing “Purple Rain” in a theater with her grandmother’s friend at 11 and having her sexuality awoken that night.

By the “Purple Rain” encore, an emotionally exhausting, but completely funky night ended with Rudolph saying she’s not sure what the future of Princess will be, but that she wants nothing more than to keep performing. “Now I just wanna sing more songs. I know that’s what Prince would do,” she said.

Set list:

“Let’s Go Crazy”
“Controversy”
“When You Were Mine”
“Head”
“Sister”
“Let’s Pretend We’re Married”
“Jack U Off”
“Purple Music” (unreleased)
“The Beautiful Ones”
“The Breakdown”
“Little Red Corvette”
“Delirious”
“Darling Nikki”
Encore: “Purple Rain”

More photos, credit Maggie Lea, Paramount Theatre / Moontower Comedy Festival:

Comedy’s David Cross proselytizes to the converted in Moontower Festival taping

David Cross performs at Paramount Theatre Friday, April 22. Mandy Lea Photo / via Moontower Comedy Festival
David Cross performs at Paramount Theatre Friday, April 22. Mandy Lea Photo / via Moontower Comedy Festival

On Friday night, comedian, writer and actor David 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. 

Were Moontower Comedy Festival attendees seeing these shows going to get a playful, silly, brilliant comic performer Cross, maybe a guy who has mellowed with marriage, fatherhood and the successful Netflix reunion of the “…With Bob and David” gang? Or would it be cranky, outraged, politically ranty David Cross?

Emerging in a gray Santa beard, Cross told a great story about a dicey tattoo shop in Santa Rosa, told an elaborate family Thanksgiving story to arrive at one golden punchline and made stops at vaping and artisinal gasoline for dumb hipsters before landing on Donald Trump. 

And that’s when the bitterness and the ugliness started. You get the feeling when watching the behind-the-scenes documentary of “…With Bob and David” that comedy partner Bob Odenkirk can be counted on in their collaborations to keep some of Cross’s worst instincts in check. But solo, Cross indulges his often startlingly petty lectures on obvious political and social points without the insightful twists of logic of, say, Chris Rock. He trots out the names of Ted Cruz and Rick Perry for easy boos and makes hay of unoriginal targets like cops who target blacks (“Blue Lives Murder”) and the NRA. 

In front of a hostile audience that might come across like a form of brave (if  obvious) truth telling, but at least at the 9:30 p.m. show, much of the audience was eating the morsels right out of his hand.

Cross moved on to a gross, graphic bit about school shootings and the Newtown massacre victims with a groan-inducing conclusion he warned the audience they weren’t going to like. Then, noticing that some audience members had bailed, he reminded “Those of you still here” that he has 8.5 hours of recorded stand-up comedy out there that’s similar, so no one should be surprised or offended. It wasn’t a great look. 

He’s very funny. Even the dicey bits had moments of great performance and delivery. He did a great impression of  Matthew  McConaughey at a future Oscar ceremony and his encore was a short piece of whimsy about Einstein-inspired dishware.

But at the moment Cross employed the punchline “Raping  children”and a man two seats over from me rocked in his chair and screamed “YES!” it was clear to Cross could say anything at all and the remaining majority of his audience would look past shocks that could have used more laughs.  

Two Dope Queens, Maria Bamford, Maggie Maye slay at Moontower Comedy Fest SheBang showcase

Phoebe Robinson (left) and Jessica Williams (right) of Two Dope Girls were a highlight of the "SheBang" show at Moontower Comedy Fest. Credit: Mindy Tucker / via WNYC.org
Phoebe Robinson (left) and Jessica Williams (right) of Two Dope Girls were a highlight of the “SheBang” show at Moontower Comedy Fest. Credit: Mindy Tucker / via WNYC.org

On the “Statesman Shots” podcast last week, one of the featured stand-up comics on the annual “SheBang” show at Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, 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.

The lineup promised surprise guests and the one I caught was the brilliant Maria Bamford who has a new Netflix show on the way next month. Even in the context of a shorter set than her usual headlining slot, she still enthralled with her therapist song, her raccoon impression and complete mastery of her physical presence on stage. Things loosened up a bit at the end as she more candidly addressed mental illness and she didn’t end as strongly as she started, but she got some of the biggest reactions of the show for her completely unique comedy and no one in the audience who was seeing her for the first time will forget her.

Firestone, who followed Bamford’s set, asked the audience morosely, “You guys ever follow Maria Bamford?” The New York comic’s intentionally shaky and questioning delivery were on point and by the end of her time, host Behrendt commented that he’s followed Bamford before too, but never that well.

DiGiovanni, a Canadian comic, seemed on a rapid-fire-delivery wavelength that took the audience a bit to adjust to, but by the end of her set about murder, sibling rivalry and junk TV, her brute-force approach was a clear winner.

Austin’s Maggie Maye, who has matured into reliably hilarious presence on the comedy scene, focused on her dating preferences (with a great “Sons of Anarchy” shoutout), the trials of having a missing tooth and and “Angry Black Woman” stereotype which she choose to lean into to great effect.

It was a great prelude to a set by “2 Dope Queens,” made up of “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams and writer/comic Phoebe Robinson, whose new self-titled WNYC podcast has blown up in only four episodes. The two of them have also explored “Angry Black Woman” in their recent material, but in this performance each told stories in their collaborative conversational style, one of them involving a memorable and disgusting oral sex incident. All was going perfectly in the well-received set until a woman in the audience started shouting out about Passover, and then shouting something offensive that wasn’t clearly audible, causing Williams and Robinson to be taken aback as they closed their set. They handled it well, but come on, Austin. No heckling.

800 Congress was packed; fans even sat on the floor along the side of the appointed chairs and no one could have been disappointed with such a consistently great lineup.

A svelter Ron Funches is more confident, just as brilliantly slothy

If a human-sized, African-American male sloth hit the road as a comic, he would probably sound a bit like Ron Funches.

This is in no way a knock. Funches cultivates that on-stage persona, which was out in full force during his 10:30 set at Cap City Comedy Club Friday night as part of the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival.

Ron Funches (there is less of him now)
Ron Funches (there is less of him now)

Of course, the first thing long-term Funches fans noticed when the 33-year old Funches hits the stage these days is how much less of him there is.

Dude lost about 100 lbs and he has no problem incorporating that into his always-laconically-delivered act, noting that he lost the weight “out of spite” because his medical marijuana doctor wouldn’t take his health concerns seriously.

The 50 minute set ranged from how charity really is the best way to waste money (“I have no idea what happens to it”), his fondness for conspiracy theories to being the single dad of an increasingly bitchy 13-year old boy who “Winne-the-Pooh”s when he eats. (Not a joke about honey, but outstanding nonetheless.)

There was a longer riff about a fight in an illegal Canadian weed dispensary — “I didn’t know you cold get in a fight in Canada; I thought they outlawed everything bigger than a kerfuffle.”

That line is a good example of why he appeals: a slightly surreal, off-kilter delivery and point of view paired with sentences that sound slightly more elaborate than they should be. Add in a string of strong jokes about rappers that played straight into the hands of 90s hip-hop head, the best Maya Angelou joke anyone has ever heard and his eternal fondness for weed and it was easy to see exactly why his audience is increasingly cult-like.

Austin comic Bob Khosravi middled with a solid set that drew on his Middle Eastern heritage, weirdly good jokes about olives and an extended bit about how your friends children change your life as much as theirs. Host/opener Daniel Webb has a typically all over the place set, marked largely by his manic energy and queeny delivery. (I will, however, give him money to move the “gay Jesus” stuff from the middle to the top of the set — it was his tightest material and deserved to be up front.)

 

Piff the Magic Dragon and his chihuahua sidekick bring the oddity, and comedy, to Moontower

By Dale Roe, special to the American-Statesman

I’m not sure if Mr. Piffles is an old dog, but Thursday at Stateside, he pulled off a few new tricks. The nearly-catatonic Chihuahua performs as the sidekick of Piff the Magic Dragon, a laconic hybrid of magician and comedian.

Are you looking for the oddity part of the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival? The duo (runners-up on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent”) qualifies. Both man and beast are dressed in cartoon-green, cloth dragon outfits festooned with patches and pockets (27 of the latter, according to Piff’s recent count).

The Las Vegas headliner’s act ably straddles the comedy/magic line, drawing laughs from the audience (many of them at the Chihuahua’s expense) while mixing a few silly tricks with some genuinely baffling minor miracles. One memorable bit was a mind-reading trick performed by the headliner’s guest, “Chris Angelfish” – a forgetful, self-promoting goldfish swimming at first in a glass and later, distressingly, in a blender.

Piff’s impatient onstage behavior resulted in a lot of laughs during his crowd work with several audience members who assisted him onstage, and his well-timed inclusions of Mr. Piffles never failed to elicit a chorus of “awws” or “ews” from the crowd, depending on how the performer was handling (or mishandling) him. Occasional, cringe-inducing sound effects aside, no animals were harmed during this show.

Unfortunately, Thursday’s show was marred by the behavior of a particularly rude heckler (I thought we were over this, Austin). Piff deftly silenced the troublemaker in the first half of the show, but was less effective later when the same pest again drew attention away from the stage and toward himself. Security guards eventually made their presence known and the rabble-rouser behaved for the show’s remaining few minutes.

I know I wasn’t the only one wishing Piff could have made him disappear.

(Piff the Magic Dragon and Mr. Piffles perform at 7 p.m. Friday, April 22 at Stateside at the Paramount.)