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.”

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.

‘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.)

Martin Short, smarm’s Zen master

Short with three amigos (photo courtesy the Moontower Comedy Festival)
Short with three amigos (photo courtesy the Moontower Comedy Festival)

Very few people can do what Martin Short does and not have the audience look away in embarrassment.

He is the master of the show biz smarm, opening his one-man show with clips from some of his most famous bits (men’s synchronized swimming team, we will never forget you), striding onto the stage with a piano player, singing “all I ask is that you love me,” changing costumes, dropping Steve Martin’s name a lot (his sometimes does this one man show with Martin) reprising his character from “Father of the Bride” and generally doing the sort of showbizzy variety show that absolutely should not work in 2016.

There are two reasons that it did Thursday night at the Paramount Theatre as part of the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. 1) Short is very old school showbiz himself, more of a song-and-dance man than a stand-up comedian, as much an actor as an improviser. His “show biz” self is a character as much Ed Grimley.

2) Speaking of Ed Grimly, Short remains a really weird guy. The weirdness cuts the smarm, in a way. He has been a comedic force for most of his life yet stil retains an outsider streak by dint of being a very odd dude.

There was some political stuff (mocking various Presidential candidates as wedding planner Franck Enggelhoffer, he of the deeply weird accent), he invited three folks from the audience to come up for a tribute to the “Three Amigos” (and wow, those three guys could not do the dance AT ALL.)

The strongest material came at the end, when Short assumed his Jiminy Glick persona (complete with costume) to give an unctuous, hilariously insulting and generally hilarious interview with Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson. Short was perfectly clueless and mean, Benson took it brilliantly and it capped off an evening that should not have worked nearly as well as it did.

 

SXSW review: Tracy Morgan at Funny or Die

Tracy Morgan performs at the Funny Or Die party at SXSW on March 14, 2016.
Tracy Morgan performs at the Funny Or Die party at SXSW on March 14, 2016.

Tracy Morgan took the stage at Funny Or Die’s party at the Scoot Inn Monday night and told the crowd he was “the Desmond Tutu of entertainment.” And with that non sequitur, everyone’s crazy and dirty comedic uncle was back.

The beloved former star of “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” almost died in a horrible collision with a Wal-Mart freight truck in 2014, making the night’s sponsor both ironic and on-the-nose, and Morgan spent a good portion of the first part of his set mining the accident for material. The whole time he was in a coma, he said his grandmother wore God out with her prayers, eventually inspiring the Man Upstairs to reprimand her (and Tim Tebow) for wasting his time when he had better things to do, like make sure Donald Trump didn’t get elected president. He said he went to heaven but didn’t stay long, because you don’t go toward the white light if you think it might be the cops.

Morgan used his reputation as rebellious bad boy to set up such jokes, and it’s not just a comfortable comedic device. From his anecdotes about selling crack to his myriad stories about graphic sex and masturbation, Morgan doesn’t worry with offending anyone. Even when the jokes were simply confessions of his sexual proclivities and not very funny, in the age of political correctness, it was good to see someone fearless, though I don’t expect the New Yorker to be earning any medals from feminist groups anytime soon. But when you’ve almost died and lost the ability to speak, being fearless probably comes easy.

The boundary pushing naturally followed Morgan into satirical discussions of race, as he wedded slavery metaphors and sexual humor. Morgan, whose wife is of mixed race, also defined the difference between arguing with a white woman (she’ll call her lawyer on you) and a black woman (she might kill you). In one of his bits that brought the biggest laughs and guffaws, he called out Tiger Woods for not identifying as back, saying Earl Woods (Tiger’s dad) is undoubtedly the name of a black man.

“The blackest thing he ever did was suck at golf,” Morgan said of Tiger Woods.

Morgan engaged in some biting crowd work, while his act repeatedly bounced from tales of physical therapy and the accident back to his sexual desires. Understandably, it wasn’t Morgan at his most manic or funniest, but it was great to see him back on stage taking swings. Comedy isn’t like sports – you don’t get to rehab in private and wait to come back and perform for the public at 90 percent. Morgan, who was performing in only the 12th show of his first tour since the accident, isn’t all the way back, but from the immediate standing ovation at Scoot Inn, it’s clear his fans are ready to help him rally back to his old self.