Big congrats to Ashley Barnhill and Abby Rosenquist, Austin comics who are performing this week in the New Faces showcases at Montreal’s Just For Laughs.
Big congrats to Ashley Barnhill and Abby Rosenquist, who are performing this week in the New Faces showcases at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival. Both stand-ups are current or former Austin performers.
The festival website claims superstars are born at the showcases, and while it’s debatable if that is still true — the development deal market for up-and-coming comics isn’t what it used to be — an appearance at the event is still a huge feather in the cap of any aspiring comic performer.
Barnhill, who studied law at the University of Texas at Austin, is a skilled joke-crafter who made a name for herself on Twitter. A Moontower Comedy festival veteran now living in Los Angeles, she works with the likes of Marc Maron and Dave Chappelle, and is slated to appear during the Austin stop of Funny or Die’s annual Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival on Oct. 17.
Weird things happen after midnight, man. Just some real bananas stuff. Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival attendees who packed the Paramount Theater after the witching hour know this firsthand, thanks to the insomniac lunacy of Pete Holmes and T.J. Miller, who closed Friday out in fraternal, tag-team style.
The pair co-headlined the time slot, which got off to a slightly late start thanks to a late-running Patton Oswalt set. Holmes, current host of the “You Made It Weird” podcast and former host of an eponymous cable talk show, and Miller, star of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and a “Big Hero 6” voice actor, made frequent reference to their long-running friendship throughout the show, including their roots in the Chicago comedy scene.
The rubber-faced, unfailingly amiable Holmes took the audience on a sleep-deprived mission to find joy in the little moments. Among his best bits along the way: his memories of attending an Enrique Iglesias concert alone; his encounter with a flute-playing cab driver and ruminations on the trustworthiness of different instruments (saxophones are honest, trumpets are hiding something); and the power of the phrase “What you know green eggs and haaaaaam?” (Guaranteed to lift your spirits in both TSA and holiday shopping situations.)
Miller took the goofiness baton from Holmes and made a dead sprint into surrealism. The comedian, wearing an ill-fitting suit that he might have gotten from Steve Harvey’s swap-meet, told what he guaranteed would be the only textile loom joke the audience would ever hear (at Eli Whitney’s expense, obviously); speculated on George Washington Carver’s sex life (with his wife Martha, which may or may not have been the name of his wife); and laid out his ultimate nightmare prank scenario (build an exact replica of a person’s bed so that it’s facing theirs, jolt up and scream just as they do, turn on an array of floodlights).
The duo closed the night/early morning out with a little team hijinx, sharing the stage to reminisce and, in one of the best parts of the evening, do their impressions of each other’s early-career jokes. Miller’s recreation of Holmes’ early material — piñatas teach children that if you hit animals, candy will fall out — was amusing, but Holmes’ brought it home with a re-enactment of Miller’s bit about a family sharing a tandem bicycle. By Miller’s estimation, his pal did the joke even funnier than he did.
Mixed-race families. The trials of getting older. Genetically modified organisms. Wanda Sykes swam deep into the complexities of life Friday night at the Paramount Theater during her blisteringly funny and effortlessly relatable Moontower Comedy Festival headlining set.
Sykes is a pop culture fixture, familiar to fans of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and a respectable bundle of animated films. She’s quick with a barb, at ease with exasperation and an auteur of raucous, withering observations. The comedian served up all of that from the stage of the historic Austin theater, but it was her sane, sympathetic humanity that shined through the set.
After opening with a hilarious bit about her fear of black women with baby powder on their chest — she can explain it better — Sykes waxed upon what it means to be a woman getting older. The 51-year-old comedian, who had a double mastectomy in 2011 after being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, spun gold from the contrast between her old breasts (which, she said, could be mistaken for the opening sound effect from “Law and Order” when she removed her bra) and her new breasts (which she is sure are scheming and plotting something, as they are far too alert in the morning). Also, her poise in recreating her colonoscopy, balancing on a stool, was more impressive than any Cirque du Soleil feat.
Another complication, though a welcome one, in Sykes’ life: Married to a white French woman, Sykes now finds herself the mother to two blond white children who speak French and terrify her nightly when they recreate scenes from “Children of the Corn” at the foot of her bed. Which, she said, is an unexpected turn of events for a woman who attended a historically black college. And Sykes’ jokes about race relations — which doesn’t sound funny when you type it like that, but that’s why Wanda Sykes in a standup comedian and this is a blog post on a news website — rang with righteousness and funny-bone vibrations. Watching news reports about the shooting of unarmed black men alongside a Caucasian wife from a different culture, refusing to watch “12 Years a Slave” out of knowledge of her patience limitations, imagining throwing down with Mitch McConnell’s wife were she in Michelle Obama’s shoes: Sykes tackled all with razor wit.
At another point in the night, the state of food in America (including the aggressive sales tactics behind McNuggets despite their questionable composition) served as a perfect punching bag for a gleeful Sykes. The line of the night, or at least in the top ten: “I don’t (expletive) with tilapia.”
In ending with the heights of insanity that her love for her wife inspires, the comedian tied a bow around a performance that exuded contentment through the travails of society. Earlier in the set, Sykes said she is now the happiest she has ever been, and even if her relationship leads her to snowboarding misadventures and romantic getaways that feel like hostage situations, the audience is lucky that she finds the laughs. That’s what a Wanda Sykes show is all about at every turn, saying in one way or another or another:
This is crazy, right? We both know, so let’s just say it aloud.
At Moontower Comedy Festival‘s all-women showcase, “Late Night with Seth Meyers” writer Michelle Wolf cut right to the point: Anticipating smooth sailing for presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton is an interesting thing to hold out for in a country where some dark, basement-dwelling corners riot over the very idea of an all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot.
The She Bang showcase at Speakeasy on Thursday night charted a nine-stop tour of all the different voices comedy has to offer, with the added bonus of being a (mostly unspoken) comedypolitik statement on women in comedy. Host Phil Hartley, the only Y chromosome to set foot on the stage, made the sarcastic wasn’t-she-hilarious-dramatic-pause-for-a-girl joke only once, which seemed inevitable and unnecessary (and yes, tongue in cheek). Any combination of the evening’s comics would make the the Stay-Puft marshmallow man explode in laughter (and ectoplasmic fluff), and everyone in attendance knew it.
The show was a survey of every way you can do standup. Local comic Avery Moore served up underdog eccentricity and her crowd-pleasing, country-pop-skewering “Dirt Road” bit, which everyone in Austin should see at least once. “The Daily Show” producer Jena Friedman went abrasive with a 9/11 joke and other barbs that we don’t feel comfortable writing in this blog, and cringe-comic Erica Rhodes repped for small-voiced discomfort. On opposite ends of the performance spectrum, Ophira Eisenberg (of NPR’s “Ask Me Another”) exuded seasoned confidence, and limber experimental comic Kate Berlant took the audience on a riotous trip to art school.
The standouts of She Bang set the audience on fire with chain-reaction chuckles: Liza Treyger, who’s appeared on”Chelsea Lately,” cruised with the sharp confidence of a woman who takes a stretch Hummer limo to a Miley Cyrus concert. (On couples who don’t hold hands and squandered opportunities: “That’s like thin people who don’t dress well.”) The aforementioned Wolf, crackling, elicited righteous laugh-tears at the audience’s expense on a Malaysian Airlines bit. Michelle Buteau, a VH1 host who’s appeared on “Key & Peele,” claimed the most riotous performance of the night, drawing all in with her bawdy confidence — especially an older woman in the audience named Nancy, whom Buteau roped in as her sidekick whether she was willing or not.
Much to this reporter’s chagrin, audience members started trickling out before the end of the showcase, which closed with a thoughtful set by “Saturday Night Live” featured player Sasheer Zamata. Have you seen Pixar’s “Big Hero 6”? Zamata has — stoned — and she demonstrated how the cartoon brought out her inner Angela Davis. The “SNL” performer is a sharp social observer if not a noted impressionist; hopefully the NBC sketch show gives her a little more room to speak her mind in the future. (Not to hint too blatantly, but it’s not like anyone else is really using the Weekend Update desk for the common good these days.)
Catch another She Bang showcase at the Parish on Friday at 10:15 p.m. Zamata, Treyger, Rhodes, Buteau and Eisenberg will be joined by Maggie Maye, Lashonda Lester, Emily Heller and host Guy Branum.