Moontower Comedy Fest announces first wave of performers; badges on sale now

The Paramount Theatre, which produces Austin’s annual Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, has announced the early lineup of comedians who will appear in 2016 and has placed discounted, early bird badges on sale. The festival takes place from April 20-23, 2016 at venus throughout Austin.

Martin_ShortSlated performers thus far include Martin Short, Kevin Smith, Maria Bamford, Jim Norton, Debra DiGiovanni, Piff the Magic Dragon, Sklar Brothers, Ron Funches, and Anjelah Johnson (who will present her popular character Bon Qui Qui’s Gold Plated Dreams Tour featuring Group 1 Crew).

Short, Smith, Bamford and Johnson will headline on the Paramount Theater stage, while writer, comedian, podcaster, and film director Smith will also present a live taping of his “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old” podcast with buddy Jason Mewes as a special badge-only event.

Returning favorites include Andy Kindler, James Adomian and the Sklar Brothers, and newcomers include new “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jon Rudnitsky and “America’s Got Talent’s” Piff the Magic Dragon.

Here’s the current list of performers:

James Adomian, Maria Bamford, Ahmed Bharoocha, Joe DeRosa, Debra DiGiovanni, Sean Donnelly, Jo Firestone, Ron Funches, Goddamn Comedy Jam, Angela Johnson, Jesse Joyce, Andy Kindler, The Lampshades, Matteo Lane, Annie Lederman, Joe List, Josh Adam Meyers, Jim Norton, Johnny Pemberton, Piff the Magic Dragon, Tony Rock, Jon Rudnitsky, Martin Short, Sklar Brothers, Kevin Smith, Beth Stelling, Brad Williams, and Jenny Zigrino.

Moontower FAN, ACE, and VIP badges are now on sale at an early bird discount at www.moontowercomedyfest.com, at the Paramount Theatre box office, or by calling 512-474-1221. Single-show tickets for Paramount headliner shows will go on sale at a later date.

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Nick Offerman is not Ron Swanson, okay?

Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman played Austin's Paramount Theatre in April.
Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman played Austin’s Paramount Theatre in April.

Here’s an interesting Austin mention from an interview former “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman conducted with the Detroit Free Press in the midst of his current tour with wife Megan Mullally. The pair performed here in April:

“People are kind of scared of me, or intimidated by Ron’s authoritative nature. Especially in a restaurant, they’ll bring me a pound of cooked bacon, and then they’ll be just crushed when I say: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t eat this much bacon. That would kill me.’ I love the restaurants of Austin (Texas). We were just there on this tour. An employee of a favorite restaurant there said: ‘There’s a rumor going around that you don’t eat meat. Is that true?’ I said: ‘No, that’s ridiculous. Where did that come from?’ She said: ‘Well, apparently the chef sent you out a bunch of bacon and you didn’t eat it.’ I said: ‘I’m a human being. I’m not Ron Swanson. Especially if I’m trying to keep trim for a role, I sadly don’t have the superpower where I can just eat a plateful of bacon.’

Moontower Friday: Patton Oswalt and Jonathan Katz

Patton Oswalt headlines at the 2015 Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. MANDY EARNSHAW / BIRDSONG IMAGING
Patton Oswalt headlines at the 2015 Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. MANDY EARNSHAW / BIRDSONG IMAGING

I didn’t have to go see Friday’s “Dr. Katz Live” at the Stateside Theatre, part of the 2015 Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. My colleague Omar Gallaga went on Thursday and did a great job in his write-up of the event which, except for a few different comics (I got to see Eddie Pepitone, Todd Barry and Marc Maron instead of Dana Gould, Maria Bamford and Andy Kindler) seemed pretty much the same.

But, like Omar, I could not resist the chance to see a memorable part of my past played out live onstage. For those not in the know, comic Jonathan Katz plays a psychiatrist named Jonathan Katz whose patients are all stand-up comics.

As in Thursday night’s outing, Emo Philips (he played both shows along with Dom Irrera) best embodied the spirit of the original squiggle-vision cartoon, and not just because of his spastic movements. He drew great laughs from the crowd throughout his visit, mostly with cleverly placed lines from his stand-up act, while Katz sat by and watched.

Phillips is not a Scientologist, he insisted, explaining that he’s “not a fan of stupidity even when it’s not evil.”

Jonathan Katz in "Dr. Katz Live" at the 2015 Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. MANDY EARNSHAW / BIRDSONG IMAGING
Jonathan Katz in “Dr. Katz Live” at the 2015 Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. MANDY EARNSHAW / BIRDSONG IMAGING

The neurotic Maron, as you might imagine also fared extremely well on the bogus therapist’s couch (well, chair). At one point, he told Katz he was uncomfortable talking about his problems in front of a theater full of people, asking, “Are we still in the bit?”

After a brief stop at the Moontower Lounge on the second floor of the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, I headed next door to the Paramount Theatre to see Patton Oswalt (“King of Queens,” “Ratatouille”), the festival’s hottest ticket.

The Moontower organizers did a stellar job of arranging the openers for Oswalt. Mike MacRae ably warmed up the crowd for Brian Gaar, who absolutely nailed his set with stories and jokes about parenting, video games and the city of Waco, where he grew up. Gaar explained Waco with a single sentence: “They built a new road … and they named it New Road.” Later, he told the audience he was awakened by a police officer at 3 a.m. because the cop wanted his help in stealing the New Road sign. A joke about a Master’s Degree in English was a masterclass in comic timing.

Gaar was followed by “Mr. Show” actor Karen Kilgariff who, with beatboxer Drennon Davis, entertained the crowd with original musical numbers, the funniest of which was a song about horrible tattoos. “I think we struck a nerve,” Kilgariff cracked in the middle of the number, which really couldn’t have been more tailor-made for the Austin crowd.

Oswalt, naturally, delivered in spades.

He began with a 10-15 minute bit about waiting on the Congress Avenue bridge for the bats to appear, a visit he had just made prior to the show. The brand new routine was, remarkably, as polished as his standard tour material. It contained detailed descriptions of crowd members and ended with a killer line about a man who had been waiting in front of him for an hour, only to finally turn around and ask the other crowd members what they were all waiting for.

Other material touched on religion, his worst gig ever, his parents, clowns, and the song “The Little Drummer Boy.”

Oswalt was also in hilarious form during his crowd work. He nearly whiffed with the first two audience members he singled out — a woman who did marketing for start-ups, and a Family and Sports Medicine doctor. But he struck comic gold with his third victim, an author who wrote modern feminist fiction under a pen name. When pressed about why she used a pseudonym, Oswalt got the woman to admit it was because some people would consider the work to be erotica. Oswalt then guessed that her pen name must be “Vulva Fantastic.”

I’m sure that wasn’t the woman’s actual nom de plume, but “fantastic” is actually a pretty accurate way to describe Friday at Moontower.

Pete Holmes and T.J. Miller tag team a gala of goofiness at Moontower

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.

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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.

Pete Holmes. (Birdsong Imaging/Mandy Earnshaw)
Pete Holmes. (Birdsong Imaging/Mandy Earnshaw)


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).

T.J. Miller (Birdsong Imaging/Mandy Earnshaw)
T.J. Miller (Birdsong Imaging/Mandy Earnshaw)

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.

At Moontower, Wanda Sykes re-enacts colonoscopy, reflects on racial injustice in America

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.

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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.

Wanda Sykes (Birdsong Imaging, Mandy Earnshaw)
Wanda Sykes (Birdsong Imaging, Mandy Earnshaw)

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.