Bringing you the latest from the Austin comedy scene including news, events and happenings.
Author: Omar L. Gallaga
Omar L. Gallaga is a technology culture writer for the Statesman's tech website 512tech. He's been at the Statesman as a reporter and editor since 1997. He also is co-host of "Statesman Shots," our weekly Austin culture podcast. He's written for Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal, Television Without Pity, CNN.com and NPR's "All Things Considered." He's also a staff TV writer for Previously.tv.
Most-hosting Chris Hardwick, the stand-up comic, “Talking Dead” zombiesplainer and host of Comedy Central’s “@Midnight,” brought the social-media skewering game show to South by Southwest again, this time to a much larger audience.
The comedian noted that last time “@midnight” was here, in 2016, it was at The Parish, it was for about 100 people. On Friday night, it was Facebook Live-broadcast to the tune of about 139,000 views as of this writing and thousands in person at the much-larger ACL Live at the Moody Theater.
If you’re a fan of the Comedy Central show, it was perhaps a slightly looser version of what you’d expect: jokes about some of the best Internet memes and a supremely entertaining panel of contestants, which included Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911!”) as well as stand-up comics Whitney Cummings and Nick Swardson. Swardson did a short stand-up set before the game show started, as did Hardwick, and the whole affair, which included audience interaction and jokes about Mark Zuckerberg shutting down the feed when an extremely creepy eBay doll of him was shown, made for a fun time and a good start to SXSW Comedy. Hardwick’s positive exuberance went a long way toward keeping a fun vibe throughout: as usual, he made for a funny, engaging ringleader who’s not above a really, really dirty joke about Thomas Lennon and a pair of microphones.
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.
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.
Now that Dick Clark is gone, Jason Mewes might be America’s oldest living teenager.
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.
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.
“Let’s Go Crazy”
“Controversy” “When You Were Mine”
“Let’s Pretend We’re Married”
“Jack U Off”
“Purple Music” (unreleased)
“The Beautiful Ones”
“Little Red Corvette”
Encore: “Purple Rain”
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.
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.
So on the advice of a very helpful Moontower staffer outside of Stateside, I made my way down to the Google Fiber space at around 7 p.m. to catch the Pete Holmes “You Made It Weird” podcast recording.
I’m not a regular listener to the podcast, but the episodes I’ve heard have been funny, fresh and thoroughly honest (though they often top out at 2 hours or longer). The recording at the Google Fiber space was no different. The guests included Emily Heller, Kate Berlant and, at the very tail end, headliner co-host T.J. Miller, a longtime friend of Holmes.
There were great, rambling stories about IUDs, psychics, shoplifting and Dubai, but for me the highlight was David O’Doherty, a ridiculously talented Irish keyboardist, now bearded, who says he’s often confused for Chris O’Dowd. O’Doherty performed a song about having short legs that was one of my favorite moments of the entire festival. (The version he performed had a few differences from the video below.)
I headed over to Vulcan Gas Company for a little while before I needed to head to Paramount Theatre for the late John Mulaney show.
They were short sets, but I was lucky enough to catch host Matt Bearden, and comics Ophira Eisenberg (from NPR’s “Ask Me Another”) who told the nerdiest triangle joke I’ve ever heard (I still laughed) and the great Eddie Pepitone, who railed angrily against social media and Spotify and ended up stopping his set short when a huge audience applause break provided the perfect exit.
Great stuff and a perfect lead-in to the excellent John Mulaney late show where I also became a fan of openers Simon Amstell, a brilliant British comedian to watch and Austin’s John Ramsey.
Long-time listeners of Marc Maron’s popular interview podcast, “WTF With Marc Maron” and even viewers of his IFC TV show, “Maron” know that an angry, perplexed Marc Maron is a great Maron (at least for the audience). Maron spews invective and holds grudges with the best of them and seeing, or hearing, his barely concealed ire let loose is a beautiful thing.
It’s even better when beneath it all it seems like he’s in a genuinely good mood as he was Thursday night for a 9:30 p.m. show at the Paramount Theatre as a Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival headliner. Clad in a blue plaid shirt, boots and his hipster-adjacent mustache and glasses, Maron was more playful than you might expect from a comedian who makes frequent hay of emotional damage, failed relationships and the struggles of being a 51-year-old man who lives alone and talks to cats.
Though it sounds from his act that his relationships are a mess (unlike most comedians, when Maron talks about his dating life, you get the sense he’s being completely honest), Maron was in fine form Thursday night, delivering both forceful assaults from his self-described “River of rage,” but also interacting with the audience for their various uses of “Wooo!” delivering a bit of improvised physical comedy involving moving a stool, microphone stand and mic cable, and at one point allowing a rolling water bottle to upstage him.
Even when he was berating an audience member for staring at him oddly (“What do you need, man!?”), Maron never seemed as misanthropic or damaged as his past comedic work has suggested. In fact, no matter how far he went into material about sex (bodily fluids figured largely into the act’s final minutes), into the pleasures of yelling at others or even biting the hand that feeds him at the fest (“Whose dumb idea were these hanging things?” he asked about the set decorations), he came across as more lovable than pathetic, a guy who’s found himself by embracing his angry side.
Maybe it’s that this fan of BBQ loves Austin and has found the only place with more hipsters than his gentrified neighborhood in Los Angeles. In fact, he warned Austinites, “If you want to keep Austin weird, stop building so many (expletive) hotels,” Maron said. “This is the hipster Alamo, you must defend it.”
If there was a running thread in his hour-long set about zombie Jesus, childhood traumas and ice cream overindulgence, it was his “Inner blogger voice,” an ongoing third-person critique of the show with dispatches about each joke’s reception, each ending with, “More later.” It’s becoming a regular bit of business for a lot of comedians to comment on the show as the show is happening (Maria Bamford and Jim Gaffigan are among comics who employ it), and in someone less comfortable on stage and, let’s face it, less self-lacerating, it would have become tiresome.
But Maron has somehow come out of his years of struggle, self-defeat and frustration as that rarest thing: a polished, stressed gem who also happens to deliver consistent, deep laughter. Maron is definitely his own thing, thank goodness for us.
“Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” started as a low-budget, low-key animated show on Comedy Central show just a few years before “South Park” would become the animated show the network would become known for. It featured stand-up comics doing some of their material playing against the bone-dry wit of comedian Jonathan Katz, who played a put-upon therapist with a passive-aggressive secretary (Laura Silverman) and a dopey, lovable, layabout son (the brilliant H. Jon Benjamin, who’s become a voiceover star with “Bob’s Burgers” and “Archer”).
Despite rosters of impressive comedic talent and a cleverly home-brewed animated style that became easy to love the more you watched it, the show was never a gigantic hit. At a live performance Thursday night as part of the Moontower Comedy Festival, I heard more people before the show explaining what the show was to others than recollections of bits from the show. “Dr. What?” one older gentleman asked his companion, who was about 25 years younger. The show was explained.
Another guy, sitting behind me at the show, explained to his friends, “I used to watch it, but I was too young to understand it when it was on in the early ’90s. I was 14.”
On stage, the energy was a little different, sometimes flailing, other times absolutely matching perfectly in tone what those of us who remember the show fondly came to see. Jonathan Katz, who moves slowly with a cane due to multiple sclerosis, did a few minutes of stand-up comedy at a microphone before the main set and it began with a rape joke. As horrible as date rape is, Katz suggested, even worse would be “Double-date rape.”
Improbably, the joke earned laughs, as did the rest of Katz’s short set, which mostly consisted of well-crafted wordplay and, memorably, short musical performances of Beatles, Rolling Stones and Eagles songs performed Bar Mitzvah-style. Who knew Dr. Katz (not a real therapist) could sing?
But the meat of the show was mock-therapy sessions featuring comedians Dana Gould, Andy Kindler, Maria Bamford, Dom Irrera and Emo Philps, all of whom had appeared on the original show except Bamford. On the stage, two chairs and a fern were set up, though Irrera complained multiple times that he missed the couch and was hoping for some cuddling.
Gould went topic with material about Bruce Jenner, joking that he’s confused about respecting Jenner’s privacy now as a transgender individual given the distinct complete opposite of privacy we’ve come to expect from the Kardashian clan.
Bamford turned out to fit right in and got some of the biggest laughs with material about her new marriage and a ridiculous song about her couples’ therapist.
Andy Kindler appeared with a non-working wireless microphone and, as Kindler does, turned the awkwardness into its own hilarious bit. “This is the story of my life, Dr. Katz,” he whined, as the microphone was swapped out. Kindler went trademark-meta, asking if he’s using humor as a defense mechanism (“No,” Katz said definitively, to huge laughs) and exclaiming, “even my psychiatrist has better material!”
As on the original show, Irrera got weird and overly affectionate quickly, having left a voice mail for Katz and asking for some snuggle time.
But it was Emo Philips who perhaps captured the original spirit of the show best with his quirky timing. While much of the show had the awkward pauses (completely appropriate for “Dr. Katz) that came with mixing improv with prepared bits, Philips’s felt most like the the animated series, with Katz serving as more of a straight man than a fellow comic breaking the fourth wall.
Apart from the Kindler microphone gaffe, there were other timing issues. It took a while for the show to begin after an introductory Moontower Fest video was shown and sometimes the lengthy pauses and fits-and-starts pacing of the therapy sessions felt less than intentional. But it was a delight to hear Laura Silverman’s familiar, grumpy voice played as an intro to each comic. And the play-off music meant to signal the end of a therapy session turned out to be its own comedic highlight as it always seemed to happen just as a comic was making a point or on the edge of a revelation. It was all about timing and the joy of getting a large dose of Katz’s absurdist, punchline-driven humor, which still kills.
On the matter of an aunt’s death, Katz revealed to Kindler that she was cremated. “We think that’s what did it,” he said.