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.

Marc Maron’s river of rage: surprisingly crowd-pleasing at Moontower Fest!

Marc Maron performs at the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, April 23, as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. Credit: Birdsong Imaging, Mandy Earnshaw, contributed by Moontwoer
Marc Maron performs at the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, April 23, as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. Credit: Birdsong Imaging, Mandy Earnshaw, contributed by Moontwoer

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.

Marc Maron will be on hand at 6 p.m. Friday for a screening of the first episode of the third season of “Maron” at the Paramount. At 7:30 p.m., he’s scheduled to be part of “Dr. Katz Live” at Stateside at the Paramount.