Festival season is here, and while it never seems to take a break in Austin Texas, it’s a welcomed change this weekend with the Moontower Comedy Fest. Unlike music, or film, Moontower seems to be lacking in the generally “clusterfuckery” that imbues itself into fest culture. Even with the big names topping the bills, there’s no panic in the eyes of the general public, no worry of missing that one big act because if you miss them chances are you can find them holding court in a bar nearby. It’s glorious.
Kicking things off Thursday night was Martin Short in his one-man show “An Evening with Martin Short,” featuring Austin’s own Mac Blake. There was a collective understanding that Short’s time on stage would be memorable, though we didn’t know it would stem as long as it did; the press was only half-cocked when Short took to the mic to introduce himself just moments after the lights went dark. It was as if he floated in on a cloud. Short’s personable outlook and character reach is just as brilliant as when he took the SNL (or even Second City) stage.
Parading around in a suit, tie, and rainbow socks, Short made his way from character to character as he explored his life leading up to this moment. It was as if he had given the audience a choose your own adventure option, gladly trolling through the hits. By the time he was sitting in an awkwardly sensual position atop his piano the audience had already lost it (mind you, this was five minutes in). His best moments were in character highlighted by clips from his work as he changed costumes. A triumphant moment came when he removed his clothes to reveal a crudely drawn anatomically correct nude suit as he recreated his time “off-off Broadway” playing “Jesus’ Stepbrother” naked, “It was the 70’s after all.” He touted.
In addition to the nude suit we were treated to a Three Amigos throw-back, Franck Eggelhoffer and of course Jiminy Glick. Mac Blake’s only time onstage was a serious march in with Short; the men dawned traditional Scottish outfits (kilts and all) and only broke their stance for Short to jump into Blake’s arm so that he may be played as a bagpipe. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
Short’s set was followed by Jackie Kashian, Erin Foley, and Maria Bamford. The lady power line-up was glorious. Jackie Kashian has wonderful timing, mostly dealing out jokes about her husband, her love life, and her ever present awkwardness. Foley had a nice take on politics, and female empowerment, at one point joking about supporting women so much that she became a lesbian. Both Foley and Kashian weren’t just compliments to their headliner, but rather surprisingly refreshing adornments that perfectly rounded one another out. Bamford put on her usual set, a mix of comedy and group therapy. She debuted a few new jokes adding an addendum to the top of her set by explaining to the audience her inability to come up with anything new in two years. Though her self-deprecation is at times tiresome it’s why she works as a comedian. The double edged sword isn’t ever present though, when Bamford isn’t dwelling (as she’s want to do) she’s effectively matchless.
A welcomed dark horse came in the form of James Adomian. The 36-year-old Omaha native has been gaining a steady following in the last few years as he dips his toe in anything that looks viable. Voice work, podcasts, acting, writing, comedy, the list literally doesn’t end. His stand-up was fantastic, taking the usual tropes and selling them back to the audience with a scuffed up shimmer and promise of its authenticity. It would be unfair to call him a breath of fresh air as it’s an antiquated and overused term- but that’s what he is, unabashedly and triumphantly so.
Later on in the evening was a showcase called “7 Minutes in Purgatory,” deemed so due to the manner in which the comedians delivered their sets. Wearing noise cancelling earphones and hidden away in a dark hallway, the comedians spoke solely to a camera that projected them back to the audience in another room. It was brilliant, and honestly there was a better connection with the comedians and the audience as this cut out those awkward moments everyone at a comedy show is usually subject to; i.e., pausing for reaction. Host Ian Abramson killed it, whether it was his interaction with the camera or simply his act there was some sort of spark that he was able to ignite quickly and effectively kicking off a tremendous lead for the rest of the show. Stand out Phoebe Robinson will be one to look for in the next few days; the New York native has an impressive air about her. Jon Rudnitsky (SNL) took on the challenge, and while not all of his jokes landed, it appears he has talent outside of acting as a prop to the rest of the featured SNL cast.
There’s a notable melding of age groups and cultures making up the audiences at these events. Most know how to behave themselves in a theater setting, others show up in sandals and cargo shorts mirroring an oppressive industry standard for what not to do at a comedy show. Don’t show up late, don’t heckle the comedian, don’t respond to statements and/or rhetorical questions, don’t insert your two cents, and don’t talk about each joke after it’s told and then ask what you just missed. What’s funny is there is no one type of shitty Moontower attendee, rather, it varies due to the amount of diversity. Apparently poor etiquette is what brings us all together. Three more days to go with Moontower, and while Thursday night was a solid success, one can only hope it is topped by a miraculous yet to be seen set.