As the lights dimmed at The Paramount Theater for Thursday night’s big ticket at the Moontower Comedy Festival, the voice of headliner Tig Notaro came over the PA to welcome the crowd. When people started chuckling, she paused, explaining that she wasn’t telling a joke, but had merely spoken the first half of a sentence. She continued the announcement intermittently critiquing the crowd’s reaction before introducing her opening act, Andy Kindler.
Kindler warmed up the crowd by starting to sing the praises of Notaro, speaking of their long history together, before devolving into what sounded like him describing a rancid, bitter feud. It was all for laughs, but it served as the perfect introduction to Kindler’s routine. He’s a veteran comic who’s been at this for a while now, and he doesn’t have time for your shit. Sure, he exaggerated the circumstances of his career, like having to walk 20 miles just to set up a joke, but his playfully gruff humor proved to be endearing over the course of his set.
As he introduced Notaro to roaring applause, the two took on-stage bantering to a new level by chasing one another around. While Kindler kept insisting he had to leave, Notaro would occasionally look to her left while snapping “Are you still here?”
Notaro’s set, meanwhile, played like an effortlessly funny stream-of-conscious. There were moments where it seemed like she’d have a loose joke structured, but cast it like a wide net on the audience to make everything she was saying seem spontaneous. She didn’t address the cancellation of her show, One Mississippi, but told an anecdote about her sharing a scene with Mark Wahlberg, all because she fell into acting as an extension of her standup career.
What her set will be remembered for, however, was her big, musical finale. After having the sound guy queue up a few songs so she could work through elaborate jokes worked in throughout, she strolled over to the electric piano that had been sitting there ignored for the better part of the 90-minute show.
She told the crowd how she loves to sing and play piano, but doesn’t know how to do either. But that didn’t stop her from playing alone to Adele’s “Hello,” occasionally interrupting to explain how she’d once done this at Ellen DeGeneres’ birthday party while Adele was in the audience.
It’s one of those bits that’s hard to explain that it was funny, and maybe even more difficult to explain why it was funny. While you might get a chance to experience it soon — she explained she was gathering material for an upcoming special — within her set lied the nature of… not quite outsider humor, but just some earnest creativity and a little bit of weirdness.
After Notaro’s set, Janeane Garofalo held court next-door at the Stateside Theater, sister venue to the Paramount. If you were alive in the 1990s, you no doubt were at least a little bit aware of her. She was a more-or-less ubiquitous piece of the pop culture fabric who brought her signature acerbic wit to everything she did.
Seeing her perform for the first time, it was both subversive and expected. Throughout her lengthy set (she did 90 minutes without an opener) there was a certain playful self-deprecation. Since I was alive in the 90s, I assumed she’d appear more cynical on stage, as that characteristic seemed to run like a river through most of her on-screen work, instead she came off as a genuinely caring and concerned person. She wanted to try and make the world better while never coming off as blindly idealistic. She was a realist who leaned a bit on the pessimistic side, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her.
Her material itself was spread out across a dozen or so post-its, napkins, and other assorted pieces of paper. “This isn’t a schtick,” she announced, partway through many pauses where she’d shuffle the papers looking for something specific, “This adds nothing.”
Like Notaro, Garofalo seemed to have some rough sketches of humor tailored to the crowd. Garofalo, however, thrived on audience participation. Regularly she’d peer out to the crowd asking specific questions, which both became punchline fodder and seemed to be filed away by her as some sort of way to expand her collective knowledge about the world around her.
For more information about the 2019 Moontower Comedy festival click here