This is our fourth year covering the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival and we’re even more excited for our upcoming week in Austin than years past. The lineup is outstanding, but this year’s may just be the one to beat. Show organizers Lietza Brass, Jim Ritts and Colleen McGarr have absolutely outdone themselves this year with venues ranging from 70 sets to 2,400 and shows of all shapes and sizes. I talked with McGarr, Ritts and Brass about what’s new and who’s returning to this year’s festival. The first thing Jim wanted to get out of the way right off the bat? “We are not banning CNN, Politico or the New York Times from the Tower. We want that publicly known,” referring to the banning of those publications from the White House on the day we spoke.
The headliners this year, are gigantic- so big they’ve had to expand the footprint of the festival to accommodate everyone with new and bigger venues added. Ali Wong released her first hour special last year and I can’t remember a first special that’s made a larger splash in recent years. Wong took the scene by storm, and now she’s toplining the continent’s biggest fan fest. Headlining along with Wong are Patton Oswalt, Margaret Cho, Chris Hardwick, Ralphie May, Jay Pharoah, Colin Quinn and Michelle Wolf. Jim Gaffigan was a late addition- and a show so big, Moontower had to grab a bigger theater to accommodate it. They even have the Sklar Brothers playing at the JCC, North of the festival’s downtown HQ.
Some of the biggest changes at the festival this year are also generating the most early excitement, and that’s this year’s podcast lineup. Although Moontower has featured podcasts in the past, they’ve amped up their podcast shows to a new level for 2017. Brad Williams– a fan favorite at the festival- is back with his podcast, that he co-hosts with Adam Ray. Podcast sensation My Favorite Murder is coming to Moontower this year. For those unfamiliar, it features two women, covering true crime murders. “You think ‘how interesting can that be,'” McGarr said, “but it’s absolutely fascinating. They interweave comedy in there. It is grizzly and funny, and they’ve got a very interesting demographic. It’s almost entirely women. They have two shows at the Paramount on our Kick-Off night. They have a very strong following, everybody’s got local Facebook pages, and their followers are called Murderinos.”
Guys We Fucked, Legion of Skanks, Kill Tony, and the Sklar Brothers’ Dumb People Town are all a part of this year’s podcast program. And they’re bringing in elements they’ve never had before- like wrestlers with The Fighter & The Kid. Colleen explained what appealed to them about TFATK. “Not only is this guy like a UFC champion guy, Brendan (Schaub), but Bryan Callen, that guy’s career is on fire, and has been for awhile. But people are going nuts over him of course from the show The Goldbergs and other things that he does. Yeah. At one point, probably pretty soon that will end up in the Paramount, but we’re lucky we can get them for a club venue this year. And these are 2 guys who have nothing in common. One’s a comedian/actor, and the other guy’s a UFC champion, and yet the chemistry between them is amazing.”
Choosing which podcasts to feature isn’t easy but McGarr and her team have an amazing ear. “Luckily a lot of us listen to podcasts or we listen to what our friends are listening to, and comedians we love, what are they listening to. We try to strike a really good balance of different interests, different topics, who’s on it. Just trying to strike that perfect, Moontower note on something for everyone, and things to discover.”
SiriusXM is also bringing in two of their biggest comedy radio shows- Ron Bennington is bringing his iconic series Unmasked to Moontower for two shows for the very first time, and The Bonfire will be back with Dan Soder and Big Jay Oakerson.
Beyond podcasting and radio are the showcase and club shows, featuring deep, deep talent ranging from headliners from around the country, like Sal Vulcano, Barry Crimmins, Kurt Metzger, Andy Kindler (Andy has been a part of every Moontower Festival since jump!) to young, up and coming comedians who will be at Moontower for the first time. It’s always exciting to see which performers are such huge fan favorites that they move from smaller venues to Moontower theater shows in the span of a year like Brad Williams and Michelle Wolf . The Goddamn Comedy Jam is coming back, the all crowd work show WYFD is back, 7 Minutes in Purgatory returns, and The Interrobang is bringing our Comedy 101 show to Austin for the first time.
The showcases are packed with comedy favorites from all around the country, And there are also some younger talent that Jim, Lietza and Colleen are excited for festivalgoers to see like Shane Torres and Josh Johnson, who just killed on the Tonight Show. Also, James Davis who became a star on social media. “James Davis became a star on SnapChat with this SnapChat show called ‘Swagasaurus‘ that Comedy Central went mental over and bought, and is becoming a series and he’s absolutely fantastic. He’s hilarious. He’s another act like Chris Garcia. I know people are going to fall in love with,” Colleen promised. “He will be, by the end of April, everyone will know James Davis.” Everyone invited to the festival is truly top notch talent. You could honestly pick your shows with a dartboard and still be guaranteed an amazing experience.
This year, the festival is also very proud of the diversity they are showcasing. “I think the truth is that the post-election…I think gathers a broad appetite among all fans, not just comedy fans, for greater access and greater diversity just because there seems to be a certain push in the country to not celebrate that. I think there is a real appetite, an unquenched thirst, and almost an emotional need to see it, and we’re happy to be doing that,” Jim said. “We do it on a regular basis in our programming at the State and Paramount Theatre through the entire year. We don’t do it as a political statement. We do it because it just makes sense. We ought to be bringing these folks, and we ought to be meeting the need that’s out there, no matter what the political climate is, but I think it’s actually driving part of the interest in what we’re doing in these areas.”
In the political arena, Guy Branum is being featured at the fest this year- he’s about to debut his Talk Show the Game Show on truTV and also Barry Crimmins and Kurt Metzger‘s You’re Making It Worse. “Barry is kicking butt,” Colleen said. “We’re doing the Barry Crimmins, Kurt Metzger show, You’re Making it Worse, but Barry will be showing up on all different kinds of shows with his unique take on things. He’s awesome. He’s a legend and every year, we try to incorporate a couple of acts that are really like comedy keystones, and he’s definitely one of them.”
Finally, the local talent scene in Austin is exploding, and despite a major migration out to LA and NYC, Austin talent will once again be an important part of the festival with two Austin talent showcases and local comedians opening for the headliners as well as showing up on showcases. “One of the main things about our festival– it’s all– Austin is probably the third best comedy market, comedian wise; comedy pool in the country, and we put our local acts, not only on their own shows, but they’re on every show. Every major headliner that comes in picks Austin talent to open for them at the Paramount because they know the pool is so strong,” Colleen explained. “We never have headliners say ‘oh, I’m bringing so and so.’ No, because they know all the people there, and they’re like, ‘NO, I want this person. I want that guy or this girl.’ This year in addition to the two Austin Towers shows at the Velveeta Room, and there will be a one-night industry showcase again this year.
This year’s entire festival is sponsored by Laugh.ly, an app which is essentially Spotify for comedy, and IFC is on board and there are plenty of sponsors, proof positive that they’ve created something very special at Moontower.
“Well, we’re really fortunate. It speaks to our Austin community. It is, and the people who travel to come to this festival, they ask for and they allow us to really experiment and do a lot of different kinds of shows on whatever spectrum you want. That’s one of the great things about having this festival be headquartered in Austin, Texas.”
We’ll be posting weekly leading up to April 18 about how to best enjoy the festival, and of course through this year’s fest. This year’s festival takes place from April 19th to the 22nd. Go to the festival’s website for more!