MOONTOWER COMEDY & ODDITY FESTIVAL is back up this month, running from April 20th through the 23. Since its inception in 2012, Moontower has been one of the highlights of the festival year, bringing together an incredible lineup of comedy stars, comics just about to break, and international stars who you might not be familiar with yet. More focused on fans than industry, Moontower also has a reputation for being a comedy summer camp- four days where comics and fans can chill out, enjoy great bbq, drink, and enjoy the city and the comedy. The venues are all close enough together that you don’t need a car if you’re staying nearby, adding to the community vibe, the parties are excellent, the ping pong tournament has become legendary but none of that matters without great comedy, and the comedy is always great.
Moontower has developed an outstanding reputation for showcasing comedians who are seconds away from being stars. Every year you’ll see comics in small rooms, or opening for other headliners, who are less than a year away from being headliners themselves. Hannibal Buress, Michael Che, John Mulaney, and Amy Schumer are all examples of that phenomenon at Moontower, where in past years, you could see them at venues with 40, 100, 150 or 200 people and then in almost a snap of the finger, they were performing before ten times that number.
But as always, there is a lot to choose from on the Moontower slate, with over 70 events and shows, so you are going to need some help deciding which shows to check out.
As always, you don’t need us to tell you to go check out the headlining super stars. You know them and love them, and know which ones you are going to try to get a ticket to see (I say try because they will all sell out). Jim Norton, Maria Bamford, Martin Short, Ron Funches, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Angelah Johnson, Brad Williams and Kevin Smith are all hot tickets, and some of the top acts in the country. Martin Short is a genuine legend, and could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for some people who don’t live near big cities, because he doesn’t tour as often as some of the other comics on the bill, and rarely performs at festivals. Jim Norton and David Cross are both coming to Moontower as part of gigantic national theater tours, and Cross is taping his next special at Austin’s Paramount theater during the festival. Maria Bamford has a brand new Netflix series, Lady Dynamite coming out this spring and if you think its hard to get a seat to see her now, just wait till next year. Kevin Smith is a Moontower first-timer and a great opportunity for all Smith fans, and Janeane Garafalo well, Janeane has always been, and continues to be brilliant. In an election year, you can expect her to be at her absolute best. Ron Funches is also an experience not to be missed. He’s exploded since appearing on NBC’s Undateable. But you already know which of those shows you want to see, and hopefully you’ve already gotten your tickets.
Beyond the familiar headlining/touring names, there are 60 other shows, so we talked to the festival directors Jim Ritts, Lietza Brass and Colleen McGarr and went through the schedules ourselves to come up with our 10 can’t miss shows happening at Moontower this year.
This is Carr’s first time touring in the U.S. His performances at The Nasty Show at Just For Laughs in Montreal last year were buzzed about for weeks not only by fans but also by other comics. Festival coordinator Colleen McGarr explained the excitement over having Carr at the festival. “Jimmy Carr is pretty massive in every country except the US and I think people are going to go bezerk over him in Austin. He’s a joke writing machine and this guy has hours of material with these tiny tiny amazing jokes. I think people are going to have that same sense of discovery this year with Jimmy as they did with Tim [Minchin] last year.” If you’re looking to widen your comedy horizons and see a comedian who is routinely selling out around the world, Jimmy Carr at Stateside at the Paramount on Friday night. His show has already sold out but if an opportunity arises to switch tickets with a friend, grab it.
Leslie Jones is a comedy powerhouse. She has taken Saturday Night Live by storm, and will be starring in the Paul Feig helmed reboot of Ghostbusters coming to theaters this summer, and after that- everyone in America will know and love her. One of Jones’ signatures is her aggressive flirtation with SNL guests and cast members, none more loved by viewers than her love of SNL weekend update anchor Colin Jost. Leslie and Colin will take the stage together on Saturday night at the Paramount Theater and anything can happen. Having Leslie and Colin do a show together was a major wishlist item for festival producers, and they won’t tell us the exact format of the show- whether they will perform separately or together, but we’re told you can count on there being at least some crossover. Tickets are still available for Leslie Loves Colin.
Music is a running theme throughout this year’s festival with Kate Flannery’s Lampshades, Anjelah Johnson’s Bon Qui Qui, and both of those shows promise to be phenomenal. But Maya Rudolph’s Princess may just end up being the talk of the festival this year because it’s so unique. Rudolph and and her best friend Gretchen will be dressed in Prince-esque garb, backed by a full band doing Prince numbers. Festival director Jim Ritts saw the show at Festival Supreme in Los Angeles, and called the show “dynamic and perfectly executed” in the performance of Prince numbers, done tongue in cheek. Plan to stand at this show, which got everyone dancing at Festival Supreme and also at Sketchfest. Moontower likes to do something off the beaten path each year- whether its Puddles the Clown (two years ago) or Bridget Everett who brought down the house last year. Ritts says “people are on their feet going bezerk for this show,” and they expect the same in Austin. Princess is happening on Saturday Night at the Paramount theater at 9:30pm.
Staying with music, if you’ve never seen Josh Adam Meyers‘ Goddamn Comedy Jam, make sure one of their two shows is on your list, or both. One of the hottest shows in the country in 2015, GDCJ is expanding their reach appearing at nearly every festival that matters. Why? Not only do you get to see some of the best comics in the country perform their sets, but they follow that with musical numbers backed by a full live band, and sometimes even in costume. Matteo Lane will bring down the house with his Whitney Houston no doubt, Big Jay Oakerson will show off his rock star skills, plus Fahim Anwar, Jeramiah Watkins, Dana Gould, Jon Rudnitsky and more. Performing at the Parish on Friday and Saturday at 10:15.
Ari Shaffir‘s storytelling showcase is a national sensation. Currently airing its second season on Comedy Central, and already renewed for a third season, This is Not Happening brings up incredible talents to drop their acts and just tell personal stories. All of the stories are funny and plenty of them are jaw droppers full of shocking revelations. This show will be talked about long after the festival ends, and you have two chances to see it. Thursday night at 8:15 you can see Canadian comedy star Debra DiGiovanni, along with SiriusXM’s newest talk radio comedy team Big Jay Oakerson and Dan Soder plus Brad Williams going deep and then on Saturday night, Martha Kelly who just starred in FX’s Baskets, Kurt Metzger who starred in Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete, and Austin’s own Kat Ramzinski, described as“furious” and “mesmerizing” join Shaffir for another round. Both shows take place at The Parish.
Ian Abramson is a weird, and wildly original up and coming comedian who took a concept that should never have worked, and turned it into a sought after touring show. 7 Minutes in Purgatory puts comedians on stage in front of nobody. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like for comedians to perform without an audience, this is your chance to find out. There’s an audience, of course, but the comedians can’t see or hear them, and yes it affects their performance. We haven’t experienced 7 Minutes in Purgatory for ourselves yet, so you can guarantee we will be there to see if it lives up to the hype, and we’re recommending that you check it out too. It will be the only show going on at 11:30 on Thursday night so there’s no excuse for missing it. Head over to The Townsend to see Ella Gale, Ahmed Bharoocha, James Adomian, Phoebe Robinson, Johnny Pemberton, and Jon Rudnitsky take a shot at quiet comedy.
Comedy and magic act Piff the Magic Dragon is also not to be missed. You might have seen him on America’s Got Talent, where he turned an initial groan and an eye roll from judge Howard Stern into a semi-finalist run, and on Penn and Teller’s show Fool Us where he almost fooled the hosts. You think you would hate a guy in a dragon suit performing comedy and magic but you have to trust us, and Moontower- they’re not into schtick and neither are we. Piff is the real deal and you will be converted. Friday night’s show at Stateside is already sold out but there are still tickets for Thursday night’s show at 9:30 at Stateside. We’re big fans, and you can watch for our in depth interview with Piff, and Mr. Piffles coming out next week. Bonus, local hero Mike MacRae will be opening for Piff.
Every year Austin Towers packs out to the rafters and this year will be no exception. You’ll have two chances to see Austin’s best comics, including Brian Gaar who raised the roof opening for Patton Oswald last year. Also on the bill are Aaron Brooks, Andrew Dismukes, Bryan Gutmann, Joe Hafkey, Kath Barbadoro, Kelsey Caine, Kent Juliff, M.K. Paulsen, Zac Brooks, Pat Dean and Derek Phelps on Thursday night at the Velv at 8:30, and Jeremiah Watkins, Amber Bixby, Brently Heilbron, Duncan Carson, Ella Gale, Jay Whitecotton, John Buseman, Lisa deLarios, Matt Sadler, Ralph Hardesty, Sara June, and Chris Trew on Saturday at 8:30 also at the Parish.
Hasan Minhaj is probably best known as the last Daily Show correspondent hired by Jon Stewart, and that moment is just one of many vignettes in Hasan’s autobiographical one man show Homecoming King. Homecoming King traces moments in Hasan’s life as an American with Indian parents, but is not your stereotypical first-generation-makes-good tale. Hasan approaches each story, from learning about a sister he never knew existed to high school heartbreak, with the honesty of a comedian. It’s an unflinching look that never veers into the salacious or indulgently confessional and many of the most serious moments in the show are followed by a kind of punchline or some form of ironic karma. It’s a funny, sad, fascinating look into what Hasan has dubbed “New Brown America,” plus you get to see awkward Hasan’s yearbook photos and facebook chats, and who doesn’t love that? Saturday Night at 10pm at the Google Fibre.
To close out the festival head over to Stateside at the Paramount at 11:30 on Saturday and find out why this is one of the most popular shows in the festival– so popular in fact that its been moved to a bigger venue this year. Those of us in New York are spoiled by being able to see most of these comics any night of the week, but if you aren’t an east coaster this is a giant opportunity to see some of the best comics in the festival on one stage. Big Jay Oakerson, Sean Donnelly, Tony Rock, Jo Firestone, Nick Mullen, Jenny Zigrino, Mark Normand, Joe List and Kurt Metzger will all perform, and this show would be enough reason to head to Texas. Every one of these performers will be a Moontower headliner within a year or two, so don’t miss the chance to see them all at once.
Every year this event gets bigger and better. You won’t get to see Judah Friedlander show off this year, but you will have the chance to once again see the Sklar Brothers call this event, and Ari Shaffir turn it into a ping pong wrestling even. Last year Ari was a highlight and he’ll be back. Jim Ritts told us “Ari Shaffir had the greatest understanding that this is ping pong meets world wrestling federation and that we had to have the black hat. And he just naturally did it and much to our surprise as he won each round he took off another article of clothing. He was almost nude while trying to win the championship and the crowd was insane.” Saturday at 2pm
Also check out Stand Up on the Spot, SiriusXM’s Opie with Jim Norton and The Bonfire with Big Jay Oakerson and Dan Soder, both doing two live shows from Austin, and any opportunity to see James Adomian.
Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival runs from April 20th through 23rd in Austin, Texas. Tickets and badges are available on their website.