This year Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival celebrated its fifth year as a fan-focused comedy festival and proved once again, that they know how to throw one hell of a comedy party. The city of Austin accommodated the festival’s comedians and fans with great weather, and the city did not disappoint with its great food, great fans and wonderful hospitality. As always, there were too many shows for any one person to attend, so we called on our extended network of friends and writers to help us choose the ten best moments of Moontower 2017. Thank you so much to everyone, especially Nicole Giovia, and Sara Dahms, and all of our buddies on the Bennington show for helping to choose the best of the fest. True to our predictions, many of our favorite moments took place at the shows we picked as the Must See shows for MT2017. Every year there’s a theme to our favorites- last year it was the women who stood out among the stars. This year, we found New York putting on the most memorable shows one after another.
Comedy 101 is The Interrobang’s first live show that we took to the stages of New York clubs, and Moontower marked the very first time we took the show on the road. Everyone was interested to see whether we could pull this off on the road- would we be able to book open mic’ers so far from home? Would they find it fun to face our brutal panel of mentors dead set on destroying them? Would it be fun for an Austin audience? The answer was a resounding “yes” across the board. As always, our mentors were the stars of the show. Big Jay Oakerson, Luis J. Gomez, and Dan Soder, who have such great chemistry with each other and our amazing hosts Ron Bennington and Gail Bennington, and they all made each other and the audience laugh the entire show. But the real surprise in Austin was that everyone was buzzing about our mic performers too. Leni Mex, Christina Parish, Austin Smartt, Derek Kopszywa, Timothy Banfield, and HiFi Bong proved that Austin really is all about being unique. One of our performers had been on the Tonight Show, another on America’s Got Talent. We had three women, one trans performer, one character, and an Australian, and we loved them all. And our seventh performer- a prop act- brought down the house. Thank you to Carina and Samantha who helped us to put together this amazing team!
Going into the festival, there was no doubt in our minds that Wong would be the must-see headliner. After an unforgettable debut hour special, everyone wanted to know- could Ali follow her own act? Or would Baby Cobra be an isolated perfect moment in comedy history? Put that question to bed because Wong came out swinging, and was the buzz of the entire festival. If you asked anyone in the street, what was the best show you saw at Moontower, if the answer wasn’t “Ali Wong at the Paramount” it was because they didn’t get to see her perform. Ali Wong is a power hitter and she isn’t going anywhere. If you have the chance to see her, anywhere, make sure that you do.
One of the most amazing things that can happen at Moontower is getting to witness a headliner drop in at a showcase show, and Stars in Bars doubled down on that premise. A night that had already been stacked with great performers was bookended by two surprise headliners from the festival: Patton Oswalt and Ralphie May. Oswalt came out to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. He hammed it up as he walked down the long staircase from the green room to the stage, and did a short, but amazing set. Everyone went crazy for him, and stood again as he left, thrilled to have gotten to see one of the toughest tickets to get at the festival at a small intimate venue.
Orny Adams had to follow him, and he used the fact that he didn’t get nearly as crazy of a welcome to his advantage. He yelled at the crowd, and in the end got some of the biggest laughs of the night. He was followed by great performances from Brad Williams, whose set about his fiancee’s ninja skills had everyone howling, DJ Douggpound‘s crazy musical comedy set, and Wendy Liebman, whose age jokes had us so confused by the end, I’m still not sure how old she is! A very political set from Brian Posehn was followed by Melissa Villaseñor, who told some great family stories. Dan Soder had one of the best sets of the night, and Sal Vulcano had a group of screaming fans who wore matching shirts, and the whole crowd enjoyed his set, especially when he broke into song! And closing the show was Ralphie May who brought the energy and fits of laughter right back to where the show had started.
We knew Big Jay Oakerson, Luis J. Gomez, and Dave Smith (joined by Dan Soder) would put on a strong show at Moontower, but we didn’t know that they would swing for the fences and hit a grand slam. Unsatisfied to bring Austin more of the same of their popular podcast that specializes in the hosts being offensive and outrageous, they decided to bring on guests to be offensive and outrageous. They put on a series of debates, and not just any debates- North vs South debates. The highlight of the night, and possibly the entire festival, was a battle between Ron Bennington and Sal Vulcano, over who had the “better racists”, the North or the South. Bennington brought his A-game with the most unexpected and hilarious arguments of the night, but in round two, Sal stepped up to meet the challenge with a shocking rant that left everyone’s jaw firmly dropped. Bennington came back even stronger during round three, and Sal could do nothing, but concede defeat. Stick around till the end to hear Bennington producer Chris Stanley take the position that Austin food and culture is awful, battling against Josh Johnson. You can feel the crowd turn on him early on, and it gets worse (better?) from there. Fortunately for everyone who didn’t make it to Moontower, you’ll be able to hear the entire show when it’s released on GAS Digital some time in the next few weeks.
All of the nights of Comedy Jam, the performances were great. They never disappoint. The band is amazing, the comedians always bring a performance you aren’t expecting and it’s a chance for the audience to let loose too. Josh Adam Meyers is a star, and puts together an amazing show. Big Jay Oakerson is a major mainstay of the show when it hits the festivals, and this year we got to hear Dan Soder sing. Brad Williams never disappoints, the Sklars were amazing, Margaret Cho…the list goes on and on. One of the highlights at Moontower was seeing SNL‘s newest rising star Melissa Villaseñor belt out Sia’s Chandelier, while Jam favorite Jeremiah Watkins danced around in a skin-colored leotard, and reminded us all how effective a “tuck” can be.
As always, The Bonfire‘s live show was a hilarious adventure from top to bottom. Colin Quinn stopped by with tales of how Austin created the first hipsters, and whether he was right or not, everyone in that crowd had to believe him. We also saw an interview with “Danielle Bregoli” (producer Jacob in costume), and an audio trailer for Dan and Big Jay’s new show, Chicago Dicks. It all ended with Josh Adam Meyers and the Comedy Jam Band coming out to perform Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” with the whole Bonfire Crew.
This is strictly based on word on the street because Colin Quinn’s Bully was such a hot ticket that none of us were able to get in! But everyone who we ran into, who saw the show, told us it’s a certifiable hit. We’re sorry we missed the show, but have no doubt we’ll have a chance to catch it in New York, and many festivals to come. This is only the beginning for Quinn’s latest hour.
It’s tough to pick which episode of Unmasked was the best of the fest. Both were tremendous. Fans of Impractical Jokers are going to go crazy when they hear Unmasked with Sal Vulcano because Vulcano has never sat down for an hour interview sharing backstories about his career, and the reveals and stories are fascinating. Fans of comedy are going to love the hour as well- there are so many laughs and Sal is so lovable, that whether you are a fan of the Impractical Jokers or not, this hour will become an instant favorite for anyone who enjoys the Unmasked series because Sal is on his way to a giant career in stand-up. We honestly didn’t think it would be possible to top that hour, but we have to give the slight edge to the hour delivered by Eddie Pepitone who more than lived up to his nickname of the Bitter Buddha. Eddie was on fire for the full hour, spitting out his take on the current state of American culture and business with Bennington, and sharing great stories that were getting giant laughs from the crowd. Eddie is brilliant and Austin was the perfect place to immortalize an hour for the Unmasked series. Two tremendous additions to the comedy archive that is Unmasked. Bennington was at his best for both hours- and both will air on SiriusXM soon, and undoubtedly make our Best of Unmasked podcast.
Some amazing performances from some favorite New York Comedians, including Dan Soder and Kurt Metzger, a totally strange video set from Daniel Koren, plus appearances from both of the Guys We F***ed co-hosts Krystyna Hutchinson and Corinne Fisher. The show lasted well into Sunday morning, and was a perfect end to the laugh-filled festival.
This year, we hit up some of the places we already loved from last year’s visit and found a few new favorites. New highlights included Magnolia Cafe for their fantastic breakfast tacos, the Forthright cafe for avocado toast and French press coffee, and a terrific breakfast at Annies Cafe & Bar. Thanks to our buddy Wes we discovered 24 Diner and we may have spent more time there than at the shows, and the outstanding brunch at Emmer & Rye that was truly a WTF experience. We went to Amy’s last year for ice cream, but didn’t check out their Tito’s flavor until 2017. An absolute winner!