The Moontower Comedy Festival proved once again, to be one of the world’s premiere festivals, and we had a blast spending four days enjoying great comedy in a great city. The highlights are many, but we really tried to cut it down to the best of the best. Also check out our favorite things to do and see in and around Austin. But what really stood out for us at Moontower was how strong the women comedians were. It’s not that the women put the men to shame…the men were fantastic too. But how often in comedy can you say that you felt the presence of women comedians as strongly as you did the boys? How many festivals or even cities can you say that you’ll hear the list of women who performed being talked about as much as the men? It’s rare, and Austin pulled it off.
Women dominated Moontower this year, from top to bottom– and by that I mean from the super star headliners to some of the women who we were seeing and hearing about for the very first time– the women at Moontower crushed all around, delivering some of our favorite performances of the festival. Leslie Jones, Maria Bamford, Martha Kelly, Phoebe Robinson, Janeane Garofalo, Jackie Kashian, and Debra DiGiovanni absolutely smashed every room they played, and of course the most talked about event in Austin this year, Princess, was helmed by the Mighty Maya Rudolph and her best friend Gretchen Lieberum. (Read more about that here).
Maria Bamford put on a phenomenal show at The Paramount Theater for a sold out crowd of 1200, and the next night absolutely shocked a room of about 400 people across the street who had showed up to see the SheBang show, an annual event featuring a tremendous line up of women comics. For anyone who is still laboring under the outdated concept that women don’t draw, the show was packed to the gills before Bamford showed up unannounced. And once we tweeted that Maria was on stage, we watched through the window as another 100 or so people came jogging, speedwalking and some straight out running to squeeze into the already packed venue.
Leslie Jones also did a double take at Moontower, destroying at the Leslie Loves Colin Show and killing at a surprise appearance at a smaller venue. A very svelte Leslie prowled the stage (and the audience!), giving off such a high energy performance she’d periodically wipe her brow with the trademark towel she had hanging from her back pocket. Janeane Garofalo was all over the festival with a headlining show that was talked about all weekend, as well as appearing at various shows in smaller rooms, and belting out a Monkees tune at the Goddamn Comedy Jam for an excited and rowdy crowd.
And it wasn’t just the headlining women who killed at Moontower. We also got to see Martha Kelly, who stars in FX’s Baskets with Zach Galifianakis deliver huge laughs, Phoebe Robinson has become one of our new favorite comics after seeing her steal the show at 7 Minutes in Purgatory, comedy powerhouse Jackie Kashian almost outperformed the headliner when we saw her open for Maria Bamford, and Bamford was unbelievable, we saw Two Dope Girls win over an audience in seconds, and our favorite new discovery at Moontower this year is Canadian comedian Debra DiGiovanni. Those of you who haven’t heard Debra yet, write the name down, and remember you discovered her at Moontower. You will be hearing from her and about her. We missed Anjelah Johnson’s big musical performance, and ditto for Kate Flannery’s Lampshade’s show, but heard great things about both. And there were great performances from Erin Foley, Jo Firestone, Annie Lederman and at least a dozen other women.
The incredible line up of women (and men) is a credit to festival directors Jim Ritts, Lietza Brass and Coleen McGarr, they curated the fuck out of this festival, and it shows. While many people put together a great festival, we’ve seen no other organized collection of comedy create such a slam dunk with women comics, and the packed venues where the ladies performed is all the proof you need.
The men of Moontower were just as impressive. Other than Princess, (the Prince tribute show) the hands down, most talked about event of the weekend was An Evening with Martin Short. People traveled from all over the country to listen to Short perform characters and stand up, and just be absolutely hilarious. We all arrived in Moontower too late to catch Short’s performance, but we’re confident enough from all the buzz that it was the must see event of the weekend.
Leslie Jones wasn’t the only one killing at Leslie Loves Colin. She was joined by Colin Jost and also Jon Rudnitsky who both elicited heartthrob murmurs and whistles from the crowd, as Rudnitsky performed a ten minute long silently mimed Dirty Dancing gone wrong routine and Colin did a set skewering politics and some recent SNL guests that was almost like getting to watch a Weekend Update entirely about SNL. To close out the show, Colin and Leslie answered questions “submitted by the audience” that were clearly pre-written (but previously unseen by the two) to create a perfect double act that played on the lust Leslie has for her “perfect coffee creamer” Colin. During the back and forth, Colin revealed that Leslie had renamed the Update writers Franklin and Clarence, the whitest names she could think of. Jim Norton performed an hour as part of his Mouthful of Shame Tour. It was classic Norton, by turns self-revelatory, edgy, almost crude, and incredibly thoughtful. Jimmy Carr got a ton of love for his show at Stateside, where he skewered every PC notion you can think of, Ari Shaffir’s This is Not Happening was beloved as always, and our highlights list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Big Jay Oakerson and Dan Soder recording their SiriusXM radio show The Bonfire from Austin and coming on stage to the song “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” while in full local cowboy gear.
The Goddamn Comedy Jam got to make its mark on Austin, with many calling it the best show of the entire festival, bringing comedy’s finest to perform music on the stages of the live music capital of America. It was so strong, with full shows every single night, that we had to dedicate a full article to the greatest moments (check that out here) and was a comedian’s favorite. SOTS made it’s Moontower debut in style, with Sean Donnelly taking the bullet and nailing it. LA young gun Jak Knight was a stand-out as well, breaking the fourth wall to tell the crowd how hard improvising a whole set was, even as he was obviously a hit. We finally got to see Ian Abramson’s 7 Minutes in Purgatory for ourselves and its a certified hit. The absolute oddness of watching comedians on a giant screen perform without the benefit of an audience (from a soundproof separate room or possibly broom closet) is mesmerizing and a real blast. Special mention to Brad Williams, who many of us agreed could be the Moontower MVP for killing on Opie and Jim radio show, at the Goddamn Comedy Jam, and various shows, plus there was his rendition of Apache at the Moontower closing party. Basically if you turned your head, you saw Brad drawing a crowd everywhere you went. And New York’s Finest at the Stateside theater was packed with people putting off the festival after-party to enjoy a great festival-closing show hosted by Sean Donnelly that lived up to the name with Dan Soder, Jay Oakerson, Joe List and Mark Normand. Kurt Metzger closed out the show (and the festival) with an amazing set that was a fitting finale.