MOONTOWER COMEDY FESTIVAL returns this week kicking off with a pre-festival show at Cap City by Austin’s own Dudley and Bob Show with Matt and special Moontower guests. The rest of the fest officially kicks into gear on Thursday, April 18th and runs through Saturday, April 21st well after midnight.
This is Moontower’s 7th year and the lineup is promising to be another comedy home run with some gigantic headliners planned for the Paramount and State Theaters, and some of our favorite comedians in the country on hand to deliver a dream list of club shows throughout downtown Austin.
Moontower is always our top pick for fan fests- the best place to travel to if you are a hardcore comedy fan planning one comedy vacation this year. Unbelievable weather, phenomenal venues, great bars, BBQ, breakfast tacos plus some of the best comedy in the country in 12 venues- all bars and comedy stages- it’s like the city was built so that you could have the best experience possible wandering from stage to stage and laughing your ass off.
The focus in Austin is fans first- this is not a festival for industry. Once you have a badge you have everything you need. Wander from place to place and if you keep an eye on social media hashtags, you can quickly find out that you’re missing out on something amazing and run down the street to check out a show that is blowing up. There’s a real community vibe in Austin with nightly parties, a Ping-Pong tournament, hangouts every night, and you’ll just be wandering down the street at any given time and pass comedy headliners trying to figure out where to get coffee.
There is so much to choose from on the Moontower slate this year, but we’re here to help you choose what shows to attend this year with the 10 Shows You Absolutely Can’t Miss. we’re using our expertise, of course, to make recommendations, but we also talked to Moontower’s brilliant producers- Lietza Brass and Colleen McGarr before making our picks. They’re responsible for this annual comedy mecca, for booking the hottest comics in the country, for spotting the comics who will be next year’s superstars, and for making sure it all runs like clockwork.
They love all their comedy babies, but perhaps are most excited to have Tiffany Haddish in town. “She is our rocket this year.” Brass said about Haddish, who they booked last summer just before tthe world started going Haddish crazy. After seeing Haddish perform last summer at Just For Laughs, everyone on the team was on board to get Tiffany to this years fest. “We all independently came back and said, “Hey, who are we excited about? Who is everybody talking about,” McGarr said. They’re also looking forward to Weird Al’s concert show at the Paramount theater, and Mike Birbiglia because “Austin is a Birbiglia town!”
On the other end of the spectrum are some of the younger comedians who not everyone will be familiar with when they get to Moontower, but they’ll be talking about when they leave. Jesus Trejo’s- named one of Variety’s Top 10 Comics to Watch fits that group, as does Ali Siddiq who you may know from his brand new Comedy Central hour. And if you’re not already a fan of Amanda Seales, find her, and get to a show! You will love her.
Another reason Moontower has always stood out for is is their ability to find and book some of the best women comedians in the country, and thanks to Brass and McGarr’s expert curation, Moontower’s all female stand up show is one of the strongest festival lineups in the country. There are no weak links here. Both women say they aren’t even consciously looking to balance the gender on the lineups. “I don’t think it’s a conscious choice,” Brass told me. “I think that Colleen has amazing taste when she’s booking talent. I think that it’s more about the fact that these are just great comedians in the first place.” Colleen agreed. “Our mission, every year, is to bring the best comics to Moontower. That’s our number one mission. If audience members … they trust us. They know that SHEBANG is one of the jewels of the crown of Moontower. It’s a night of insanely amazing comics, all women. That’s only the little part of it that they’re all women. It’s so fun. When I go backstage and Lietza says the same thing, they’re all headliners.”
Favorite traditions like She-Bang, Ping Pong, and Andy Kindler will all be returning, the Comedy Jam is back to rock the fest every night, and there’s also a few new elements at Moontower this year. There’s a brand new hotel serving as the festival hub- the Aloft Hotel on Seventh and Congress. And with a new hub hotel, comes a brand new “watering hole.” The tradition of having a place for comedians and fans to hang out and keep the party going after the shows continues this year, but its moved to the 2nd floor lounge and outdoor patio at the Aloft at Carolines Upstairs. Netflix has come on board to sponsor the nightly hang. “They’re going to do an artist bar there, where artists get complimentary drinks, et cetera; Drinks and snacks at night. It’s got really cool, modern lounging furniture… I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. They’ve got foosball and pool and jumbo Jenga and all of that jazz. ” The Netflix Lounge will also house the end of fest party Saturday night.
A cool new venue joins the roster of locations– the Palm D’Or across from the Velveeta Room on Sixth. It’s an event space, but I’m told it doesn’t feel like an event space- it feels like a comedy club that also happens to have a huge outdoor area with grass. Nikki Glaser will be broadcasting from the Palm.
With all of that on the table, it’s time to get to our Top 10 Picks. In keeping with local “Keep Austin Weird” philosophy, we’ve picked shows that are likely to get weird. Obviously there are dozens upon dozens of great shows, and thanks to the badge system most festivalgoers will attend way more than ten shows. But if we could only pick ten- here’s where we would be spending our time.
If there’s one thing Moontower does better than anyone else putting festivals together, it’s bringing amazing women to the stage. For the past two years, we’ve raved about the women delivering the best, most talked about performances at Moontower, and the best way to see as many of them as possible is to go to SheBang, the annual all female stand up showcase. This year there are two SHEBANG shows, one at 800 Congress, and the second moving up to the Stateside Theater. You can see the badass women of Moontower on Saturday April 21 at 9:30pm at 800 Congress, with Judah Friedlander hosting a lineup that includes Dulce Sloan, Erin Foley, Laurie Kilmartin, Martha Kelly, Sam Jay, Yamaneika Saunders, Ophira Eisenberg, Janelle James, Amanda Seales and Janeane Garofalo. There’s also a second showcase, taking place at the Stateside Theater featuring Dulce Sloan, Jackie Kashian, Sam Jay, Ophira Eisenberg, Erin Foley, Arden Myrin, Janelle James, Amanda Seales, Yamaneika Saunders, Janeane Garofalo, Liza Treyger, and host Alonzo Bodden. If you know women are funny, you need to be at this event. If you think women aren’t funny, go anyway and let Moontower change your mind. Get in early, SheBang always packs out.
Friday night at 11:30pm at the Stateside Theater, and Saturday, April 21, 2017 at 9:15 pm at 800 Congress
Judah Friedlander is one of our favorite comedians, and this year he blew us away with the best special of 2017 (as voted by you, our readers) and also grabbed the award for Stand Up Comedian of the Year. So all of Judah’s shows should really be on your Moontower plan, but we’re especially looking forward to Ron Bennington moderating a Presidential Press Conference with Judah, who has apparently decided he’d like to add President to his long list of superlative titles. We have no idea where this is going to go, and that’s why we’re so excited to see it. Ron is always brilliant in an interview, and his more traditional Unmasked last summer with Judah Friedlander was one of the best interviews all year. He’ll take those skills to an entirely new place talking to the Champ about his presidential run. With a moderated interview and a press Q&A opportunity, Judah 2020! is shaping up to be one of the best and weirdest events all week.
Saturday at 5 pm at The Velveeta Room, 6th and Red River
What else can we say about Big Jay Oakerson’s Whats Your Fucking Deal that we haven’t already said 100 times? If you read this site regularly, you weren’t even considering going to Moontower and skipping this late night, all crowd work show. The show brings you some of the best crowd work comedians at the festival to show off their skills riffing on the audience- and that’s pretty amazing. And then there are some comedians who have to stretch way the fuck out of their comfort zones to do crowd work, and that’s pretty fantastic to watch too. It gets weird every damn time. No material in this show- it’s just the comedians talking with you. And unlike many comedy shows where its only the front row who get to be a part of the show- at WYFD the whole room gets involved, thanks to a second comedian who is walking the crowd with a microphone, looking for you. By the end of the night, if you’ve escaped being in conversation with one of the comics, you’re probably really dull. Its all hosted by Big Jay Oakerson who is absolutely one of the funniest comedians at this festival, or in the country, with a rotating co-host each night.
Thursday (8pm), Friday (11:30pm) and Saturday (9pm) Night at the Parish
Get politically activated at this show that promises to be an interesting, cool and fun show, which according to Colleen McGarr will include “tons of comedy and tons of stuff about public service but not in a boring way.” David Cross is running the show, with Janeane Garofalo, Janelle James, and Ted Leo as the musical guest. It’s all about being active– not in a preachy way, but in a, “Hey, if you feel passionately about this, then let’s do something about it.”
Friday, April 20th, Paramount Theater
The face of the festival may be the headliners at the Paramount, but the heart and soul lives at Moontower’s stand up showcase shows. It’s hard to pick a favorite- New York’s Finest, Blue Moon, Major FOMO, Stars in Bars- they’re all great chances to see 10-15 of the funniest stand-up comedians from around the country making you laugh. But one of our favorite shows to see at Moontower each year is the Andy Kindler curated and hosted, “Andy Kindler’s Particular Show.” Taking place Wednesday night, at 8pm this year so you early-to-bedders have the chance to check it out, our favorite part of Andy Kindler’s Particular Show is that it includes Andy Kindler. This year’s line up also includes SNL writer and sometimes unicorn Julio Torres, Martha Kelly from Baskets, TKITH’s Scott Thompson, crowd work favorite Todd Barry, rising comedy star Sam Jay, and already-comedy-star Janeane Garofalo.
Thursday April 19th at 8:00pm at Speakeasy
This is an event for Austin area teachers, which so happens to be open to badgeholders this year. Every year in Austin, the Austin Independent School District for Kids has a special event for their teachers at the State Theater. Invitations go out to hundreds and hundreds of teachers inviting them to come see Story Wranglers and it’s a party, with wine and appetizers and a chance to see a great comedy show. The pieces in the show are written 100% by kids in the school district, and performed by comedians at the festival. Featuring Dom Irrera, Jeremiah Watkins and Austin’s own Avery Moore, the show promises to be a really special event.
Friday, April 20th at 5 pm at the Stateside Theater
This year at Moontower you will have three chances to see the comedians of Moontower let loose and act like rock stars. If you have never been to a Comedy Jam event, this is mandatory for you. If you’ve seen the Jam play, you’ll probably be planning to end every night of the fest with Josh Adam Meyers and the band. Playing two nights at Antones and one at the Parish, you will have the chance to see comedy superstars like Big Jay Oakerson, the Sklar Brothers, Jessimae Peluso, Tom Rhodes, Yamaneika Saunders, Nikki Glaser, Ali Siddiq, Arden Myrin, Chris DiStefano, Dulce Sloan telling the stories, before bringing the mother fucking house down singing with a live killer band. This show is so goddamn fun, that its running every single night, and we’re planning to be at all of them.
Thursday at 11:30 pm at Antone’s, Friday at midnight at Antone’s, Saturday at 11:00 at the Parish.
Tiffany Haddish is the most sought after comedian in the country right now. Everyone wants a piece of Tiffany and it feels like a daily occurrence that we’re writing about her being signed to a new development deal, or cast in a new big movie. Haddish put out her first new special last year, co-starred in the summer comedy Girls Trip and has been on fire ever since. Haddish is headlining one show only, Saturday at the Paramount. If you’ve never seen Haddish live, then you missed your chance to see her before she blew up but this is your opportunity to see her take the big stage in Austin.
Saturday April 21 at 7:00 pm at the Paramount on Congress at 7th
Moontower’s annual Ping Pong slapdown tournament is always really fun. Ping Pong takes over the State Theater, and there’s usually some free fabulous local Austin food served- last year thee were burgers, fries, and ice cream from a few of Austin’s famous digs on hand. The Sklar Brothers provide color commentary from the crows nest, and you get the chance to challenge some of your favorite comedians for a round if you’re so inclined, or just be a spectator. This year, with Ping Pong champion Judah Friedlander in town, this might turn out to be an event that goes down in Austin history.
Saturday, April 21 at 2 pm at the State Theater
One of the best shows every year, New York’s Finest closes out the festival at the Stateside Theater and it’s promising to be one of the best stand up lineups of the week. Radio legend Ron Bennington is hosting the show and he’ll be bringing up a killer line up, described to me as “the cream of the crop.” Luke Null from Saturday Night Live, Amanda Seales who is just a monster on stage, Janelle James who you know from our best albums of 2017 list this year, Tim Dillon, Joe List, Mark Normand, Liza Treyger, Chris Distefano, Kevin Barnett, Dan Soder, Kurt Metzger, and Dan Naturman– these comedians are regulars at The Stand, The Cellar, Gotham, Carolines, and they’re all coming to Austin. This will be one of the most memorable shows of the week!
Saturday Night, 11:30 pm at Stateside at the Paramount! If you don’t know where this is by now…then you don’t deserve to go.
But Wait, there’s more! Moontower this year is featuring an amazing array of podcasts and radio shows, which they are calling “point of view podcasts.” Every one of these broadcasters have a show that is based on their own point of view and sharing it with the world. If you haven’t already grabbed tickets you are too late to see The Dudley and Bob + Matt Live SideShow kick off the festival at Cap City, but we’ll be there with special guests Ron Bennington and Ron White.
For the rest of you, there isn’t a bad podcast in the bunch, but our picks for the five must-see radio shows and podcasts are Tuesdays With Stories featuring co-hosts Mark Normand and Joe List- a runaway success with four years under their belts. You definitely want the chance to experience the brand new and already fantastic You Up with Nikki Glaser taking over the new Palm Door venue, and fan favorite The Bonfire, with Dan Soder and Big Jay Oakerson both of which air on Comedy Central radio on SiriusXM. Unmasked with Ron Bennington and David Cross at the Velv. The Unmasked Series is a virtual archive of the greatest and most important comedy of our lifetimes and the opportunity to be in the room when comedy history is recorded is one you shouldn’t miss. And finally, you should check out Jackie Kashian’s The Dork Forest with Janelle James, Solomon Georgio, and Martha Kelly on it. There is room for all in The Dork Forest. This is a safe space. Get times and venues for all these events at austintheater.org.
Go to AustinTheater.org for all ticket information, scheduling and to buy badges- its not too late!