Notes From a Comedy Junkie: The Stars at Night, Were Big and Bright- Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin, Texas

The Stars at Night, Were Big and Bright- Moontower  Comedy Festival in Austin Texas

Sara Dahms is a comedy superfan who even goes so far as to call herself a comedy nerd. Raised on National Lampoon, John Hughes, Gene Wilder, and Fairy Tale Theatre, her life changed after her older sister showed her Eddie Murphy’s Raw in 1988. Soon after, she found and became a stand-up junkie for life. Eighteen months ago, she took her first comedycation to see Jeff Ross play in Miami on her birthday.  Since then, she’s been traveling all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere, a confirmed comedy addict, and now she’s agreed to share her travels with us. This is her column. In this edition, Sara heads to Austin Texas to spend time at the Moontower Comedy Festival.

Read Notes From a Comedy Junkie Vol 1 here, check out Volum 2 here, and read Volum 3, and Volume 4.

There are few things in life that move me the way that Comedy does. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry. It makes me board planes and travel to far off places in an attempt to attend as many shows as I possibly can. Comedy is a force that brings people together and festivals are the perfect place for comedy junkies to unite and celebrate the art together. Festival bookers do an excellent job of providing a variety of artists and acts to entertain diverse audiences with assorted senses of humor, so even if you are new to the spectator sport of comedy, attending a festival basically guarantees that you will be able to find a brand of funny that speaks to you and connects with whatever it takes to make you laugh. Get out there and see as many shows as you can during the times they are being offered. I saw a ton of talent, was able to spend time with some of my favorite people and was lucky enough to have made a few new friends through our mutual love of all things funny. Here are just a few of the brightest stars and most memorable moments of Moontower, 2017.

Best in Show: Ron Bennington’s “Unmasked” featuring Sal Vulcano

This particular episode of Ron Bennington’s, “Unmasked” featured Sal Vulcano from “Impractical Jokers.” I am a huge fan of the Jokers, but can honestly say that before seeing this “Unmasked” I really didn’t know much about Sal or the story of how he got to where he is today. Ron seamlessly guided their conversation from Sal’s childhood and cultural upbringing, to the fateful meeting of his fellow cast mates, their shared love of comedy, and Sal’s dedication and passion for performing and perfecting his craft. I am now way more informed and have a much better understanding of Sal Vulcano, the person, thanks to Ron’s prolific interview style.

As I sat there listening to their exchange, I couldn’t help but think about what a cultural phenomenon “Impractical Jokers” has become. I can still remember the very first time I saw the show back in 2012. I was teaching 6th grade science and had some time to kill after school, waiting for parent-teacher conferences to begin. One of my colleagues asked if I had ever seen the show. When I said “no”, he was very excited to show it to me. We watched the episode with the segment, “Roommate From Hell” in it. The challenge was to get people to agree to be their roommates while wearing an earpiece and doing or saying whatever hilarious commands their buddies were telling them to do. I laughed so hard, I could barely breath. I immediately began telling my friends and family to check it out as well.

Just then, Bennington brought up how the humor of this show transcends gender and age groups. Their audience demographic is basically anyone who has a pulse. Everyone who sees it, loves it and best of all, its viewers continue to pass the show on by recommending it to their loved ones. Ron pointed out that families are even bringing multiple generations to see the guys perform live on their road show. It’s super funny that Ron should say that because when I saw the guys perform in Chicago, I ran into my sister and my niece outside of the theater. It was so random. What are the odds that out of the 4,500 people in the place, my sister and my niece would be the people to get into line behind me!?!? I digress. Sal was ever the humble gentleman. He was appreciative of all of the support he, Joe, Q and Murr receive from their fans and was thrilled at the success they have had with bringing their road show to life all across America. The guys have even enjoyed more recent success selling out stadiums in England. Ron made the comparison of the four Impractical Jokers having a similar experience to Beatlemania, but only in reverse. Sal laughingly responded that he is definitely the John Lennon of the group. I personally find him to be more of a George; sweet with a lot of soul.

Unmasked” was the perfect way to kickoff the festival. Watching Ron work is exactly like being at a master class. He nails it every, single time. If Moontower was full of stars, then Ron Bennington was the Sun. Thank you for having me!

Funniest Bit of The Festival: “Legion of Skanks”- Debate Off

Legion of Skanks” is a podcast that is hosted by Big Jay Oakerson, Luis J. Gomez and Dave Smith. I am a huge fan of this podcast and Big Jay Oakerson is actually the comedian who turned me on to it a few years back. I first saw Big Jay perform at The Stand back in January, 2015. I hadn’t heard of him before that night, but Jay’s talent spoke for itself. He was the obvious star of the show. He told me about the “Legion of Skanks” podcast that night and I’ve been a fan of it ever since. In fact, one of my favorite things to do when I’m on a comedycation in New York is watch these guys record LOS live from The Creek and The Cave. When I found out they were taking the show to Moontower, I couldn’t wait for the “Legion of Skanks” comedy festival debut. LOS did not disappoint and ended up having the funniest segment I had the pleasure of seeing during my time at Moontower. The hilarious bit in question was lovingly titled, “Debate Off.”

I had a pretty tight schedule planned for my first night at Moontower. I was at Colin Quinn’s headliner show, “Bully” before LOS began and Quinn was so funny that I couldn’t get myself to leave. The show ended and I hightailed it to the “Legion of Skanks” podcast. LOS ended up being a sold out show, but I got lucky and made it to the theater right before they reached capacity. Luis was on stage doing a set when I walked into the venue. He is so damn funny! I cannot wait for Skankfest this Summer. Dave came on stage to do stand up next. He is more than ready to film his hour special in New York on June 1st. Dave Smith is just as brilliant in the field of politics as he is in comedy and as luck would have it, politics seems to be in the forefront of everyone’s minds these days. The sky is the limit for him. Go Dave Go!

The stand up portion of the show came to an end and the podcast was ready to begin. Jay, Luis, and Dave took the stage and were joined by Dan Soder. Since Jay and Dan are co-hosts of “The Bonfire” on SiriusXM their chemistry is undeniable and always entertaining whenever they perform together. After a short while, Luis introduced the next segment of the show. They were about to have comedians join them on stage, two at a time, to face off against each other in a debate style, comedy competition called, “Debate Off.” Jay, Luis, Dave and Dan would be acting as judges, offering feedback, then casting votes to determine which comic won their particular debate. It was hilarious! The first two comedians to face off against each other were Sarah Tiana VS Dan St. Germain. Their topic was, “Who has the hotter girls, the North or the South?” Sarah took the side of the South and Dan argued for the North. Sarah Tiana is a hilarious, Southern belle herself which made it almost impossible for Dan St. Germain to stand a chance at beating her. The judges made their critiques and were just as funny as the debaters as they cast their votes. Up next were the two master debaters of the segment, Sal Vulcano VS Ron Bennington. Their topic was, “Who has the better racists, the North or the South?” Sal took the side of the North and Ron argued for the South. Watching these two pros go back and forth over such an un-PC topic was literally the funniest thing I’ve seen in a very long time. Ron Bennington was quick, funny and most impressively, able to put together arguments that weren’t just witty, they were also rooted in logic! One of Ron’s arguments was that the racists in the South are “better” because it took their horrible acts of hatred in order to motivate Martin Luther King Jr. to become the brave, inspirational leader that he was during the Civil Rights Movement. Genius. One of Sal’s retorts was to lose his shit and start blurting out all kinds of racist, stereotypical statements in a last ditch effort to take the round. The things that Sal was saying were so hilarious because it completely went against his sweet, on-camera persona and took the entire room by surprise. We died and right when I thought it couldn’t get any funnier, one of the judges chimed in and said, “We’re going to isolate Sal saying those things and ruin his career!” HA! This is just a tiny snapshot of the type of humor you can count on from “Legion of Skanks.” The final “Debate Off” was between Bennington show producer Chris Stanley repping the North versus Josh Johnson fighting for the South. Their topic was, “Who has better food, the North or the South?” Chris began by criticizing Southern cuisine and their affinity for breakfast burritos. Big Jay seconded the notion and went so far as to say that sour cream has no place at the breakfast table. This did not win them any popularity points with the home crowd. Chris then went on to question the ability of the South to cook decent BBQ…. I was surprised the crowd didn’t tar and feather him right then and there! The way Chris was taking on the home crowd was SO funny, it gave the room a sort of pro wrestling match kind of vibe. Good times!!! Josh Johnson made very well written, thought out, rational arguments, but ultimately Chris Stanley took the round thanks to Big Jay’s agreement that the best BBQ amongst other food is in NYC. I laughed so hard during “Legion of Skanks” that my side actually hurt. This was a Moontower Festival “must see” event, for sure!

LOS is definitely not for the faint of heart. In fact, they pride themselves on being known as “the most offensive podcast on Earth.” The skill behind a comedic wit is having the ability to find the funny in any situation. These guys do not stop at being “offensive” for the mere novelty of shock value. They actually have the skill sets that it takes to find the funny within some of thee most controversial topics you can imagine. Now that’s talent!!! I’ll see you at Skankfest this summer!

The “master debaters” at LOS podcast. Photo taken by Christine Evans

Most Memorable Moment at Moontower: “Kill Tony” Almost Had to Change its Name to “Kill Jeremiah”

To quote the great Tony Hinchcliffe, “HOLY SHIT, HOLY SHIT, HOLY SHIT!!!!!” This Moontower edition of “Kill Tony” was out of control! The idea of this podcast is to showcase some new talent by giving them 60 seconds to deliver their best material and then receive feedback from a panel of established comedians. This was my first time seeing the show performed live and it was an experience I will never forget because this episode of “Kill Tony” had my most memorable moment of Moontower occur within it.

The show started with an all star panel of judges. Big Jay Oakerson, Sal Vulcano, and Dom Irrera joined Brian Redban and Tony Hinchcliffe at the table. I remember being in high school and seeing Dom Irrera on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and thinking he was hilarious, so I was super excited to see this Comedy Store, paid-regular in person. Tony brought out Jeremiah Watkins on the saxophone who was representing the Kill Tony Band and with that, Tony pulled the first name out of the jar and we were ready to begin. “Kill Tony” started out with business as usual. The first three comedians came up, delivered their material and received some quality, yet hilariously funny insight from the panel of judges. The fourth person to get on stage was a bit of a frat boy/son-of-the-boss kind of guy. He had never done comedy before and didn’t seem to have much respect for the judges or for the craft, but there was no need to worry. The judges handled their business and were hilarious with their feedback. Little did we know the most memorable moment was yet to come.

Tony pulled the fifth name from the jar. It was Kyle Long. He was about to steal the show and make “Kill Tony” history by being completely out of control. Kyle was unable to walk a straight line and almost fell off the stage as soon as he got up there. The first words he said were, “I’m not drunk.” Just for a moment, I thought that Kyle Long might be a genius who was doing a bit…. I was wrong. He announced that he was on mushrooms and was clearly out of his mind. Kyle then attempted to make a joke about Blockbuster, but could not get the words out to form a sentence. After screaming some random things, he was finally able to say, “Netflix is better than Blockbuster, right?’ ‘Fuck Blockbuster!!!!” OMG! What did I just see!?!? Oh but wait; It gets even more interesting! The panel then tries to give him his due feedback, HA! This is when things really took a turn! Jeremiah Watkins made a joke about him looking like Blanka from Street Fighter to which Kyle Long responded with a ” Fuck you, bitch” to Jeremiah. Sal asked him how long he has been doing comedy and Tony asked him what he does for a living. That was when Jeremiah chimed in with, “He’s a full time Garbage Pail Kid!” Just then Kyle physically went after Jeremiah Watkins. Big Jay was instantly up and out of his seat to help out. Antonio Delgado, Josh Martin and the bouncer on staff at Speakeasy were super quick to respond and were able to save the show and get Kyle Long off the stage in record time. After the shock of what had just taken place, leave it to the professionals to keep the momentum of the show intact. The great Dom Irrera brought it back to comedy with the clever quip, “Kyle is obviously more of a writer than a performer.” The rest of the show went off without a hitch and I knew that this was a show that I would not soon forget! Thanks for the memories guys! This was epic!

Photos sent to me courtesy of Brian Redban

Overall, Moontower was an amazing adventure that was fueled by laughter and BBQ. It may have been my first time attending this festival, but it certainly won’t be my last. I already can’t wait to come back to Austin next year! I wrapped up my first Moontower experience at the closing night party. There, I was able to bid farewell to friends old and new and most importantly, dance the night away, right along side some of my biggest comedic heroes… Dreams do come true! Yee-Haw!!!

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Sara Dahms

Sarah Dahms is a comedy superfan hails from Chicago and travels all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere.
Sara Dahms
Sara Dahms
Sarah Dahms is a comedy superfan hails from Chicago and travels all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere.