Moontower Comedy Festival 2013 Night One- Bill Hader, Anthony Jeselnik and an Army of HecklersA column article, Shot For Shot by: John Bender, Nick Hanover, James Pound, Janelle Revord
The first night of Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival kicked off last night and a good chunk of CB's Austin crew was there to take part. Here's what we thought of the first evening.
John Bender: I was able to catch Hader & Co. with everyone else, and there’s not much I have to say about it either way. It was a solid lineup with an energetic and talented (but not especially witty) Hader performance to anchor everything. The live You Made It Weird exceeded my expectations, though, as we were treated to a surprise addition to the lineup: Moshe Kasher (“Moshe Koshe” in the program), who took on the role of cohost for the evening. Kasher was lightning-quick on the mic, and his ability to switch between goofy and caustic served as a great conductor for Pete Holmes’s constant riffing.
The show started boldly with a back-and-forth between Holmes and Kasher that instantly brought a series of racist impressions into play—Kasher’s “old Japanese man” voice, in particular, was revived brilliantly throughout the evening at key moments—and also established the night’s other recurring theme, which was the mockery of every guest’s attire or appearance. Kasher was referred to as a hipster fisherman (Holmes not only told him to “go unload crates of Pinkerton at the dock,” but also referred to him as “Rivers Homo”), second guest David Angelo was described as both “a maître d’” and “the case that John Mulaney sleeps in,” Dom Irrera made comments about his own rapidly narrowing eyes, and, in one of the sharpest comebacks of the night, Holmes responded to Greg Fitzsimmon’s criticism of the constant ribbing about clothing—which the podcast listeners could obviously never see—with, “‘No Visual Jokes?’ Was that the headline on the front page of the newspapers you delivered today?” It should be mentioned that Fitzsimmons was dressed exactly like a paperboy.
The show did hit a few snags. Morgan Murphy’s low-energy delivery was somewhat incompatible with the other hosts, and both she and David Angelo struggled to interject at any point after their brief interviews with Pete. Then Dom Irrera’s entrance was marred by the fact that his first words were “nigger pussy,” which was strangely off-putting to a crowd that had endured a veritable onslaught of absurdly racist and sexist material up to that point. Finally, there were some assholes in the back who wouldn’t shut the hell up for the last twenty minutes or so, even after Kasher called them out like the dutiful cohost he was. You’d think at a comedy festival, people would know the drill, but then you’d be wrong. All told, however, it was a very strong late show to close out my first night of the festival, and I’m now looking forward even more to Holmes’s full set on Friday.
Nick Hanover: The trend at Moontower this year seems to be crowd interaction, if the first day is anything to go by. That's quite a departure from last year, when Dylan Garsee and I kicked off the festivities with an Aziz Ansari show that began with an aggressivily funny intercom announcement demanding everyone put away their damn iPhones, shut their stupid mouths and not heckle. That may be because smart phones have become such a force to be reckoned with at shows, as audiences are more concerned with capturing the moment than living in it. But it's also likely due to the way the acts were structured, as Bill Hader's performance was geared towards taking requests from the crowd, asking them questions and often forcing them to be a part of the set, as he made his way through his "greatest hits" of characters while emceeing up-and-coming comedians like Myq Kaplan, whose purposefully awkward timing and ability to build up your expectations for obvious punchlines that never came, replaced instead by turns you wouldn't expect.
As was the case last year, comedians like Kaplan are what's most enjoyable about Moontower, both for the way you're treated to a glimpse at a rising star and for the way they're able to catch you by surprise in ways the bigger names can't. Kaplan stood out the most on this particular bill because the other acts around him were more straightforward in their performances-- or in the case of the woefully misplaced Robert Hawkins, notable for how wrong they were for the bill. Kaplan by contrast performed a set that could only have come from him, with its carefully choreographed awkward pauses and bumblings and send-ups built around theoretical quandaries and prejudgment. Michael Che likewise stood out in contrast to Anthony Jeselnik, who he opened for; both share a propensity for a special brand of taboo comedy, but in Che's case, his routine is built around his cheerful demeanor and eager grin, the polar opposite of Jeselnik's stoic cockiness. Even Jeselnik was blown away by Che, remarking that he had heard Che had only been at comedy for four years, while Jeselnik has been hustling for more than a decade. Of course, Jeselnik finished the bit by saying "Then I remembered 'Oh, wait, he's opening for me. I'm a comedy god. I have my own tv show.'"
Che, of course, not only doesn't a tv show, he also doesn't have the hordes of idiotic, douchebag fans Jeselnik attracts. That's not Jeselnik's fault, and he's quick to point out what "douchebag dicks" they are, as he literally pointed out one obnoxious heckler was after the heckler tried to explain a brain numbing joke he yelled at Jeselnik. But that nonetheless made Jeselnik's performance awkward in a nail biting way, as his willingness to engage the growing number of hecklers threatened to derail the entire set. Jeselnik did as well as anyone could with the problem, but if you're at a comedy show, you're ostensibly there to hear a professional comedian tell jokes, not a bunch of morons who think it's open mic night at the Velveeta Room.
The Bro Show that the CB crew flocked to after Jeselnik's set also had audience engagement, but it was more peaceful and didn't have the same atmosphere of antagonism that Jeselnik attracted. Despite having probably the stupidest name out of all the Moontower shows, the Bro Show seems like it will be one of the better venues for catching future star comedians, as it was packed with folks like Ian Edwards and Helen Hong, who are on the cusp of breaking out and both performed with a competitive energy. Edwards started out a bit shaky, and he admitted he was nervous as this was only his "second time in Austin," but after accidentally scaring off a girl and her date, he rose to the occasion and built on the crowd sympathy and excitement. The vets on the bill were Bill Dwyer and Chris Hardwick and their sets didn't go quite as well, with Dwyer coming across as hokey and uncomfortable while Hardwick seemed more into learning about what the girls in the crowd were studying at university than actually, you know, telling jokes. But all told, the first night was a smooth and well-executed opening that bodes well for the rest of the festival.
James Pound: I had a great time at my first night of the Moontower Comedy Fest! I started the evening at the Esquire Lounge happy hour and was instantly surprised at how much mingling of comedy fans and comedians was happening. Three steps in the door and I spotted Todd Barry, two steps more, “Hey, that’s Marc Maron!”, and out on the balcony, “Is that Maria Bamford?!” Super cool! As well as all the other up and coming and local comedians, everyone seemed very excited to be there and for the fest to get under way.
I don't think anyone really had any idea of what to expect out of Hader's set. He's best known for a few distinct characters, but would that be enough to support the weight of his entire set? As far as the rest of the comedians on the line-up, I personally had heard none of them, and only heard of a few, but I figured like any festival experience, you should try to branch out and see things you have no recognition with to get a feel of the set up of the festival as a whole.
The format of the showcase worked out in the best way that it possibly could, with Hader being the host of the show in the variety of what I would say are his three most popular characters. He opened with Vinny Vedcci as he introduced comedians, even bringing it as far to do impressions of other celebrities while in character, developing a little bit of plot with the character through his bits, which ultimately led to an understandable reasoning for why he was no longer hosting (being arrested by the Italian police, of course), and to fill in hosting duties, was on the scene reporter, Herb Welch. Too many times watching SNL I had always wondered what it would be like to be interviewed by someone like Herb Welch, and for the lucky members seated in the lower orchestra, they are now all too familiar. There was no possible way to see any of what was going on from the tippy top balcony section, but anyone familiar with that character with even the slightest imagination could fill in the visual blanks of what was going on, with each pop of the microphone hitting someone in the face as Herb interviewed members of the audience. Hader of course saved the best for last, bringing out Stefon who did an entire bit on bars and locations in Austin. The mixture of the fact that it was finally Stefon, the fact that Stefon was talking about Austin, and the genuine excitement that the act that had finished immediately before had finally finished definitely could be capped as the pinnacle of the event.
The comedians on the line-up were all fairly solid, each one better than the last. My personal favorite absolutely having to be Myq Kaplan. He began going into a bit about time travel, which for me would absolutely be a hit or miss topic, depending on his perspective and intent. You don't fuck with the space/time continuum, you just don't. Fortunately, the entire bit more or less went along with what I agree with about time travel, that if you go back in time your actions could not change the course of history. Taking the specific instance of the Jews going back in time to try to kill Hitler, and for instance their gun always jamming, or any other attempt not following through, continuing the hypothetical scenario of having to deal with Jews constantly appearing from the future trying to kill him his whole life. I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories, and I'm not even going to call that one, but it definitely had its points.
The entire showcase could have been rolled into a really enjoyable experience if it weren't for one comedian, through no fault of his own, ended up bombing pretty hard. The only reason I even use that term so harshly is a woman sitting not far from me yelled a boisterously audible "BOOOO" close to the end of his set. This was literally the first and only time I've ever heard someone be so unhappy by a stand-up set, especially in a setting so large, to actually boo the comic. The only background given to the audience on this guy is he has performed for the troops overseas. And then his set happened. I'm not saying it was bad, but it definitely was not the right audience or the right crowd for his type of material. The only part of his routine that resonated with the audience was a process of elimination bit as to the reason why someone ate the face off of that homeless man in Florida. A question that is still left unanswered, which added allure to the joke's potential, but still so topically dated. I can see all of his jokes working really well for military types, and the somewhat conservative, but unfortunately this is Austin, the blue oasis in the red state, which most comedians seem to research and nail on the head, except for this comedian that I really just don't want to name because I genuinely feel bad for circumstantial situation the guy was in.
(photo by Janelle Revord)
Much to my surprise, the showcase ended way earlier than I expected. I had the intentions of checking out The Bro Show, which at that point was two whole hours away. It worked out in my advantage though because I had thought that I would have to miss Anthony Jeselnik's set, and realized that I'd be able to catch both. It's one of those things that many people would be surprised. "Whaat? You're a girl, no self respecting, intelligent girl would want to subject themselves to that!" to which I would reply with saying that is pretty fucking dumb. You do understand what comedy is, right? Jokes? Okay, just checking.
In comedy barriers and bounds get tested and pushed and Jeselnik is one of the greats when it comes to that sort of thing. For most of the show I kept playing this game in my head of trying to think of the most fucked up punch line I could for the joke-set up that he delivered. I only got it right probably two or three times tops, with those times being the only times I wasn't erupting in laughter because I was lost in contemplation on my mental capabilities being able to get on the same level.
A lot of people, women especially, get offended by the quantity of misogynistic material in Jeselnik's set, when they should really be offended by the fact that there are people out there in this world who legitimately think and act like that. Jeselnik is great a what he does because he gets people to believe these harsh things that he feeds them, he himself saying that only stupid women get offended by his material, and smart women just don't go to his shows.
(Photo by Janelle Revord)
None of the material of his set bothered me in the slightest, but I did get incredibly heated and annoyed with at that show. Fucking hecklers. I will never respect nor understand them. This is a comedian who a sold out theater of people paid money to see, I don't care if this is your one shot to have Anthony Jeselnik rip you a new one; you are not funny, you are not a comedian, if you were a comedian, you'd have the decency and respect to not fucking talk through someone else's set. No one wants to hear that shit. The thing that is worse though, is once it starts, it is almost impossible to stop. As if one heckler being brave enough to do a stupid and disruptive thing opens the door for everyone to chime in with whatever stupid bullshit they unrightfully want to contribute. It should be an honor if a comedian wants to specifically pick on you for whatever reason they want to, you are special enough that this comedian is willing to share their light with you, positively or negatively. If nothing is asked of you, you should keep your fucking mouth shut. It is not your show. Jeselnik's audience interaction without the hecklers was abundant; he even had a part at the end of his show where he opened it up for questions, but I guess for some people that's just not good enough. Hands down comedy is an art, when you see it, you are seeing a performance. Just like you shouldn't talk on your phone while watching a performance, you shouldn't engage with the performer unless it is obviously clear that is a part of the show. Your actions interfere with the experience of every single person in the room with you.
The Bro Show was the last event for the night, with the only minor disappointment being that Moshe Kasher (or "Moshe Kashe" as the printed schedules had listed) didn't perform. The most eventful part being an incredibly tame question asked to a couple in the audience by Ian Edwards making the female in the couple so offended that she left, and then HE left, and the I imagined how many things in this world probably offend that woman and how many things she's walked out of. How much do ya wanna bet that she wasn't at Jeselnik? Had she stuck around though, she probably would have gotten a great kick out of Helen Hong, the only female comedian on The Bro Show line-up. One of the comedians I was most looking forward to seeing. I found it interesting that she was literally the only woman on this all male line-up, but in seeing her routine came to the realization that she plays just as hard as the boys, if not harder, which ended up being incredibly refreshing to see in this line-up.
Tune in tomorrow for our day two write-ups!
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 41.06 in the Mecha Marathon minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, where he reigns as the co-managing editor, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness and Pontypool.
James Pound is a movie nerd who’s not sure how he stumbled onto this comic website. He sporadically tweets and checks in to TV shows at @JSterlingPound and hosts a weekly Geeks Who Drink pub quiz in Austin, TX.
Janelle Revord is one of the few authentically born and raised Austinites you'll ever encounter in your lifetime. When she's not yelling at people who have just moved to town to "get off her lawn," or attempting to holla at celebrities to get drinks with her when guest-hosting on CB's own Paranoid Video, you can find her on twitter basically doing the exact same thing in 140 characters or less.