It’s hard to believe that the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival is only in its first year when you compare it to other festivals around the city. It’s arguable that Austin City Limits didn’t hit its stride until R.E.M. headlined the festival in its second year. Moontower seems to have already hit a high in its 70-performer lineup, with headliners such as “Parks and Recreation’s” Aziz Ansari and Nick Offerman, “Saturday Night Live” head writer Seth Meyers, and long-time stand-up juggernauts Steven Wright and Wanda Sykes.
Comparing the festival to Austin City Limits is almost unfair, though. Moontower takes place over the entire city in 11 venues, making it much more like South By Southwest.
The festival started off right Friday night with “comedy bad boy” Ansari, who is as known for his cocky, swagged-out Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation” as he is for his stand-up. His jokes at the Paramount were notably more raunchy than the ones on previous specials, too. Ansari frequently quipped about child molestation and stereotypes between bits about his love for food and his hatred for marriage.
“Parks and Recreation” writer Chelsea Peretti opened for Ansari, starting off a chain of social network and sexting jokes that seemed to continue into Ansari’s set, and even throughout the festival.
The next night, at Meyers’ Paramount set, he successfully started off a line of political routines that other comics were sure to follow. Meyers joked about the benefits of being a comedian during an election year, the quest-like acquisition of pornography in his youth and his White House Correspondents Dinner gig, which made him the only person in America that was bummed by Osama bin Laden’s death.
Jeffrey Ross’s set at the Paramount was made up almost entirely of audience participation, as he called a few people onto the stage to roast them, as he’s known for doing in the “Comedy Central Presents” roast series. Both the crowd and the stage became particularly lewd once Ross began to objectify and make fun of the people that were called on stage to participate.
Steven Wright’s routine Saturday night was right out of his 2006 Comedy Central special “When The Leaves Blow Away,” but that didn’t make the audience any less receptive to his distinctive brand of deadpan one-liners and paraprosdokians. Wright’s biggest laugh of the night came from his classic joke: “A friend of mine has a trophy wife. But from the looks of her, it wasn’t first place.”
Wanda Sykes closed out the festival Saturday night with a routine that almost entirely revolved around the 2012 election and America’s interpretation of different socioeconomic issues. Sykes made her political alignment clear through the set, and the audience cheered her on in agreement as she quipped about “severe” conservatism and Republican beliefs and policies.
Though the headliners are what sold out seats, the smaller acts at the festival shone just as brightly at times. “The Super Serious Show” at the Stateside Theatre featured hilarious acts from comedians like Eric Andre, Melissa Villasenor and the Walsh Brothers, while concert venues like Mohawk and The Parish held incredible sets headlined by SNL writer John Mulaney, “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” J.B. Smoove, and WTF podcast host Marc Maron.
At no fault of the event team itself, Moontower suffered one big issue — its audience. I imagine the timing and placement of the festival made it a perfect date night event (as evidenced by the amount of times ticket-takers at the door asked me “Just you?” upon entry) which makes it even more shocking that the crowd at almost every Paramount event was raucous and unruly.
Jeffrey Ross’s set had audience members yelling obscenities and demands at the audience participants on the stage, and Aziz Ansari’s set had people loudly clapping and yelling inappropriately. Ironically enough, Ansari’s biggest applause of the entire night came at the beginning of the night came when he called out and scolded an audience member who insisted on yelling the catchphrase of his one-time “Funny People” character Randy.
The late timing of the sets lead me to believe that these moments could have been prompted by alcohol, but I doubt it was on account of the high-priced $8 beers served in the lobby.
The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival exceeded the admittedly low expectations for a first-year comedy festival. With the exception of its oft-unruly audience, everything about the festival makes me very excited to see a second year, though it’s unclear where its lineup can even go. Given recent festival trends, no one should be surprised if, in 2013, a hologram of Mitch Hedberg takes the headlining 7:30 p.m. slot at the Paramount Theatre — or when I wait in line to see it from the front row.