Aziz Ansari

Keith Robinson opens up for Wanda Sykes Saturday night at the Moontower Comedy Festival. The Comedy Moontower held its first festival this past weekend with headliners hosting evening sets at the Paramount Theatre downtown.

Photo Credit: Demi Adejuyigbe | Daily Texan Staff

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.

Jesse Eisenberg sits down to talk about his new movie, “30 Minutes or Less,” in which he plays a pizza delivery boy whose body gets hijacked by two criminals set on robbing a bank.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

In “30 Minutes or Less,” Jesse Eisenberg stars as Nick, a withdrawn pizza delivery boy who has a bomb strapped to his chest by small-time criminals played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson. With only a few hours to rob a bank before the bomb goes off, Nick enlists his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) to help him stay alive.

“30 Minutes or Less” reunites Eisenberg with director Ruben Fleischer. The two worked together on 2009’s “Zombieland,” which Eisenberg followed up with an Oscar-nominated performance in “The Social Network.”
The Daily Texan participated in a roundtable interview with Eisenberg just before he handed out slices of pizza at Austin’s Home Slice on July 11 to promote “30 Minutes or Less.”

The Daily Texan: What is it like playing someone who is constantly panicked?
Jesse Einsenberg: It’s a strange balance between the dramatic situation that my character is in versus the movie as a whole, which plays comedically and lighthearted. Ruben, the director of this movie, asked me to just play the scenes as realistically as possible and keep in mind I’m in a comedy, so if something funny occurs to me, I can say it. I was lucky to be surrounded by the funniest people in the world, who kind of took the burden of making the movie funny off me a little bit so I’m able to maintain the dramatic situation with my character.

DT: Tell me about the development of the dynamic between you and Aziz Ansari.
JE: Aziz was cast before me. When I auditioned, it was with him, so I had to kind of adjust myself to his pace. He’s very quick and uses a lot of random cultural references. I like improvisation, but I’m not as up-to-date. He called me Wayne Brady in my audition, and I didn’t know who that was. I had to do a lot of crossword puzzles to get up to speed before we shot the movie. But it took the burden off my shoulders. I was worried about having to be funny in what would be a very dramatic situation, so I felt unburdened by him because he’s so naturally funny, even when he’s not trying to be funny. He’s just got a funny way about him and naturally funny speech patterns, so it felt more comfortable than it would have if I was with somebody who was playing it more dramatically.

DT: What drew you to this project?
JE: I loved the script when I read it. It’s rare to find a script that’s genuinely funny and has a character that is credible. In most movies, especially most comedies, the characters change based on the whims of the plot. This character was really driving the plot. In the first part of the movie, he’s kind of living a mundane life and he’s kind of a depressive and he doesn’t engage, but when he gets this bomb strapped to him it forces him to re-evaluate his life and to grow up a little bit. It’s very character-driven even though the framing of the movie is funny.

DT: Did you do any of the driving yourself?
JE: I ended up doing a lot of the driving because the director wanted to shoot this movie without a lot of computer-generated driving effects. Most chase scenes now, with the technology available, would be done without the actors really there, but he wanted to do this kind of classic style that would mirror the movies that these guys liked — “Point Break,” “Lethal Weapon,” even “Heat.” To shoot it in the way that they would have shot it, which means putting the actors in the car and putting stunt drivers in 20 cars surrounding the actors and having a single camera just drive next to that scene and shoot it practically.

DT: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
JE: The bank robbery scene in the movie was really challenging but also our favorite. It was logistically challenging because so many things go wrong. The idea is that these regular guys, this elementary school teacher and this pizza guy, have to rob a bank and in their heads, they think they’re Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, but in their bodies, they’re me and Aziz. There’s this great disconnect between what they think they’re doing and what’s actually happening, so they end up kind of looking ridiculous. It was a challenge to shoot because there were so many things to account for, but it was so fun because we were gearing up for it, as actors and as characters. We shot it toward the end of the schedule, and we were anticipating it so much, it was a release to be able to do it.

DT: Can you tell me about your role in the next Woody Allen film, “The Bop Decameron?”
JE: I’m not sure if I can say anything, but I know he’s in it. But I have no idea who he’s playing, because they only send me my scenes. I’m very curious to see, because I think he’s the greatest actor. I love watching him in movies, and I think people underestimate his acting skill because they think he’s playing himself, but if you’re on a set and realize what it’s like to do it realistically, it takes a lot more than just being himself. I love his acting, and I hope we’re in a scene together.

“30 Minutes or Less” opens tomorrow.

Printed on Thursday, August 11, 2011 as: Jesse Eisenberg discusses his latest film