How we spent 48 hours at Moontower Just For Laughs comedy festival
April 27, 2023 Matt Kleinschmidt Features, Moontower Comedy Festival, Reviews
Moontower Just For Laughs is a premiere comedy festival in the town of Austin that’s been giving other comedy festivals a run for their money for the last decade+ of existence. Since the festival merged with the granddaddy of the great North, Just For Laughs a few years back it seems to have only gotten stronger. Diversifying its offerings from small club shows of small attendees to theaters with capacities in the thousands headlined by National stars.
The city of Austin has evolved as well. A festival city in its own right, it’s seen a boom in stand-up comedy in recent years, opening up more than a few new comedy clubs along with an influx of top tier talent (either following or not following Joe Rogan) into the city. In fact, a quick walk from South Congress to Red River you’re just as likely to encounter punchlines coming through speakers as you are rock riffs.
That said, we got our hands on a media pass and an airline ticket then flew to the Texas capital to spend 48 hours on the ground of the festival with a light agenda, as much coffee as we could find, and the desire to catch some comedy.
We arrived on Wednesday of week 2 of the festival and immediately forgot how hot Austin can be in the Spring. While we’ve been to the city many times in the past, it’s usually in March for another festival and oh what a difference just a couple of weeks make. We were treated to midday back sweats a-plenty. Shorts were packed, but these pale legs don’t leave their jeans until the mercury tops at least 90 degrees.
First up we rolled to the Creek And The Cave on Red River to not only pay our respects to a former NY comedy institution, but to hit up the Cheers! Queers show. Showcasing the best LGBTQ+ performers at the festival as host Brandi Davis orchestrated a show featuring SNL’s Molly Kearney and Alex English, Ever Mainard, Ian Fidance, Liza Treyger, Dylan Sullivan, Guy Braunum, Ashley Gavin (who just dropped a pretty fantastic special on Youtube), closing out the show was the duo of Girl God a who might best be described as an LGBTQ+/non-binary version of Wayne & Garth, thoroughly entertaining.
After we cheered the queers, it was time to get a taste of the local flavor at the Velv Comedy Lounge for Home Base giving us a peek at the talent that calls Austin their home. Andrew Murpy, Rochelle McConico, Carlton Wilcoxson, Chris Tellez, Ruby Dickulous, Dylan Sullivan (again, performing a different set), Jason Rodriquez, Mike MacRae, Elizabeth Spears, Doug Mellard, and Taylor Dowdy. Delivering a show that proves the local scene in Austin is not only alive, but thriving.
Since we were in town for only a few hours, it’s important to make stops for the important things, in this case it was tacos at Torchy’s and there just so happens to be one fairly close (alright, like 5 blocks away) from our next destination. After getting a belly full of pork carnitas and queso, a multi-block walk was welcomed on the way to Antone’s for the NY’s Finest showcase consisting of many of our hometown New York market’s best comics.
The next stop of the evening was an easy one as Antone’s was also host to the nighttime party followed by, what is pretty much a staple at comedy festivals now, The Goddamn Comedy Jam and its ringleader Josh Adam Meyers. If you had Ian Fidance, in a dress, singing Nirvana, followed by a stage dive on your Bingo card for that evening, congrats you won the Comedy Jam doorprize that evening.
This seemed as good a place as any to wind down the evening… Oh great, we learned that Voodoo Donuts is not only open until 3am and actually on the way back to our hotel room. Don’t mind if we do for the late night snack.
Thursday day brought a few elbow rubs with comedy industry at some mixers and we found ourselves a couple hours to kill before the evening festivities kicked off. What to do… let’s get BBQ and go record shopping. Waterloo Records it is, and the best way to get there is scooter, good thing literally every corner in Austin has one for rent.
Thursday’s comedy programming began with a podcast recording. After dropping off our record haul at the hotel and a quick shirt change (it’s hot in Texas) we made our way down the hill to The Hideout for a strong cup of coffee and the Himbos podcast. The Justin Silver and Josh Adam Meyers-hosted podcast welcomed comedians Big Jay Oakerson and his new co-host of The Bonfire Robert Kelly onto the show. While SiriusXM is a sponsor of the festival, they didn’t have a formal performance of The Bonfire this year. That didn’t stop Oakerson and Kelly from being all over the place appearing on shows together and separately giving us as much unofficial Bonfire as possible.
After declaring Kelly and Oakerson official himbos on the podcast we double back to The Creek and The Cave for Jerimiah Watkins’ Stand-up On The Spot. Stand-up indeed, as the venue was standing room only for some improv’d comedy from some of the best in the game with a lineup from more Big Jay Oakerson and the legend Ian Bagg! Andrew Dismukes, Punkie Johnson, and Ralph Babosa rounded out the lineup. Now that we think about it, there was a lot Saturday Night Live cast past and present on hand this festival.
We had to hustle back over to Antone’s to catch Stars In Bars getting there in time to catch the very tail end of another NY’s Finest showcase hosted by Here’s The Scenario’s own Brendan Sagalow. Some notes were compared with Sagalow and he confirmed what we’ve noticed is that not only are the club showcases stacked with up to 10 comics each but they are all doing 6 minute sets. So the show isn’t longer and the festival rotates through more comics than usual. Okay for us diehard comedy fans.
The Stars In Bars lineup was just that – with The Sklar Bros, Dana Gould, Laurie Kilmartin, Tom Rhodes, Molly Kearney, Rojo Perez, Daniel Van Kirk, Guy Braunum, Avery Moore, Mike E Winfeld, and a surprise drop in from Maria Bamford! Always a joy to see The Bammer live and we highly recommended doing it when she comes through your town. Again, the night ended at Antone’s with another afterparty and God Damn Comedy Jam show.
If we’re anything, it’s creatures of habit, so another stop by Voodoo Donuts on the way back to the hotel was in order. However, this time the heavens opened up and dropped a tremendous amount of rain and thunder. So the donut shop and its musical playlist entertained us for a spell as we waited for the storm to pass. We learned later that a series of storms blew through the area and caused some flooding.
Friday morning marked our final hours in the city of Austin, enough time for some clean up, pack, breakfast, check out, and into a Lyft to the airport. While this was happening we seriously debated one last scooter ride back to Voodoo donuts to get a box of their fried confections to bring home to the family. But who are we kidding, half that box woulda been eaten before we even arrived back in Jersey. Oh well, wheels up in 2 hours.
Goodbye Moontower Just For Laughs, you are one of the best festivals comedy has to offer. We’ll see ya next time.
Comedian sets watched: 39
Live podcast tapings: 1
SNL cast members seen live: 4
Pizza slices consumed: 1
Plates of BBQ eaten: 1
Tacos eaten: 2
Cups of coffee drank: 9 (conservatively)
Donuts consumed: 3 (don’t judge)
Murals of musicians photographed: 4
Times I was asked if we stopped by Joe Rogan’s new club yet: 12 (conservatively)
Smiths CDs purchased: 2
Britt Daniel sightings: 1
Scooters rode: 3
Band performances randomly caught just by walking down the street: 1 (Stars performed at 3Ten ACL)