Author Archives: John Merriman

Rojo Perez Is a Comedian First

Rojo Perez came in with an early goal to never rely on being Spanish. “I never wanted anybody to see me and say, ‘oh, that dude is a Spanish comedian.’ The feeling was always, ‘oh, that’s a comedian. And he’s Spanish.'”

Originally from Puerto Rico, Rojo moved to Florida for college where he began his career doing stand-up comedy in clubs and cafés. Since moving to New York City, he’s become a regular in the comedy scene, performing at places such as Caroline’s, UCB East, UCB Chelsea, the Creek and the Cave and the Knitting Factory, among others. He spoke to Moontower about his early influences, his first time on stage and his writing process.

On comedy influences: I remember John Leguizamo‘s one-man shows really resonating with me. I don’t remember how I came across Killin’ Them Softly but I remember I’d watch it on a loop. George Lopez had an early one that was family specific where he was so open about his family and coming up in the struggle. I also remember an Ellen DeGeneres special I saw when I was really young where she ends with a great callback on how God is a woman.

On his first time on stage: I always loved watching stand up. I never thought that was something you could even try to do. I had a friend in college and we would do silly videos and song parodies and stuff like that. He started doing open mics and he invited me once and I was terrible. The first time we went up we went together, he won $50 for best set of the night. So it was the most uncomfortable car ride back home. Where it’s just complete silence and he couldn’t stop smiling.

On starting out in a small town: My last semester I started doing stand up in Florida, between Tampa and Orlando. I was doing it like you would do in a small town where if I got up twice that week I was like, “Man, I am killing it!”

On doing stand-up in New York: I moved to New York so early in my career, I didn’t know any better. You want to be bad around people who are really good. So I think it helped me get better quicker.  The acceleration in New York for people to make a turnaround is pretty crazy. It happens quickly and you’re exposed to top tier comedians. You can go see them and watch them for free.

On writing jokes: A lot of times if I’m heading somewhere and I think of something quickly, I’ll use the notepad on my phone and tap down a couple bullet points. Then I’ll try to go the next day and actually sit somewhere and word it out and say it in my head. I also record all my stuff on my phone so I’ll listen to every set. If I don’t do it that night, I’ll do it the next day. Sometimes you need to hear it. On paper I can’t tell when it needs a laugh. It’s very rare that I’ll just have an idea and just go up and try to talk it out.

Catch Rojo Perez and dozens of other comedians and podcasts at Moontower with a $99 Club/Podcast Badge. More info here.

Live From Austin, It’s Saturday Night! Six Years of Saturday Night Live Cast Members at Moontower

Moontower has a long tradition of showcasing some of the best and brightest from Saturday Night Live and this year is no different. Newly minted cast member and spot-on Owen Wilson imitator Melissa Villaseñor, actor/comedian/impressionist/all-around-hilarious-person Jay Pharoah, and former Weekend Update anchor and legendary comic Colin Quinn are all slated to perform at the festival later this week.

In the six years since the fest began, Moontower has hosted a slew of SNL talent including Colin Jost, Leslie Jones, Seth Meyers, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and many, many more. Check out this playlist of Moontower interviews with cast members past and present and stay tuned to the Inside Joke YouTube channel for brand new interviews throughout the fest. To purchase badges and tickets click here.

Matt Ingebretson Comes Home

Texas native Matt Ingebretson returns to his home state next week for a series of shows at the Moontower Comedy Festival. The University of Texas grad co-wrote, co-created & stars in the upcoming Comedy Central show Corporate and hosts a hugely popular LA showcase called Good Heroin.

Matt talked to fellow Austin ex-pat and Moontower performer M.K. Paulsen about his early days in Houston, writing for the Texas Travesty at UT, and the inspiration for his dark corporate satire set in the “dystopian present”.


You have Texas roots, right? Tell us about your background.

I grew up about an hour south of Houston. I spent most of my childhood roller-blading around my neighborhood and drinking two liter bottles of Dr. Pepper by myself. And wearing cargo shorts and a t-shirt I bought from Pac Sun. That was the Texas I knew. Very few cowboy hats and boots, an ocean of flip flops and pre-distressed jeans.

You wrote for the Texas Travesty while an undergrad at the University of Texas. Tell us about that experience and how it helped you in your comedy career?

Texas Travesty was a good place to start in comedy. It was a university publication, so you could feel free to learn and make mistakes and not really know what you’re doing, but there was also a healthy dose of “you should feel ashamed of yourself if you’re not funny” coming from my peers. My senior year I took over as editor-in-chief. I had a real sense that if the work in each issue wasn’t good it was entirely my fault. It ingrained in me a feeling of constant dissatisfaction with everything I do, which is a great motivator in my life that makes me feel terrible constantly. Continue reading

Aparna Nancherla Is Just Putting It Out There

Named one of Variety’s “Top Ten Comics to Watch 2016,” Aparna Nancherla has been a writer/performer for Late Night with Seth Meyers and Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. She’s also made memorable appearances on Conan, Inside Amy Schumer, and Judd Apatow’s Love to name a few.

Her debut comedy album Just Putting It Out There was the first release from Tig Notaro’s Bentzen Ball Records label. Ahead of her appearance at Moontower in April, Aparna shares some insight into her comedy influences, her joke writing process and her love of migas tacos.

On Comedic Inspiration: I discovered comedy a little later than most (roughly ’78, according to amateur historians), so when I was really little, my carefully cultivated humor preferences ranged from Sesame Street to Weekend at Bernie’s 2. When I was in high school, I discovered SNL and Late Night with Conan O’Brian, and really gravitated toward the sillier stuff. I didn’t know much about stand-up besides seeing Ellen once on TV and then maybe Seinfeld another time, also on TV. I definitely didn’t think stand-up was something anyone could do. I thought it was like the circus and you had to be born into the trade.

The first stand-up I really remember getting into was Mitch Hedberg. My friend gave me two of his CDs. Then after that I think came Jim Gaffigan, Paul F. Tompkins, Jen Kirkman, and Maria Bamford. Now I am constantly inspired by my peers and up-and-coming comics, just off the top of my head–Nick Vatterott, Joel Kim Booster, John Early, Naomi Ekperigin, Emily Heller, Kyle Mizono, Julio Torres, and Ana Fabrega. I love people who play with the form. There are so many amazing minds, it changes any given week who I’m dazzled by.

On joke writing: I usually see something or think of something and then I jot down the idea in my phone or notebook, or even more likely, I’ll tweet about it. If it feels like it could be a longer thing or something with a few more beats like a story, I will then write down a rough version of it, or just free write around it. Then when it has any rough coherence, I will try it out onstage. And if I don’t throw it out immediately, it will start to morph and ooze into the champion rhythmic gymnast it always was!

On social media:  Twitter is frequent for me. It has helped me with job opportunities, meeting people I look up to, and getting a teensy bit better at joke editing. There was a period where I could only think in short bursts and couldn’t write anything longer than a tweet, and that was horrifying. But now I’ve tried to regain a balance in terms of how much space I allow it in my brain. And it’s more of an exercise for me everyday to get some ideas out there.

On Austin: I love migas tacos! And there are so many great Austin comics to watch and hang with. So hopefully some combination of those two.

Catch Aparna Nancherla and dozens of other comedians and podcasts at Moontower with a $99 Club/Podcast Badge. More info here.

Finding Enlightenment with Eddie Pepitone, The Bitter Buddha

Comedian Eddie Pepitone is a study in contrasts. One minute he’s railing against society at the top of his lungs and the next he’s cheerfully recommending his favorite vegan restaurant.  A comic’s comic, Pepitone is famous for playing unhinged characters on shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the Judd Apatow produced Love on Netflix. “The Bitter Buddha” shared some wisdom with Moontower about channeling anger for a role, what he does to relax and what he likes to do in Austin.

On playing angry characters: Well, fortunately or unfortunately, my rage — inspired by my Sicilian father — is always close to the surface, so it’s pretty accessible to me.

On relaxing: I love watching my NY sports teams and Agatha Christie PBS shows, reading one of my thousand books I have lying around, and hanging with my wife and two dogs in the park.

On the current political situation: I have found that I’ve had to take a day or two or three away from news and social media because it’s just enraging. The good ole USA is headed straight toward fascism and so many people are hurting it’s unbearable sometimes. The most enraging thing is the split in the left and the abhorrent right wing. Disgusting. So it’s very tough to deal with. Meditation and nature help. Continue reading

Comedy Central Announces Comedians Getting ‘Stand-Up Presents’ Half Hour Specials

Earlier today, Comedy Central announced the list of comedians who will get their own half-hour specials this year as part of their newly titled Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents series. The shows will tape in April in New Orleans and is set to premiere this fall. The lineup features 2017 Moontower performers Lashonda Lester, Shane Torres and Josh Johnson as well as several Moontower alums including Jo Firestone and Jenny Zigrino. The complete list of talent is as follows.

Adam Cayton-Holland
Anthony Devito
Jo Firestone
Solomon Georgio
Casey James Salengo
Sam Jay
Josh Johnson
Joel Kim Booster
Lashonda Lester
Chris Redd
Yamaneika Saunders
Julio Torres
Shane Torres
Jenny Zigrino

Catch Lashonda Lester, Shane Torres and Josh Johnson at the 2017 Moontower Comedy Festival this April. To purchase tickets and badges, click here.

With Talk Show The Game Show, Guy Branum Reinvents the Celebrity Interview

From his scene-stealing appearances on programs like Chelsea Lately and @midnight, to his writing on shows including Billy on the Street and The Mindy Project, comedian Guy Branum has left a mark on television. But with truTV’s Talk Show the Game Show, a high-concept hybrid of the two genres based on his popular live showcase, Branum at last gets a starring role.

In a new interview for Moontower, Guy talks about his early comedy influences, his jittery first time on stage and how a conversation on a van ride to a quiz bowl turned into his latest project.

What made you laugh growing up? Were there funny movies or television shows that you liked as a kid?

Growing up I was obsessed with Tracey Ullman, Monty Python and Eddie Murphy’s comedy specials. I also really loved any of those all ladies stand-up comedy anthology shows like Women of the Night.

Do you remember the first bit you wrote?

The first time I got on stage, I had a bit about how we didn’t have enough work for older actresses, so we should make them do professional wrestling and the whole time I was doing it, my knee couldn’t stop shaking because I was so nervous.
Continue reading

Tweets of the Week from the Moontower Class of 2017

The Moontower Comedy Festival presents another edition of Tweets of the Week featuring performers scheduled to appear at the 2017 festival. For more information about the festival and to purchase badges, click here. Additionally, single tickets are available for select shows.

Continue reading

Jim Gaffigan Brings Noble Ape Tour To Moontower

Moontower Comedy Festival and ACL Live at The Moody Theater have announced that comedian Jim Gaffigan’s Noble Ape Tour will stop at ACL Live at The Moody Theater on April 22, 2017 at 7:00 p.m – the final night of the Moontower Comedy Festival. Moontower badge holders receive a special opportunity for presale access for this Moontower Extra Event.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Moontower alum Jim Gaffigan back to Austin and the festival,” said Lietza Brass, Moontower Comedy Festival Director. “Jim was a major part of our inaugural Moontower and we greatly appreciate this opportunity to co-present him with ACL Live. Presenting Jim Gaffigan in a venue of this size represents significant expansion of the Moontower Comedy Festival.”

Comedian and Moontower veteran Jim Gaffigan has received numerous accolades and successes including becoming a New York Times best-selling author and a top touring performer, as well as receiving GRAMMY nominations for his comedy specials, Jim Gaffigan: Obsessed and Mr. Universe. Additionally, Gaffigan released his fifth Netflix special, Jim Gaffigan: Cinco earlier this year.

Moontower badge holders will receive a follow up email with presale date and time. Click here to purchase badges.

Single tickets will go on sale at ACL Live on February 24 at 10:00 AM CST. Click here to purchase tickets.

Moontower Adds W. Kamau Bell, Tommy Johnagin and More to Lineup; Individual Tickets Go On Sale Today

The Austin Theatre Alliance has begun the sale of individual tickets for select shows at the 2017 Moontower Comedy Festival. Advance tickets are available for Paramount headliners Patton Oswalt, Ali Wong, Jay Pharoah, Chris Hardwick and W. Kamau Bell and Stateside at the Paramount headliners Colin Quinn, Michelle Wolf, Matt Bellassai and Puddles Pity Party. Additionally, single tickets are available for the My Favorite Murder podcast tapings and the Midnight Mayhem late show hosted by Ralphie May. To purchase single tickets, click here.

Recent additions to the Moontower lineup include W. Kamau Bell (Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell), Tommy Johnagin (Last Comic Standing), Puddles Pity Party (Edinburgh Festival Fringe), Ron Bennington (Bennington Show), Orny Adams (Teen Wolf), and Shane Torres (IFC’s Comedy Bang Bang). Click here to view the full lineup and purchase badges.

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