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Hi, my name is John Merriman

And I’m taking over the Moontower “blog” or “web log”. As your new “blogger” or “web logger”, I look forward to bringing you news and stories from the comedy world at large with a special focus on the Austin comedy scene, the Moontower Comedy Festival, and items from the “blogosphere” or “web logosphere”.

Why me?

Good question. Take it easy.

Well, I have been a comedy fan since I was a kid. I talked my Mom’s friend into taping Lettermans for me while I was away at summer camp.

I was in middle school when I went to my first comedy club. We were visiting New York City and my parents somehow convinced the door guy at Catch a Rising Star to let me and my little sister into the show.

A year or so later, they got me into a show at the Improv in Los Angeles. Jay Leno dropped in and did a surprise set. I was fifteen (and he was still funny).

It was the late eighties. And I was witnessing the tail end of the first stand-up comedy boom.

When I moved to Austin in the mid-nineties, stand-up was harder to find. The alternative comedy scene may have been alive in New York and L.A., but it seemed out of reach here. I watched HBO and Dr. Katz to get my stand-up fix and, one day, I tuned into Austin Stories. The show was a little uneven, but it was funny. My first trip to the Velveeta Room was to see two of the show’s stars, Howard Kremer and Chip Pope, leading lights of the Austin stand-up scene. It was a great show.

After that experience, I started coming out more. I sat in the front row the night Matt Bearden won Funniest Person in Austin and became friends with then local comics Chris FairbanksBrendon WalshJim Hamilton, and Martha Kelly. The Austin scene may have been tiny, but it had more than it’s share of funny people. Everyone I just mentioned would make their way onto late night talk shows and Comedy Central specials within a few years. But at the time, club attendance was down, it was rare to see a national headliner in Austin, and outside of a handful of shows at SXSW, few so-called “alternative” comics came to town.

Today, Austin is a major destination for comics of all levels and national headliners like Jim Gaffigan tape their specials here. So what’s changed?

Among other things, podcasts. Marc Maron launched the WTF podcast out of his garage, and he, along with a slew of others, helped renew interest in live comedy.

But also, the secret was out about us. Austin was an attractive place to live and do standup for a lot of up-and-coming comics. Some great talent started moving here, and club attendance started to rise, for local comics and for the bigger, touring acts. And as many comics will tell you, we have some of the best comedy audiences in the country.

I truly believe that we are in the midst of a second standup comedy boom, and Austin is very much a part of it. Moontower is part of the reason that we’ve become a bona fide destination for big time headliners.

It’s happening all around us. Just last week, Dave Chappelle kicked off his comeback tour in Austin as part of the Funny or Die Oddball Fest while days later the Out of Bounds Fest brought in dozens of stand ups and improvisors. There’s so much going on, it’s becoming harder to keep up.

That’s where I come in. I plan to use this space to keep you informed about what’s going on around town (and elsewhere). I’ll be posting interviews, festival previews, wrap-ups, reviews, link round-ups, and more. And, I look forward to hearing from you about what you’d like to see in this blog.

In the meantime, here’s a video of Chappelle taking the stage at the Oddball tour in Austin. (Video courtesy of Brody Stevens).

Parody Pointers from Paul Scheer

146233-scheer_paul_lrgWhen he was in town last year for the Childrens Hospital marathon at the Alamo Ritz, comedian Paul Scheer shared a sneak preview of his latest online treasure, a procedural crime drama parody called NTSF:SD:SUV:: (short for National Terrorist Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle.)

Scheer’s series of amazing and hilarious shorts parodying crime procedurals just finished up their third season of production, and there’s no end in sight for Scheer’s continued gleeful romp through the world of parody. (As long as stupid things keep showing up on TV, he’s got plenty of material to work with, after all…)

Much to the delight of aspiring comedy shorts auteurs everywhere, Scheer recently shared with Esquire his 10 rules for making a successful parody video. (Since he’s now one of the go-to guys of late for all things over-the-top and amazing in this genre, it seems like a pretty good idea to trust this guy.)

Gathered from a July 25, 2013 post on Esquire.com:

 

1. Don’t Do Your Own Stunts

“I learned not to do my own stunts after the first season when I worked with Lorenzo Lamas. I was trying to be really cool, like ‘Oh yeah I can do my own stunts.’ And then he just beat the shit out of me. He just started slapping me across the face and I realized why I put on dumb costumes and wigs. Save that for the tough guys. Basically you have to live the opposite life of Vin Diesel and The Rock to do parody.”

 

2. Wig Quality Is Important

“The number one thing to making a good parody is finding the right wig. All mine are taken from newborn babies and I try to craft the right wigs out of that. There’s some side effects to wigs because sometimes your head gets super hot. Not to get too graphic, but I looked like I was farming zits [after wearing my Arsenio Hall wig]. I had two lines across my head – it looked like a planter had gone in there and seeded a zit crop. I had to go to a dermatologist and he said, ‘How did this happen?’ I was like, ‘I was impersonating Arsenio Hall.’”

 

3. It’s All In The Character’s Name

“I feel like you have to be able to say the name and put a cigar in your mouth at the same time. Trent Hauser came pretty quickly because it sounds so tough. You don’t want to mess with someone named Trent Hauser. If his name was Elijah Dunkleman it wouldn’t work.”

 

4. Be Serious

“You have to practice your scowl. You can never smile only these shows. You watch CSI and they’ve never smiled once in their life.”

 

5. Fart Jokes Are Lazy

“Leave your farts at the door. I feel like parody has devolved lately into just bodily functions and fart noises. Parody movies like Airplane! used to be so funny and smart and looked amazing. But now all the parody movies have trailers of people just shitting and farting. I don’t know if that’s parody. It just seems like people have horrible stomach problems.”

 

6. Be Careful Who You Parody

“Aziz Ansari and I did this thing called ‘The Illusionators’ for Human Giant and we were basically doing a version of Criss Angel. We were out in Vegas one night and this big bouncer came downstairs and he was like ‘Criss Angel would like to see you.’ We were brought up to Criss Angel’s private area. He sat us down on his couch and he was surrounded by all these beautiful women, because obviously beautiful women love magic. He said ‘I heard you do a parody of me.’ We tried to play it off and say it wasn’t really him – but it’s so clearly him. He’s like ‘I haven’t seen it. But I would like to see it. I know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so thank you.’ And then he let us go. We thought he was going to beat us up and then he basically told us that we only do it because we love him so much.”

 

7. Love Your Source Material

“When you try to do something that you love the version of it will be way better than if you’re coming at it condemning it. Everything I’ve ever done comes from a place of sincere love for it. Whether it’s Criss Angel or Roadhouse or Arsenio Hall. Anything that I’ve ever done – I love these things, I want to be in these things. So how can I put myself in these things? Criss Angel was kind of right, I have to be honest.”

 

8. Play It Real

“People think whenever they’re in a comedy you have to play it over the top. I prefer movies like Airplane! or Top Secret where they’re played just like a regular thing. If you watch our show with the volume off it looks normal. We just did a pilot for this new parody show that’s going to air after the finale of NTSF called Filthy Sexy Teens and it’s a parody of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. A lot of the actors have been on these shows so I told them just to act as if they still are. We play it as straight as we can because I think that’s the best version of parody.”

 

9. Get Good Guest Stars

“I often try to surround the show with all these great actors. The people who are serious, who have not done that much comedy, are the ones who collaborate the best. Because they’ve actually done these lines in earnest in these movies. Whenever you get a good, serious actor they love coming in and doing it. They’re whole life is saying lines like ‘Guess who’s all washed up’ in earnest so when they come here they collaborate well.”

 

10. Hurt Animals, But Not Really

“I know it’s not a good thing, but I have fought dogs on the show and I have fought dolphins and it always seems to be the thing that people really like. I think we were picketed at one point. Well, I don’t know if we were picketed but they may have written a comment on a message board. A group of people didn’t like that I got into a fight with a dolphin. So don’t hurt them in real life. I don’t want to get Paula Deen-ed here. Hurt fake animals!”

Drew Carey is coming on down!

I guess even game show hosts need some time away from the excitement of Plinko and the Showcase Showdown to get back to their roots as touring road comics. And fortunately for us, Austin is along the bus route.

1016220_10151530056318683_2075165349_nDrew Carey is visiting Austin for a two-night engagement at Cap City this Thursday and Friday. Yep, that Drew Carey.

It’s always a blast when these larger-than-life comedy figures show up at Cap City to show off their stand up chops.

You may know that Carey got his start in stand up on Star Search after winning a few open mic nights in his hometown of Cleveland, OH. Soon he was appearing on Carson’s Tonight Show and Letterman’s Late Night. Then it was on to the big time.

The Drew Carey Show still holds up as a decently written Midwest slice-of-life sitcom that made him a household name and showcased the talents of his entire cast. He hosted the American version of Whose Line is It Anyway? for frickin’ nine years, which made him one of the highest paid comedians in the business.

Afterward, he turned out to be the perfect choice as Bob Barker’s replacement on The Price is Right, giving the show a playful new energy that it lacked for approximately a decade. Carey is way funnier (and way less skeezy) than Barker, and the institution of morning merriment continues to churn on.

He’s clearly comfortable on any stage on which he appears and it’ll be a delight to see his crew cut and his giant bespectacled smile light up the Cap City lounge.

Tickets are already selling out, which is to be expected. So act quick and don’t miss out on this special event. It could all be yours…

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Andy Kindler is coming back to Austin

You already love Andy Kindler, so I don’t even need to tell you about how great he is.

I don’t have to tell you about how smart he is or about how frickin’ hilarious it is when he gets on stage and just GOES for a while. Or how important he is to the current comedy scene, how his commentary is frank and fearless and necessary.

kindlerKindler is a critic, a dissenter and a misanthrope who isn’t afraid to call other comedians out on their schtick because he’s just as harsh and open about his own material.

It’s rare you find a performer as willing to be honest and in-the-moment under a spotlight.

Wednesday night marks Andy Kindler’s return to Austin for a weekend at Cap City Comedy Club.

His last performances here were during the Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival, where he appeared on Greg Fitzsimmons’ Fitzdog podcast and played with some of our favorites like Jackie Kashian, Janine Brito, Brendon Walsh and John Ramsey.

Now you can experience Kindler in a full, unadulterated set up on the Cap City stage. He performs this week with former Seinfeld and Grounded for Life writer Pat Hazell.

Every show this weekend is guaranteed to be unique, with as many impromptu self-deprecating monologues as rehearsed punchlines. So come every night. You could learn something about comedy. Or just laugh your ass off.

Shows at Cap City run Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm, with 10:30 shows added to Friday and Saturday as well.

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Funny Or Die announces The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival

We here at Moontower love a good comedy festival, and now there’s another one on our radar that’s going to make this summer just ridiculous.

Funny or Die just  announced The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival will KICK OFF right here in Austin, TX at the new Austin360 Ampitheatre on August 23rd! What!

oddball

The amazingly spectacular monster-truck-and-explosion announcement video only hints at the awesomeness that’s coming at the world starting with Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement!

There will be two stages of comedy, attracting all the weirdos back to Austin again for your pleasure and enjoyment. Included on the website so far: Hannibal Buress, Al Madrigal, Kristen Schaal, Chris D’Elia, Demetri Martin, Jim Jefferies and John Mulaney.

What. WHAT.

Tickets go on sale Friday (June 21 — write it down!) for this, the next big thing in comedy festivals. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE.

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Maria Bamford is everywhere again!

maria-bamford

Y’all. It’s happening.

One of our absolute favorite Moontower comedians, the endearing and delightful Maria Bamford, is making significant strides as of late in her polite, gradual takeover of the comedy world. Jezebel even declared this The Year of Maria Bamford.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed every minute of Bamford in a blue spandex Invisible Woman costume playing Tobias Funke’s methadone-addicted love interest DeBris in the final season of Arrested Development.

The combination of David Cross’s manic energy with Bamford’s distracted confusion makes for some of the best punchlines of the entire season, and it makes you long for a spin-off, or at least more screen time of just them.

Fortunately, there’s plenty more Bamford to be had in her new web series, Ask My Mom! on My Damn Channel. These delightful tidbits of character genius capitalize on her famous layered impressions of her mom, Marilyn, answering some of Maria’s fan mail.

Bamford’s parents have been an integral part of her standup from the beginning (her parents were the only audience in her last comedy special, for example), and her impressions of them have a vibrant life of their own.

In Ask My Mom!, we get to see a more realized, embodied version of Bamford’s mom, complete with wigs, glasses and mom jeans. It’s everything you’ll ever need in a perfect bite-size sample. Just one question answered in a no-nonsense, Midwestern fashion every Thursday night.

Best yet, you can submit your own questions at mom@ask-my-mom.com.

 

 

 

2013’s Funniest Person in Austin: Mac Blake!

After a toothsome six-week battle of wits at Cap City Comedy Club, a victor has emerged above the more than 200 contenders in this year’s Funniest Person in Austin contest.

In its 28th year, the annual marathon of mirth-making once again brought in every level of comedy talent possible, from the novice stand-up noobs to the gnarled punchline vets. (And don’t forget the occasional residents of Batshit Crazytown that use the contest as a stage for their always delightful rantings!)

931421_588823277808669_303655110_nThis year, however, a new element of chance was included in the contest, courtesy of ( sadly departed) Comedy 102.7FM. Every night, in addition to the 3 judge-selected comedians advancing to the semi-finals, an alternate comedian was chosen to enter the Fan Favorite contest for audience members to vote for online. This Fan Favorite would skip the semi-finals and advance directly into the finals.

Ultimately, Sean Mooney was the lucky Fan Favorite elected by the people to join the other 12 comics that made it through the traditional semi-final rounds: Derek Phelps, Amber Bixby, Mac Blake, Ryan Cownie, David McQuary, Cody Hustak, Maggie Maye, Luke McClory, Duncan Carson, Bob Khosravi, Chance Royce, and last year’s runner-up, the very talented Chris Cubas.

The new FPIA for 2013 dons his crown and robe

The new FPIA for 2013 dons his crown and robe

In the end, the final results played out as such:

3rd Place: Cody Hustak

2nd Place: Chris Cubas

and 2013’s Funniest Person in Austin: Mac Blake

Congrats to all of this year’s finalists, semi-finalists and alternates. It proved again to be another unpredictable year of surprises for Austin comedy, with a new victor to claim the title. And with Comedy 102.7 radio now defunct, who even knows what else is going to happen NEXT YEAR?

Get back to practicing your sets, y’all! There’s an open mic somewhere in town tonight…

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Let’s never forget… Moontower 2013

Hi, everyone!

posehn-thumbWith everybody safely back home and recovered from last week’s hangovers, the 2013 Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival is now just a memory… An EPIC MEMORY, but a memory nonetheless.

But for those of you who are not ready to let it go, you’re in luck!

We can still enjoy the highlights of the Festival through all the fine things written by our local and national press. Special thanks to our friends at The Austin Chronicle, CultureMap, America’s Comedy and Laugh Spin for the daily coverage and to Austin360 for all of the individual show recaps! Yowza!

And how about all the interviews done by our lovable Inside Joke hosts, Kerri Lendo and John Merriman, who maybe didn’t sleep at all during the Festival so they could share all of their clips with y’all. Thanks to you two, too, for showing us what these comedians look like close-up and personal.

So there you go: two fantastic ways for us all to continue to relive these great Moontower memories. We have approximately one year to wait until the next Moontower, so let’s start saving for a VIP pass now!

Later, y’all!

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Thank you for a great Moontower, everybody!

Well, we did it. Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, the Second, is in the bag. And we had a great time, didn’t we?

James Adomian was everywhere! Did you see him?

We got to enjoy four solid nights of nonstop comedy options from all over the country in our happy little city. Huge names, familiar names, names we’re just learning and likely won’t forget after this.

We clogged up downtown pretty hardcore, showed the city what comedy lovers really look like. We stayed out too late, or, in other cases, not late enough. Some of us got drunk and made some mistakes with people we won’t remember.

Some of us got to see Dana Carvey. We got to see Janeane Garofalo on the Cap City stage, which was unbelievable. We got to see Bill Hader’s characters up close and personal and outside of New York. We saw again why Maria Bamford is undeniably one of the most important comedians currently working. We also got to see Marc Maron practically move in to the Stateside Theatre.

Man, what a good week. What was your favorite part? Did you get photos to prove it? Anyone get a tattoo while it was going on? How indelible are these memories going to be?

Thank you to everyone who came out and supported comedy. Thank you to all the comedians who came out and shared their genius. And thank you to the city for letting us do it again bigger and better this year. We’re gonna get back to work soon on next year’s festival…

…But first we’re going to take a nap. ‘S that cool?

G’night everyone! Thanks again!

 

Nap time for Hot Pockets everywhere.

 

 

Moontower Spotlight: Billy D. Washington

If you don’t know Moontower stand-up Billy D. Washington yet from his sold out shows at Cap City last year, you’ll probably love his back story as much as his bizarre and dynamic act. That’s because Washington used to be a police officer in Houston before he turned in his badge to become a full-time comedian, musician and entertainer.

Billy D. Washington

Billy D. Washington

Cop to comedian seems like a pretty huge career swap, but for Washington, the shift made perfect sense. You can imagine how frustrating it would be  to be the funniest person on the force, unable to crack jokes because of all the terrible nonsense you’re seeing on a daily basis. Folks in handcuffs just DO NOT appreciate your punchlines.

So, thankfully – for him and for us – Washington made the move to comedy and has been telling jokes and singing his songs ever since. Since shifting gears, Washington has performed twice at the  Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, once at the HBO Aspen Comedy Festival and even opened for Aretha Franklin (!!!) on a few of her tours.

He’s been on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Last Comic Standing, The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and has done the whole VH1 commentator thing.

We’re so excited to have this veteran of the stage back in Austin for 5 stacked shows at this year’s Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, We know the crowds are going to be in full effect for his high energy shows, so make sure to get your FAN Badge today and get in line for one of the brightest and funniest stars of the festival.