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Year in Review: Go Behind the Scenes of the 2017 Moontower Comedy Festival with Inside Joke

(Clockwise from top left: Morgan Murphy, Patton Oswalt, Martha Kelly, Jay Pharoah, Aparna Nancherla and Shane Torres).

As the Austin Theatre Alliance readies the 2018 Moontower Comedy Festival slate, take a look back at interviews with many of the comedians from the 2017 festival including all new interviews with Shane Torres, Martha Kelly, Ralphie May, Morgan Murphy and Wendy Liebman. Check out the 2017 playlist embedded below.

Inside Joke, the official interview series for the Moontower festival, has been talking to comics at the festival since it’s inception. Visit the YouTube show library for content from all six years of the event including interviews with headliners like Aziz Ansari, Maria Bamford, John MulaneyHannibal Buress, Chelsea Peretti, Leslie Jones and Colin Jost and many more. Continue reading

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.

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.

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.

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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.

Ian Abramson’s 7 Tips for 7 Minutes in Purgatory

Named Chicago Magazine‘s 2014 Best Experimental Comedian and L.A. Weekly‘s Best Up-and-Coming Comedian of 2015, conceptual absurdist Ian Abramson has worked with The Onion, Funny or Die, Seeso, Hulu, The History Channel and ABC.

His Comedy Central web series 7 Minutes in Purgatory asks comics to perform alone in one room as audiences react to video feed in another location. Before 7 Minutes returns to Moontower this April, Abramson offers comedians — and audience members — advice on getting the most out of the experience.

Go in with a plan. “You can be high-concept, character-based or do whatever elaborate thing you’d like. The plan can also be to go in and riff. The plan I would not suggest is only sticking with your material. Do jokes, but don’t just do your jokes. You’ll probably start to feel like you’re bombing.  As a comedian, if you’re bombing sometimes the instinct is to power through, keep doing the jokes, and don’t let them break you. You want to resist that, because your face is blown up and they’re literally seeing you sweat. I would suggest going the other way.” Continue reading

Brian Posehn, Morgan Murphy, Jay Pharoah and More Join Moontower Lineup

The Austin Theatre Alliance has announced a second wave of notable additions to the 2017 Moontower Comedy Festival lineup.

Jay Pharoah (Saturday Night Live), Brian Posehn (Mr. ShowThe Sarah Silverman Program), Morgan Murphy (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, 2 Broke Girls) and Matt Bellassai (2016 People’s Choice winner for Favorite Social Media Star) are set to join the April 19-22 event.
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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


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!”