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).

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