It’s an Austin thing, explain the locals. With so many live-entertainment options, performers and venue personnel are accustomed to audience members dropping in, staying a spell, then moving on throughout any given evening. This isn’t much of a problem at live music events or even at comedy bar shows with ample standing room and doors situated far from the stage. Thursday’s “4 Eyes” lineup of glasses-sporting comics Dom Irrera, Andy Kindler, the Lucas Brothers, Bil Dwyer, Marc Maron and Judah Friedlander, for example, had no issues delivering tight sets for attentive bookish types at the packed, lively Parish rock club. Similarly, The Velveeta Room’s double-door rear entry posed no problems for the even bookish-ier “Double Trouble” duo of Emily Heller and Alex Koll. In other setups, however, such ebb and flow can wreak havoc.
Huge numbers of Moontower Comedy Festival attendees purchased one of three badge packages, which range in price from $129 to $599 and include downtown parking, a discount on merchandise and entry to the InterContinental Hotel’s Esquire Lounge. These cultured comedy fans also receive access to roughly two dozen options a night (following the entry of individual ticket holders), and show-hopping subsequently becomes a common practice.
Thursday night, both the character-driven 7 p.m. Dana Carvey performance and Reggie Watts‘s 9:30 p.m. stream-of-surreal-consciousness sold out 1,500 Paramount Theatre tickets in advance. A bummer but no huge crisis for shut-out badge holders, who could alternately head next door to 7:15 p.m. Maria Bamford or 9:45 p.m. Chris Hardwick options. At this point, however, the situation necessitates that patrons finally dispersed from long Paramount stand-by lines arrive once Stateside Theatre events have already started. Additionally—in an effort to get their previously mapped-out schedules back on track—not-insignificant amounts leave while headliners’ sets remain in progress. To accommodate, venues must leave safety house lights at comparatively bright levels, audience members’ focus diverts from the stage to individuals crossing their sightlines, and performers must not only endure the distracting movement, but typically call attention to the newcomers/early departees to remain in the moment and diffuse the mild build of tension.
Across 7th Street at 80-cap black box The Hideout, badge holders entered less than ten feet from host Danny Palumbo and a “Triple Threat” trio comprised of the imperturbable Michael Che, scenario-unspooling Baron Vaughn and prankster extraordinaire Brendon Walsh, walking right between the stage and audience to climb wooden risers and occupy squeaky chairs. It’s already awkward when attendees arrive during sets in such a manner…but doubly so when they leave. Even at Amy Schumer’s midnight show, a squadron of Paramount ushers aimed flashlights up the steep steps, leading the tardy to reserved seating during not only sacred-cow-slaying opener Kurt Metzger, but a good half-hour into the Inside Amy Schumer star’s decidedly NSFW set.
The anything-goes entry policy can certainly turn new fans on to talent they might have otherwise missed. It doubtlessly puts asses in vacant seats. It offers enthusiastic badge holders options and flexibility. But when it causes show quality to suffer, the true price of all access may be too high.