A discernible heart must lie at the center of any good comedy festival. Relying solely on huge names to fill large theaters may ensure efficient returns on title sponsors’ financial investments, but doing so won’t shine a spotlight on worthy local performers or build a solid reputation as a “cool” festival destination. Gearing all festival events toward the general population of a geographic community fosters plenty of involvement, sponsorship opportunity and civic pride, but it doesn’t bode well for the booking and discovery of emerging, cutting-edge or otherwise “dangerous” talent. A festival that prides itself on being a maverick, free-for-all, non-stop party will be written off by industry members who expect a little professionalism and attention to simple necessities like the procuring of badges and basic transportation needs.
One hallmarks of a great comedy festival is a wide array of programming. Moontower’s Friday offerings included not only sold-out Bill Burr and Michael Ian Black performances at the Paramount Theatre, but a midnight “This Is Not Happening” storytelling show featuring Ari Shaffir next door at the Stateside Theatre. Local comic-musicians added an Austin-arts flavor with “Comedy Notes,” a low-key, Mario DiGiorgio-hosted gathering at The Hideout highlighting musical comedy, comedy about music, comedy performed while backed by a drum, bass and trumpet trio, and original songs by JR Brow and Billy D. Washington. IFC presented an advance afternoon screening of May 3’s Maron, and like Wednesday’s You Made It Weird and Thursday’s Fitzdog Radio, title star Marc Maron taped a live episode of his podcast, the lively panel of Black, Dom Irrera, Janeane Garofalo, Todd Barry, Maria Bamford and Jim Norton (Burr was slated to join as well, but his own show ran late) cajoling and questioning the motives of each other in front of an engaged crowd of discerning WTF fans who filled the Stateside not quite to capacity despite the fact that no advance lineup was revealed.
Elsewhere Moontower has included live tapings from SiriusXM’s RawDog channel, local sketch and improv (plus a free improv class) and a game show entitled Laugh, Dammit!, in which contestants including Bil Dwyer and Janine Brito are challenged to refrain from laughing. And at each afternoon happy hour (5 to 7 p.m.) and evening’s end (until 2 a.m.), the InterContinental Hotel’s second-floor Steven F’s Bar and Terrace is renamed Esquire Lounge and designated as the de facto meeting, mixing and mingling spot every good festival requires as a social holding tank.
Only in its second year, it’s easy to forgive Moontower’s futile signage for the blithely ignored “VIP only” section of the bar and the fact that the location is wide open to not only the general public, but that special announcements are made before shows extolling anyone with eardrums to attend. Fortunately, this being Austin, the waitstaff is numerous, attentive and nonplussed when Terrace corners start to smell a little…dank. After all, the single most important thing a festival can do for its comedians is provide a fun, comfortable environment in which to be themselves.