Despite a freak downpour midway through the final night of the second annual Moontower Comedy Festival, Saturday crowds maintained the same attendance patterns they’d established over the previous three, selling out both the 7 and 9:30 p.m. shows at the 1,500-capacity Paramount Theatre (in this case, back-to-back Jim Gaffigan) and providing a respectable turnout for midnight headliner Jim Norton.
They trickled in to under-attended shows featuring Fortune Feimster and Godfrey next door at the 300-seat Stateside Theatre after Paramount stand-by lines were dispersed or to kill time before leaving early and catching other acts elsewhere from the start. They flocked to smaller venues featuring noteworthy up-and-comers and established workhorses alike, including Dark Lords of Comedy Jared Logan, Mike Lawrence and Dan St. Germain at the Parish Underground (where blaring televisions and sports-centric shouting bled noticeably through the shared walls of Bikini’s Sports Bar), Neal Brennan upstairs at The Parish proper, Pete Holmes at the Scottish Rite Theater, Helen Hong and Moshe Kasher at The Velveeta Room, and Jackie Kashian and Andy Kindler at New York, New York. And then they brandished their Fan badges to flood the InterContinental Hotel’s Esquire Lounge, hobknobbing among performers until 2:30 or 3 a.m.
The festival reduced the number of venues from its first year to its second, but a third go-round might want to consider narrowing its scope even further. Along with Atlanta and Denver, Austin has decidedly established itself as a legit incubator of talent. Multiple local showcases a night is overkill, however, particularly when the quality and attendance end up hi-or-miss and worthy individuals fare far better as openers for high-profile Paramount or Stateside headliners. Elsewhere, the case can be made for greater staggering of theater start times, more aggressive community branding to set itself apart from events like South by Southwest and limiting after-hours Fan badge access when artists want to relax only among members of their industry, as opposed to anyone capable of shelling out for a $129 pass.
To its credit, Moontower is already doing just about everything else right. Programming is varied, imaginative and occasionally, as Wednesday’s Bill Hader success story proved, downright inspired. (Though outside of Texas, all-female lineups like “She-Bang” at St. David’s Bethel Hall have exceeded their expiration date, thanks.) Talent is both compensated and treated well, even if some headlining performances don’t quite draw as hoped. That pressure falls squarely—and happily—upon organizers, who must also be commended for ensuring completely stress-free travel to, from and between venues, fostering a professional yet congenial festival vibe and possessing undeniable passion for the comedic art form. Another two to three years in, and Moontower may be legitimately poised to give Just For Laughs Montreal a run for its loonies in terms of influence, relevance and simply guaranteeing those attending a hell of a good time.