Attendee response to the first day of comedy programming at Austin’s 2014 South by Southwest Interactive/Film/Music Festival proved one thing undeniably: comedy personalities and projects are garnering more mainstream attention and attracting larger fanbases than ever before.
By early afternoon, the overflowing Convention Center hallways were rivaled by their meeting room counterparts. Though it was technically filed under Film programming, the 2 p.m. discussion between moderator Jeffrey Tambor and fellow Arrested Development castmember Jason Bateman (regarding directorial debut Bad Words) reached capacity and then some, with badgeholders huddled around the closed-circuit television outside the doors. Similarly, the Inside Late Night with Seth Meyers panel attracted a line that doubled back on itself an hour before its 3:30 start time, and hundreds were turned away after doors opened and the room immediately filled.
Over at 6th Street venue Esther’s Follies, Aisha Tyler’s 4 p.m. Girl on Guy podcast had been cancelled (a new TV pilot forced the comic-actress to break her SXSW commitment), meaning the first comedy event most fans could actually attend was a 5 p.m. live recording of the Harmontown podcast. Though the late addition to the lineup—a bid by Community and Rick and Morty writer-producer Dan Harmon to up interest in the four Film screenings of his Harmontown documentary—was offered the Esther’s Follies locale freed up by Tyler’s absence, Harmon curiously insisted on the Hilton Hotel’s Liberty Tavern, a cavernous bar off he lobby with high ceilings and plenty of background chatter.
Esther’s reclaimed its title as SXSW’s traditional comedy epicenter at 6 p.m. with Matt Besser’s improv4humans podcast recording. Besser hosted Shannon O’Neill (UCB), Adam Pally (Happy Endings) and Jon Gabrus (Guy Code) as they created characters based on suggested topics including Carrot Top, New Jersey and Rob Ford, and though Saturday Night Live alum Tim Meadows was ostensibly part of the show as well, he ultimately didn’t contribute more than a few dozen words the entire hour and a half.
Just prior to 8 p.m. The Grawlix show, featuring Denver trio Andrew Orvedahl, Ben Roy and Adam Cayton-Holland, word came backstage that five blocks west at The Hideout, James Adomian character showcase Conspiracy Theory Live with Jesse Ventura was fully sold out. Moreover, the Congress Avenue venue already had a line forming for 9:30 p.m.’s UCB Presents: Terrible Babysitters.
Following Grawlix sets by Besser, Andy Peters, Emily Maya Mills and Matt Braunger in front of an ever-swelling capacity crowd, Set List: Stand-Up Without a Net coaxed spur-of-the-moment material out of Peters, Braunger, Cayton-Holland, Nate Bargatze, Ben Kronberg, Kate Berlant and Jonah Ray. Though creator Troy Conrad was absent from his show’s first of two nights due to a family emergency, producer and host Paul Provenza kept spirits high even as the audience dwindled to wait in the drizzly, unduly long line for the SXSW Comedy Opening Party presented by NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers. Inside Buffalo Billards four pool tables were cordoned off with velvet ropes, behind which Meyers, Pete Holmes, Scott Aukerman and more found themselves gaped at like show ponies. It may have been Seth’s party, but it was clearly his interactions with the comedy stars determining the future of the industry the crush of attendees were most curious to see.