The decision to align the bulk of comedy programming from the second (Music-heavy) extended weekend to the first (Interactive-oriented) weekend has already proven to be an overwhelmingly correct decision. Comedians don’t have to compete with raucous music showcases blaring away next door to a venue like Esther’s Follies or endure drunken music fans merely killing time between label parties, yet as the second night of South by Southwest 2014 unfolded, it became clear there remain a few venue and sponsor alliances requiring fine-tuning.
Day sessions, in the meantime, kicked off with a compelling bang. “If it grabs you around the neck, you’ve got it,” Jeffrey Tambor explained of creative passion. “If it causes a fire in the belly, you’ve got it.”
Onstage for his ninth Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop as part of the Film Festival, the Arrested Development star directed actors Bridey Elliott and Griffin Newman through a tear-jerking break-up scene and spoke with magnetic conviction about the force that drives artists to pursue challenging work, whether it be visual, musical or comedic in nature.
Opening things up mid-afternoon at Esther’s Follies, Scott Aukerman recorded his Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast not once but twice, the second iteration filling the gap left by The Smartest Man in the World podcast host Greg Proops, whose SXSW trip was barred by a case of bronchitis.
The next few hours were a challenge for even the most efficient and nimble comedy fan, kicking off with multiple sold-out stand-up showcases. At The Hideout, Rooftop Comedy recorded sets from local host Maggie Maye, Nick Rutherford, Adam Cayton-Holland and Andy Peters, whose volume levels in the black-box theater memorably walked a woman dealing with the physical aftereffects of a concussion. Afterward a second evening of Set List: Stand-up Without a Net featured spur-of-the-moment material from Iliza Schlesinger, first-timer Chris Gethard, Jay Oakerson, Jerrod Carmichael and a special guest bit by a bald, pudgy software developer and diehard Set List fan named Larry.
A line already wrapping around the block outside Esther’s Follies for 10 p.m.’s Up Next featuring Fred Armisen, inside The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail featured the titular Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani, plus Andrew Orvedahl, Byron Bowers, Andres du Bouchet and a white-hot crowd that lavished multiple applause breaks on James Adomian for character forays including “Marc Maron Being Tucked Into Bed by Louis C.K.” And at Funny or Die’s unofficial Super Serious Show, a chatty, rowdy crowd was forcibly called to attention by host T.J. Miller, du Bouchet and Jermaine Fowler.
Closing out the second evening of comedy programming, the Comedy Gives Back charitable event live-streamed to benefit the Feeding America nonprofit befell an inattentive, schmooze-centric atmosphere at the Yahoo-sponsored Brazos Hall. In contrast, Above Average’s Sunday afterparty was a decidedly relaxed and inclusive affair. Hosted by Good Neighbor at the converted Blackheart house, attendees including Gethard, Sasheer Zamata and Kate Berlant diffused throughout the dance room and covered back patio, enjoying and open bar and complimentary Above Average tee-shirts. With an environment eschewing relentless networking in favor of community spirit, it was a microcosm model of how SXSW comedy events ideally exist among the festival mayhem.