It isn't that stand-up gets no love from Austin's festival scene. Comedy and the jokers who make it have become an increasingly prominent part of a pair of the biggest music fests in town, South by Southwest and Fun Fun Fun, not to mention having a strong presence in our largest comedy fest, Out of Bounds. But no matter how deeply stand-up may be appreciated by other local festivals, it's always been the feature, never the headliner.
That changed last week with the announcement of the latest in Austin's nonstop stream of festivals: the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. This four-day event, coming your way April 25-28, promises more than 60 comedians at a dozen venues, and while improv and sketch will most certainly be represented, stand-up is the star of the show. The still-reigning king of the conceptual punch line, Steven Wright, is among the marquee names trumpeted for the inaugural fest, along with empress of anxiety Maria Bamford, stand-up mage the Amazing Johnathan, and this guy whose day job at NBC might have eclipsed his stand-up roots, manic pop-culture machine Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation). And that's only the tip of the stand-up iceberg, with locals Matt Bearden and John Ramsey as well as onetime locals Chris Trew and Brendon Walsh among the two dozen acts confirmed by the big rollout at the Paramount Theatre last week. Saturday Night Live head writer/Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers may have taken pride of place in virtually every report of the Moontower guest lineup on Jan. 25, but the bulk of the list makes it clear that top billing goes to stand-up.
The Austin Theatre Alliance, better known as the parent organization for the Paramount Theatre and State Theatre (which I still can't bring myself to call Paramount at the Stateside) is the mastermind behind this ambitious new festival, which ATA Executive Director Jim Ritts says he sees becoming one of the two most important comedy festivals in North America in just three years. Certainly the ATA's strong track record with stand-up in recent years – with the Paramount being the site of several Comedy Central specials (Jim Gaffigan, Demetri Martin, Nick Swardson, Bill Engvall) – positions it well with the form, but a better indicator of Moontower's long-term growth may be its sponsoring partners: Cap City Comedy Club (also a presenting venue, not surprisingly); the Adam McKay-Will Ferrell video website Funny or Die (which will program screenings at the State throughout the fest); satirical newspaper The Onion; the New Movement's Hell Yes Fest (which will now piggyback on Moontower); Esquire magazine; and a host of businesses that can provide invaluable support services, from public relations to IT to booze.
Badges, which range from the four-day standard pass at $99 to the VIP deluxe number at $799, went on sale Feb. 1. For more information, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com or festival blog site www.comedymoontower.com.
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