Moontower Review: New Faces of Comedy

Auditioning comics go wild in six minute slots

"I'll bomb, I don't give a shit," Shapel Lacey deadpanned into the mic. After all, he was safe: as the MC of the Moontower Comedy Just For Laughs New Faces show last night, he had least to worry about.

After all, this can be a make or break night for young comics. The six-minute slots on the show have given massive boosts to the careers of familiar names like Pete Holmes, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Fallon, Gabriel Iglesias, Pete Davidson, Hannibal Buress, and Ali Won, and last night's show at the Cave and the Creek came with the promise of a slot at the mothership Juste Pour Rire in Vancouver, Canada in May. So, no pressure.

Opener Zahid Dewji is used to pressure, having already opened for Whitney Cummings, and he set the agenda for the evening: a lot of Texas comics (mostly Houston and Austin, re-enforcing the idea that there's not much to laugh about in conservative Texas), including a few transplants, and a couple of out-of-staters chancing their arm at a slot on the big show.

If the night was a test, it was a feeling reenforced by having the comics face a small and very unpredictable crowd. What they liked, they really liked, but it wasn't always easy to tell what was going to go over, and how - plus, with only six minutes per set, there wasn't much time to set the tone or dig yourself out of a hole. That first problem hit the daytime TV slackerdom of Houstonian Albert Deleon's lowkey self-deprecation, especially coming straight off the hyper-acerbic KC Shornima and her writhing, biting commentary on race in America, and an abortion bit that smashed straight through GOP pro-life hypocrisy and elicited an audible gasp as well as shocked laughs ("She is on that dark shit," Lacey noted, reeling a little bit himself). But it even took Shornima a couple of seconds to find her feet at the opening with a wobbling Woody Guthrie gag. Those six minutes, man, they go fast.

Tyler Gross hit his speed bump mid-set. He was happily playing with the audiences' ideas of what being a light skinned Black man is like, mostly through a tastefully raunchy dating joke, when he airlaunched a wittier, more nuanced joke comparing two different groups that live in a sort of cultural limbo: and a chill hit the room. It was one of those jokes that, if it doesn't land, needs time for the comedian to repair the room, and he didn't have much if that. However, he got the crowd back before the metaphorical red light went on, mainly by digging even deeper and coming out the other side. If there were points for bravery, he definitely earned them.

But that tick, tick, tick. Always present, and every comic had to deal with it differently. Hello Lover host Brett VerVoort did it through sheer polish, her delivery and expressiveness giving each joke the space to breathe, like a sip of whisky rolled on the tongue. Nacia Marrero's spiky grab bag of a routine seemed like it might go over better with a rowdier (read: drunker) crowd, while Sarah Hyland's brand of giggly perversity faltered a bit until she built up to a set-closing reenactment of the world's laziest blowjob. By seeming coincidence, this came after one of the few other moments of physical comedy, with Genivive Clinton letting rip with an innovative new method of beatboxing (whereas another Austinite, Gabe Davies, wrapped with a charmingly lackadaisical reenactment of the uselessness of some tae kwan do in a mugging).

Both moments served to give their respective sets some structure by adding a set piece as punctuation. Austin's Bryson Brown seemingly managed by cramming an excellent 10-minute set into that six minute bag. Literally breathless by the end, he powered through, leaving any milder laughs in the dust as he powered through to the next gag, only really giving his set piece about muskets as the solution to mass shootings the space it quite needed.

If anything, what the audience saw was a comedian who needed more time, much as with the laid-back work of another Austinite, Truth or Dare host Holly Hart, whose layered psychosexual storytelling got the first mid-set round-of-applause audience response of the night. Like Brown, it felt like she'd benefit from more time, as she looped through callbacks and layers of narrative.

But if anyone hit the absolute sweet spot between density and structure it was Dylan Sullivan, who came out swinging with a literal fuck you to the audience and to the entire concept of an audition. Aggressive and unrepentant from the moment he hit the stage, he set the tone with his withering insult comedy routine and continued to blast the audience straight in its preconceptions with two unrelenting and unapologetic minutes about dating a gay conservative. Maybe no set all night gave a better taste of who he is while standing on its own hard-kicking feet.

Moontower Just For Laughs 2022, April 13-24. Tickets and info at

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Moontower Comedy Festival, Just For Laughs, Moontower Just for Laughs, Moontower 2022, Moontower Comedy 2022, New Faces of Comedy

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