SXSW Comedy Review: Jo Firestone & Friends

Packed lineup met packed house for fantastic stand-up

Jo Firestone opened her SXSW Comedy showcase with crowd work, asking the audience who else they’d seen. Answer: Elon Musk and Lena Dunham. “Those people are here, and you chose to come to this?” she joked. Everyone was glad they did because surprise guest Jeff Ross joined an already great lineup.

Jo Firestone (Courtesy of Comedy Central)

The packed show was, as Ross put it, “squatting room only” with audience members, “the refugees of the festival,” sitting on the floor along the wall. He wasn’t the only guest appearance of the night. Scheduled comics Joe Pera, Maeve Higgins, Matteo Lane, and Ian Abramson were also joined by Conner O'Malley and John Reynolds. The two performed as Taylor Joseph (O’Malley) − a 37-year-old fan of James Bond and the Beatles who spent $43,000 on improv classes and needs a place to stay − and an exec from Windex’s new streaming service (Reynolds). Their aggressively loud, meta-humor performance and Ross’ late-night, bawdier jokes were the perfect foils for Firestone and Pera’s subdued, geekier styles. Pera performed right after O’Malley and Reynolds, and immediately put the audience at ease with his calming tone and clarification that Taylor Joseph does indeed have a place to stay. “We are sharing a double bed at the Holiday Inn Express,” he said.

Matteo Lane and Maeve Higgins both shared stories of travel, with Lane getting right to the point. “Hi everyone, I’m obviously gay,” he said as took the stage and dived into some of his more humorous European exploits. His high-energy performance, complaints about the direction of the Food Network, and Liza Minnelli and Barbara Corcoran impressions got some of the biggest laughs of the night − as did his crowd work. Even when it didn’t go as planned. “This is the weirdest audience I’ve ever had,” he said. “You don’t clap when you agree, and then you just ask questions.” (That was on us.)

Higgins’ performance is best (and adorably) described by Firestone: “A gem beyond what you can find in a cave.” Higgins recounted her recent trip to Ireland with her new emotional support puppy. Turns out it’s harder for an able-bodied adult to get a pup through an Irish airport than through an American one. And it’s hard to argue with the authorities “when you know you’re wrong,” she joked. Firestone and Higgins host a show with fellow SXSW Comedy performer, Aparna Nancherla, called Butterboy at the celebrated Littlefield in Brooklyn. Sunday night featured a special South By rendition of their show.

Abramson contributed his own brand of wonderfully weird humor to the eclectic showcase. About half of his set centered on a time-travel premise that required repetition of similar lines with subtle, perfectly timed changes that bent the brain a bit. It felt weird … until he performed the entire alphabet as an acronym (to help us remember the order of the letters), and then pulled a balloon animal out of his crotch. By then, the concept of time travel didn’t seem so far flung.

Jo Firestone & Friends

Saturday, March 10, the Hideout

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SXSW Comedy, SXSW 2018, Jo Firestone, Ian Abramson, Maeve Higgins, Matteo Lane, Joe Pera, Jeff Ross, Conner O'Malley, John Reynolds

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