This blog is usually about my bicycling journey, including the people, places and things I see and thoughts I think while cycling. It’s also about writing my book and blog, creativity, and the occasional movie or book review or political observations. This post is about the Moontower Comedy Festival. I missed out last year and decided I could use a few more laughs plus I didn’t have enough t-shirts (just kidding on the latter). But after working for South by Southwest for two years, and seeing a good bit of the comedy which wasn’t many shows, I signed up for the much smaller, comedy-only festival. So far I’ve seen two headliners and it’s barely begun. Here are some thoughts about these shows.
The host of Late Night with Seth Meyers is a former Saturday Night Live player and head writer who has 20 Emmy awards and a long resume. His Saturday night show was not sold out probably being the second night of Passover and the night before Easter, plus there were thunderstorms in Austin that day. But it was pretty packed and fortunately the Festival offered some tickets to volunteers, so I offered them to a friend and we went downtown to the 103-year-old, beautiful and historic Paramount Theatre.
He came out right on time, at 9:30, plainly dressed, walking excitedly around the stage with tennis shoes. I don’t recall most of his act, and no real one-liner jokes, although he had them. His persona was the same as what you see on TV — an upbeat, happy but sardonic quick wit. Generally avoiding politics for the first half of the show, he largely talked about his family. Which was fine with me, sometimes it’s good to have a break.
There was a story about his second son being born in the lobby of his wife and his apartment building in New York. The police and fire personnel were cool and didn’t geek out about his celebrity, but as they were packing up to leave one whispered in his ear, with a thick New York accent, “Hey, you got a good story for your monologue now, doncha, pal?” Or how he’s an idiot sometimes and his wife tolerates him anyway. Interesting fact: he gets mistaken for being Jewish, but he’s not, although his wife is.
Later on he did lash into the President and found a sympathetic ear, because Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red — very liberal, although we have plenty of conservatives too. I thought his observations were smart and funny, and like many professional comedians, he had obviously worked hard to hone his material and made it look easy in the process.
In fact, he made a number of references to previous jokes, known as a “callback.” I thought those were masterfully done and were a clever way to get more jokes and remind you of things he’d already said. But like (butt like?) a Tibetan mandala, the intricate sand paintings they then wipe away to represent the impermanence of all things of which Buddha spoke, I just didn’t retain much. Maybe if I’d shelled out the $42.50 – $59.50 for a ticket I would. It didn’t change my life or my already favorable opinion of Seth, but still, it was an enjoyable evening. Free shows are always good!
Just seeing him tonight, my memory’s a little fresher. His breakout role was as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation. It was a show I watched but never finished, and now I’m interested again. His brand of humor is more offbeat, and involves him singing and playing guitar as well. He’s also what he referred to as a slow talker. This may come somewhat from his classical theater training.
Where I’d been in the nosebleed balcony for Seth, I got a floor seat but off to the side for Nick. He started off with a very funny song about censorship about the venue asking him to make it PG-13. It of course involved numerous curse words. He continued to “work blue” throughout the evening, but I don’t think distastefully so. Like George Carlin, he talked a lot about the meaning of language, and also about the need to be sensitive to the the times and choosing one’s words carefully, especially as a white male. All his songs were pretty hilarious, musical but also had some sly humanistic touches. A couple were about his wife, Megan Mullally from Will and Grace.
Much of his show was also autobiographical — about his growth from a stage actor in Chicago, to doing carpentry, moving to LA, and then getting “discovered” at the age of 38. He also riffed about relationships and made observations about people in his life. He cracked himself up quite a bit and has a funny kind of donkey braying laugh, or maybe it’s more like a goofy guffaw. The sell-out crowd was easily amused and seemed like many were fans who had seen him before. He has a bit of a cult following from his college campus tour and other online activity. His 90′ set was fun and well worth the time spent and the free ticket worth about $50 – $70.
If there’s one thing I learned from both comedians, it’s that old line, “write what you know.” Sure, there is creativity involved, and what’s the nexus for me, aside from liking to laugh as much as the next dude, is that comedy is a written art before it’s spoken (unless it’s improvisation). I sometimes think about how fun it would be to be a comedy writer, until I realize it must be a very high pressure situation. You’re in a room with other writers, and maybe you spend some time working alone, but then you’re at the table pitching ideas, bouncing things off each other. I’m not that fast or funny, so I’m keeping my day job. Once I get one again.
Another point is that they both worked years before they “made it.” And they still have to work at their craft and travel to make money. I think it’s interesting that both guys were fairly self-effacing at times. They are aware of their fortunate status as entertainers and grateful for their fans and their good luck. But again, it was not just luck, it was hard work over many years that continues to this day. Those are good things to remember for your blog, or book, or whatever creative endeavor you work on.
I look forward to volunteering two of the next three nights and reporting back on Friday and Monday what I saw. Hope you’ll tune it to A Dude Abikes! Thanks for reading. Feel free to make me rich and famous somehow by sharing my blog widely.
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