Moontower Comedy Festival Day 4: S/He Who Laughs, Lasts

The festival ended Saturday, and I made the most of it, even though I had to work my second volunteer shift. The house manager, Katy, texted in advance to remind me to show up. The venue was the familiar North Door, which hosts the One Page Salon I attend most months. After biking downtown. I met up with Katy and the other volunteers, and we went over who was going to do what to get the guests inside and how to help do crowd control. My job was to roam around to keep folks get to their seats, point out if anyone heckled or took video, point to the bathrooms, and just help as needed. Katy and stage manager Cara were both super nice and fun to work with. But that’s all secondary to the main point: I saw some great comedy and had a fun time, and had a few brushes with celebrity, too. Did you hear the one about a dude who went to a comedy festival?

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Moontower Comedy Festival Days 2 & 3: A Funny Thing Happened…

After volunteering for two shows at the Moontower Comedy Festival here in Austin, Texas, I caught a late show, and last night I was back for more. But it’s hard to write about comedy. Repeating some of the jokes might get me in trouble. Photographs during the shows is forbidden (though some jerkholes do it anyway). And asking the talent for selfies is definitely discouraged. What I observed is that comedians are a diverse bunch, they work hard at their craft, have good days and bad like anyone else, and are either brave, crazy or both to do this work. The point is that the audience gets to laugh and enjoy themselves, and that’s what makes it all worth it.

Humor is an Art Form

For those amongst you who may not be fans of stand-up comedy, I would say this, “What, are you nuts?” and also ask, “Would it kill you to laugh a little?” But all seriousness aside, the men and women who take up the microphone to do stand-up, record a podcast, perform improv, comedic songs, tell stories, do impressions, offer some schtick — it’s all telling a story. Maybe it’s written down in some form, maybe it’s just in the oral tradition, but every culture uses stories to explore, create, preserve their culture. And make no mistake, whether one person thinks it’s funny or not, it is an art. Being funny is a tricky business.

The first show I worked was a podcast, Tim Dillon is Going to Hell. Due to my duties as a volunteer and having to get a replacement wristband, I did not get to hear the entire show with well-known New York comedian and interviewer Ron Bennington. But people were laughing a lot, and I was one of them. Both performers had not only creatively assembled words that strung together in unexpected ways were surprising, shocking or just true, but their tone and delivery was just as amusing. That may be obvious but it’s a key point: words can be unfunny if they’re just said. With added inflection, accent, emphasis and so on, boring words can be transformed into humorous ones. And these guys are pros at it. A good part of it was the anger of a New Yorker in Texas, questioning its priorities. You can check them out at links above.

Storytelling is Universal

The Canadians of Comedy was six different comics. As the program notes say:

Grab your Molson and get ready to giver a rip! Hosted by one of the most inventive minds in standup, Jon Dore (Big Questions Huge Answers, Conan). Moontower presents this amazing lineup of award winning comedians: DeAnne Smith (Netflix’s Comedians of the World), K. Trevor Wilson (Letterkenny, Netflix), Nathan Macintosh (The Tonight Show, Late Show), Bonnie McFarlane (You’re Better Than Me) and Kevin McDonald (Kids In The Hall). Eh? Eh! Eh. See why our comedy neighbors to the north are so celebrated.

-Paramount Theatre

I was happy to see the legendary Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall fame. (The show on HBO from 1988-94 was like Monty Python for Canucks. Think less pyschedelia and more dresses.) For his short set — each only got about 10 minutes — he told a story about performing live with another member of KITH, and how everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. The others talked about a variety of things, from their partners, kids, aging, Canada, abortion, diabetes and so on.

Downtown Austin festival banner with Kevin McDonald

At one point I was standing right next to that very Kid in the Hall — quite literally, in the hall. Before the show I was taking Kevin (like we’re on a first name basis now, ha!) up to the green room for about 12 seconds. That was until the staffperson who was house manager butted in and too over. I wasn’t freaking out or doing it wrong — I’m a seasoned festival professional now after two South by Southwests — it was just her job. He’s short, by the way, but like many entertainers seems to get bigger on stage. Better looking, too. (Joking.) I liked all the Canadians, actually.

Afterward I was near a few including Kevin. So I said some dumb words like “Hey, great show!” to which they all replied “Thanks!” and went about their lives. Those were not very satisfying interactions, but it was neat to be around them. They’re regular people just like me except they have money, jobs, wives and lives. Once you’ve been on TV, that changes you. You know how it is when you’re hanging around famous people. You want to say hi but you don’t want to be a suck-up fan harshing their vibe. The best thing to do is maybe not even make eye contact or say anything unless you have to, and if they notice you exist then say hi. I don’t know, just depends on if they’re busy I guess.

I also caught another show at the Fallout Theater, a small venue I hadn’t been to. From an over-the-top husband and wife Christian comedy duo (it was an act) to a wonderfully erudite and sarcastic South African, a hilarious lesbian, a country and western loving hipster, a well-known comedy legend and a local guy, they were all very funny. Despite the small crowd in the small venue, they put on good shows. I bicycled home very late and tired to do my yoga and write, but it was worth it to have a good time and plenty of laughs.

Another Headliner: What a Joker!

On Friday, I got lucky again with the emails from the volunteer coordinator so biked back downtown and got into an otherwise sold-out show at the Paramount Theatre, which with its sister stage the State Theatre, host the festival. I used to go see old movies in the summer there, and still sometimes do, so I’ve been there alot. It’s just a great old venue.

Source: Paramount Theatre

Friday’s show was Sal Vulcano who’s from Staten Island and is on a show called Impractical Jokers. I had not heard of him but his long act was opened by the hilarious Steve Byrne, whom I had seen on television a few times. He’s Korean and Irish, did some great crowd work and added some fake punchlines to the real headlines.

Judging by the audience around me laughing really loudly at almost every thing he said and every gesture he made, Sal was very popular. Their laughter may have made it more funny for me, too. But I thought he was genuinely amusing. Telling stories about his family, dating, irritable bowel sydrome — he seemed believable and relatable. Like Nick Offerman and Seth Meyers, he had a well-polished routine but also interacted with the crowd a bit. I was supposed to see another comic but I’m glad this worked out.

Other Shows I Saw

After that, I caught a few minutes of Eddie Pepitone, an old school “comedians’ comedian.” I wished he had more time to perform and me more time to listen, because he was very good. After not getting into see another headliner, Jenny Slate, I intentionally sought out lesser known folks. Chris Redd is a performer on Saturday Night Live who talked about growing up as a gangbanger in Chicago with his terrifying cousin, who is now in prison. Along with him was a string of other people, and the same at another venue after that. But they were all funny in their different ways, some more than others. Good stuff, and free to me, so no complaints here!

As the night progressed and I got more tired, and without a proper dinner, I found myself laughing less out loud. Maybe the jokes weren’t as funny but also there’s a tipping point for laughing. At some moment, it’s just too hard to keeping smiling and laughing, even if what the comedian is saying is really hilarious. This happened to me once when I saw Louis CK on my birthday. I was front row at Cap City Comedy, before he became famous (and now infamous). He was so hilarious my facial muscles just froze. What’s cool is that afterward I posted something on his bulletin board and he replied something like, “Don’t worry about it man, glad you liked the show, Austin is cool!” I don’t know why this happens to me or if it happens to other people, but life — and the show must — go on.

Source: Paramount Theatre

The last show of my evening had, you guessed it — singing puppets! It was called Fragile Rock (a spin-off of Fraggle Rock from the Muppets). The lyrics were hard to hear over the solid rock trio. With only 20 people left watching, I felt bad for them that they put so much work into it. The two women singing even dyed their hair blue and red to match their puppets. That’s what you call commitment to your art.

Fragile Rock is the world’s only emo puppet band and has starred in their own NPR Tiny Desk Concert. This 8-piece band of puppets, musicians, and singers and comics launched in Austin, Texas in 2014. They are very real and very felt. Fragile Rock’s live shows are wild and unpredictable earning growing media buzz from NPR, SXSW, Nerdist, Yahoo Music, Variety, and many others. Let the Fragile Rock in and prepare yourself for the puppet pain.

-Paramount Theatre

Comedy is Not Pretty

There are lessons for me as a struggling blogger and author of a book-in-progress, who has to figure out ways to pay the bills and find affordable housing in Austin, Texas. (Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! That’s a hilarious joke, if you know about the high rents and 100 people moving here every week). They are these:

  • Comedy writing is difficult; performing it is even harder;
  • Stand-up is a tough master and you need a very thick skin to do it;
  • You have to somehow connect with the audience to get laughs;
  • If jokes don’t land, you learn how to improve them or leave them out;
  • Some things just aren’t funny to some people, but that’s ok;
  • Laughing is univeral, especially if it’s at someone who is different.

I put that last one in to see if you were paying attention. It’s somewhat true that making fun of others is part of it. Which gets tricky in our politically sensitive times. Trump was a frequent and easy target. I think comedy may be the last bastion of free speech in the United States. Sometimes it’s not even that funny, but to reveal truths about our common humanity and the absurdity of modern life on Earth.

People pay good money to hear uncensored, honest and real talk, and humor is a way to address taboos and difficult subjects. And as The Daily Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Saturday Night Live and the late night talk shows have proven, when serious subjects are given the comedy treatment, they’re alot more likely to be heard.

Tired after five hours of comedy, I rode my bicycle home. I’m grateful to the Moontower Comedy Festival for having me be part of it as a volunteer and guest. If you’re in Austin, you may still be able to buy single tickets. If not, many of the comedians have videos and podcasts available on line. Hopefully you can still go have a laugh wherever you are!

Thank you for visiting me on WordPress or at https://ADudeAbikes.com.  Feel free to add your Likes and Comments and to Follow the blog through WordPress if you have it, or by email.  Contact me on the About page with any questions.  Please feel free to Re-blog and Share as long as you give credit and the permalink to this post.


© 2019 A Dude Abikes. All rights reserved.

Moontower Comedy Festival Pre-Show & Day 1: Seth Meyers & Nick Offerman

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.

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Helmets, Schmelmets: Should You Wear a Brain Bucket on a Bicycle?

I’ve been thinking about helmets recently. Ever since eagle-eyed Mike in the bike shop at Sun & Ski Sports noticed mine has a crack in it, the need to replace it has been in the back of my mind. The one I got a while ago has MIPs – the inside slides around and if you make impact is supposed to cushion your brain even more. I got it on sale but full price is $150, and that’s a bit rich for my blood right now. On the other hand, protecting my brain, such as it is, is pretty important. I could make do with a cheaper one. And then I thought, do they really work? Do I need one at all? Turns out, there’s a lot of opinions about bike helmets. I’ll touch on a few and share my own helmet journey.

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A Good Trip with a Natural High: My 37k LSD-Free Ride on Bicycle Day

April 19, 1943 was the first reported intentional use of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), the hallucinogen (which I’ve never tried and am not advocating you do either, but hey, it’s still sort of a free-ish country). Dr. Albert Hoffmann rode his bike home while tripping on acid, Marc in the high bike photos below told me. I looked up the article on Wikipedia, which is never wrong, and found it appears to have some basis in reality. (Also, Good Passover.) I got 4 PRs on this ride, too! Not bad considering knee pain, no clip-ins or kit, and not having been on a fast group ride in many months (which makes you faster). Below are more photos and highlights of my ride. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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Top 5 Ways to Be a Jerk to Your Fellow Bicyclists

If you ride a bicycle anywhere in the world, there are probably some things that we have in common that bother us. This is a totally random, off-the-cuff list based on what’s been happening to me as I bike around Austin, Texas. Although cars and trucks are by far the greater threat to our safety and very lives, we can all do better to be responsible bike riders. So here is my non-scientific list of how to improve your bicycling etiquette.

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It’s Always Earth Day for Bicyclists, but We Need More Butts on Bikes

Official Earth Day is later this month, but in Austin, Texas the 2019 edition is celebrated April 13. The promotional materials encourage people to not drive (even a Prius?), but rather to, scoot, walk, take public transit, carpool if they must take a car, and of course, bike. They even have a bike valet area. A Dude went last year and enjoyed hanging with other ecologically-minded folks. Because whether you bike 10 miles a week or 100, you’re doing something to save the planet. Every bicyclist is an environmentalist. You know what they say, Love Your Mother (Earth)! (Or else!)


Biking Definitely Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

This footprint stinks! One of the sponsors, Applied Materials, is a computer company, and they sure waste a lot of water.

I definitely identify as a tree-hugging, air-breathing, water- drinking, carbon-based life form. But after 14 Years Not a Slave to Cars, I don’t think about it much. So I got to wondering, how much have I reduced my carbon footprint? Probably quite a bit.

One general calculation comes from the European Cyclist Federation in Brussels, Belgium. They claim that for each passenger who travels a kilometer in a car, they are producing 271 grams of CO2. A cyclist uses 21 grams. Add that up, and especially given that cars go alot faster and farther than bikes, it is substantial. That’s significant, but only one measurement.

But is that all there is to the story? No, but in a short blog I can’t delve into all the science. Here’s a great link from People for Bikes, citing numerous statistics on the subject, if you want to geek out on more studies. A number of the stats imagine what would happen if commuters increased their trips by bike and the savings that would accrue, assuming the commuter was previously driving their car. It’s pretty much a no-brainer. Biking is better for the planet. But so what? There’s a lot more to getting people’s butts out of their cars and onto bikes than telling people it’s good for the environment, or even healthy them.

Bike Infrastructure Has to Be Safe and Convenient

Today I met a bus driver who commutes to work by bicycle. He’s doing his part personally and professionally to reduce pollution. For him and others to do that on a regular basis, there have to be safe routes to get there, and those pathways need to be convenient. Even in Austin, as in many less fortunate cities, bike lanes are insufficient, unprotected, not connected, or just non-existent. And of course, two stripes of paint on the road won’t protect you from a shitty driver who’s distracted and runs into you. Some sort of barrier like plastic bollards, street turtles (aka city titties) or even curbs provide more safety.

Notice the bike lane ending, but the cyclists continuing to exist? THIS MAKES ME VERY ANGRY! CONNECT THE LANES ALREADY, DAMMIT! Source: Timelynx on Pixabay

That’s a larger, complicated, costly policy issue. Fortunately, we are starting to see the benefits of two bond elections that added millions of dollars to the coffers for bike lanes, sidewalks, and other traffic improvements. But once that money is all spent, there will still be vast room for improvement to finish the job. It will never be 100% safe to drive a car, ride a bike, or use a sidewalk in Austin. But one can work toward this by advocating individually and collectively.

But back to Earth Day being every day for bicyclists. Right now, the population of US workers who commutes is small. The more people who bike, the more other people will see it as a “normal” activity. A large part of getting bikes on butts is education. Currently, there is a huge gap between those who need that education — both new bike riders, especially kids, and car drivers and the reality, that it’s hard to connect educators with students. Especially given the question of funding and finding available insturctors.

More Butts on Bikes: How?

Bike commuting is in trouble. According to a January 2, 2019 article in USA Today, “Fewer in USA bike to work despite new trails, lanes and bicycle share programs,” from 2016 to 2017, 3.2% less people biked to their jobs. That number comes from the US Census Bureau which does an ongoing American Community Survey. That’s from a high of
904,463 in 2014 to 836,569.

However, according to the League of American Cyclists, which grants the
League Cycling Instructor (LCI) designation, there may be more to those numbers. While big cities like the Bay Area and Seattle lost some riders, other cities like Philly and DC gained them. Explanations could include the rise of ride-sharing, weather, increased car traffic, the low cost of gas, and the lack of significant infrastructure improvements.

“It shows that while we have made investments over the last 20 years” in bicycle infrastructure, “we are still far from having safe and connected networks that make people feel safe biking to work,” said Ken McLeod, the League’s policy director.

Source: USA Today, Ibid.

Let’s Get to Educating and Agitating

Master LCI Instructor Preston Tyree demonstrating a drill.

When I became an LCI last year, I had hoped to find older students who wanted to get on their bikes but were afraid. So far, I have not pursued that as a side business. Nor have I been invited to help teach any classes. Part of that is on me for not marketing myself, but some of it is having the right connections to the institutions and funders that can provide grants and students. It’s my hope that this is something to which I can contribute. Because an educated cyclist is a confident, smart and safe cyclist who is going to be a model for others. And the more cyclists, the better. There is safety in numbers.

Aside from education, the other ingredient is agitation. I’ve done a good bit of that, being awarded Bike Austin‘s Advocacy Ambassador of the year in 2017. As that group rebuilds as an all-volunteer organization, events like Bike to Work Day (May 17, 2019), can help. But there are far more cyclists than members. Everyone who bikes needs to speak truth to power to get more protections for cyclists. Bike Texas is doing that at the state level; I was fortunate to attend their Cyclists in Suits Lobby Day.

But until a massive amount of bike riders learn the rules of the road — and follow them — and band together to be a political force for good, we are likely to remain targets, in the shadows, and an afterthought on the roads. So if you’re reading this here are some questions to mull over:

  • If you cycle, do you belong to your local bike group?
  • If not, why not?
  • If there isn’t one, can you start one?
  • And if you are not a cyclist, or don’t commute because you don’t feel confident or safe doing so, what would it take for you to be comfortable?

If you’re in Austin and want to learn more about getting educated and active, my email is on the About page.

Thank you for visiting me on WordPress or at https://ADudeAbikes.com.  Feel free to add your Likes and Comments and to Follow the blog through WordPress if you have it, or by email.  Contact me on the About page with any questions.  Please feel free to Re-blog and Share as long as you give credit and the permalink to this post.


© 2019 A Dude Abikes. All rights reserved.