Splitsider

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Keeping Moontower Weird: Inside Austin's Youngest Comedy Festival

I started my weekend by watching a grown man fit a fake vagina over a microphone. Let me explain.

The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival in Austin, Texas was in full swing this April 23-26 for its third year in a row. This festival is the place to be; not just because I do comedy and live in Austin, but because Moontower celebrates comedy as a whole, it lifts up the local Austin comedy scene, it recognizes the unique oddities that exist in the brains of comedians, and best of all — they gave every performer a Fleshlight in their welcome bag. Unfamiliar with the Fleshlight? We’ll return to that in a bit.

This comedy crusade was started three years ago by festival director, Lietza Brass, and talent bookers (as well as Capitol City Comedy Club co-owners) Margie Coyle, Rich Miller, and Colleen McGarr.

When asked what the impetus was for starting yet another festival in Austin (a place where we have festivals for everything from kites to ice cream) McGarr said, “We’ve always wanted to have a full-on comedy festival in Austin, not comedy as a side tent.”

Of course, the well-known South By Southwest (SXSW) festival is growing in its reputation for having a stellar comedy line up each year touting talents like Sarah Silverman, Scott Aukerman, and Reggie Watts. However, SXSW is also known for booking hardly any local Austin acts.

McGarr wanted to make sure that was not the case with Moontower. “It’s really important with something like a comedy festival that you have to put it in a city where there is a great local comedy scene and that there’s a very high caliber of local comedians and that they’re supported and are given tons of stage time. That’s the best way for them to grow,” explains McGarr.

Speaking as one of those local comics, we get to be billed next to some pretty insane talent. Of course, in sticking to the theme of ‘oddities’ a show might be opened by Puddles Pity Party, who is a 7-foot clown that sings pop songs in operatic melody, but the rest of the line-up might also include Fred Armisen, Maria Bamford, Mike Birbiglia, Demetri Martin, or even a Kids In The Hall reunion for chrissake! With over a dozen venues, four full days of shows, and a couple hundred comics to watch, it makes for a whirlwind of a weekend.

I think it’s important to pause and take a looksie at why comedy festivals are worthwhile. Sure, they are great for fans. All of your favorite funny people gather in one place to do a veritable aerial act of comedy as they fly from venue to venue performing under a Big Top of badge holders. But why do the performers do it? You generally have to pay a submission fee, hopefully get accepted, pay your airfare, pay for a hotel, hope you get more than one show that’s in a decent time slot…and for what? Networking? Hoping that someone ‘important’ will let you perform at their Chuckle Hut in Ohio?

I asked this question to New York City comic, Nick Mullen, and he explained it perfectly, “I don’t network when I’m here, I just talk to my friends. It’s rare that we all get to be together and that we all get to feel important. Of course you might meet someone who can give you an opportunity, but it’s also just for the people of the town. And honestly, festivals are better than doing a week in some random city by yourself where you just hang out in a hotel room alone until showtime.”

Having been around a festival or two, including the Just For Laughs Montreal Comedy Festival, I asked Mullen how Moontower stood apart, he said, “I feel like this festival is the perfect size, and it has a great line up. Montreal is just too big, it’s overwhelming. Plus it’s in Canada, that’s no fun.”

“We’re only in our third year,” explains McGarr. “I don’t like getting into comparisons with other festivals because I think that a comedy festival has to reflect a town and the people that it’s held in.”

Which is fitting that Austin’s ‘Keep It Weird’ slogan seems to go hand in hand with the ‘oddies’ portion of the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival – it also helps to explains a lot about comedians in general. “Comedy is kind of odd,” says McGarr. “There’s a natural oddity to it…It’s a bizarre way to make a life. It’s a lot more complicated and there are a lot more sacrifices than people are aware of.”

Maybe it also helps to explain why every comic received a Fleshlight in their welcome bag. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the Fleshlight.

Austin is known for many things, but one of our claims to fame is being the hometown of the Fleshlight. This device, for lack of a better term, is known as a ‘pocket pussy’…but it looks like your run-of-the-mill flashlight. Hidden inside, however, is a perfectly ribbed, textured, and pressurized device for which you can insert a penis. The subsequent actions are up to you.

While it was extremely kind of the makers of Fleshlight to donate one of these “Stamina Training Units” to all of us lonely comics for our time on the road…it did leave a bit to be desired for us ladies. I could go on a tangent about how comedy is a perpetual boys club, and the dualities of acceptable sexual proclivities in what is considered the ‘norm’ for a male while the needs and considerations of the female sexual being continue to be overlooked and/or shunned. However, I am mostly just glad that I got one, too. It makes a very handy beer coozie.

Of course I’m not the only one utilizing these Fleshlights as props beyond their intended purpose. It’s just like that story, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…”, but if you give a gaggle of comedians a pile of pocket pussies one of them will end up being Kurt Braunohler deconstructing the Fleshlight, and proceeding to encase his microphone in the malleable, fleshy substance in front of an audience of shocked strangers. Sure, it was a little odd. But I guess that’s the point.

Katie Pengra is a comic in Austin, TX where she recently graduated with her MA in New Media Journalism. She is the producer of the Do Good Work Podcast – you can learn more about her at KatiePengra.com.

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