AUSTIN – If parting is such sweet sorrow, than the departure of the Moontower Comedy & Oddity Fest feels a lot like scarfing down Girl Scout cookies while sobbing. “Next year, we plan to make this the second largest comedy festival in North America,” proclaimed one of the organizers proudly, and indeed, I can’t conceive of any reason why such a goal shouldn’t be met. That said, putting an end to the fest’s inaugural year arrived in a power packed explosive comedy punch: the sort of memorable conclusion that required not just one legendary superstar, but two.
First off, improv fans were treated to a goofy, magnificently weird set from make-it-up-as-you-go all stars Theme Park, comprised of Oscar Nunez and Cole Stratton (pictured to the right) and Jessica Makinson and Janet Varney. And that’s where our first legend comes in to play: setting the topics for riffing was none other than Laraine Newman, original Saturday Night Live cast member and founding comedienne of renowned LA improv group The Groundlings. Between sets from the four members of Theme Park, Newman offered suggestions for acted-out stories based on nostalgic tales from her own remarkable background, including meditations on her appearance in the Art Linklater show as a kid in the ‘50s, and trying to locate her teenage daughter in the Coachella crowd without the power of texting. The cast delivered a solid number of creative, hilarious interpretations on Newman’s stories, but I’ve gotta admit, it would have been nice to see the superstar herself take up arms and step into performing character, too.
However, there can be no question about Superstar number two’s control of the room and hot mic abilities. While each and every comedian tapped to perform at Moontower brought no shortage of laughs and individual personality, it’s probably safe to posit that the queen was the one we were all waiting for. And indeed, Wanda Sykes is such a force; a skilled and able performer who couldn’t even be derailed by the unexpected appearance of a giant Texas moth or the near concussion of an audience member, as Sykes sent the mic stand hurtling off the stage to demonstrate a point. Stepping up in the grand tradition of George Carlin and Richard Pryor before her, Wanda has always been especially adept at keeping it funny while keeping it real, and Saturday’s closing performance was certainly no exception to what we’ve come to expect from Queen Wanda.
Let it be said that the woman could probably rhapsodize about unplugging a garbage disposal and create a laugh riot in her wake, while simultaneously making garbage disposal maintenance look like the most desirable task ever. (See also: slyly punishing your children with surprise under leg tripping, Book of Wanda, parenthood chapter.) There can indeed be little doubt of Sykes’s skills at the mic, and crowd working may very well be an as-yet undiscovered strand of Wanda DNA.
In all, the evening proved a wonderful, bittersweet ending to an equally wonderful kick off year for the comedy festival. Here’s hoping the moon(tower) rises again, full in the sky for another year filled with mirth.
photos by Amanda Krauss (@WorstProfEver)