AUSTIN – To borrow the words of the great philosopher Ice Cube, today was a good day. The story kicks off on Tuesday with some serendipitous moments only possible at an event like SXSW, where the city of Austin’s innate quirkiness morphs into something produced and promoted with a glossier sheen.
I wandered over to a small lot south of the Convention Center’s chaos in search of food (an enormous thanks to the East Side King trailer for obliging me with the always delightful brussels sprout salad). On my way out of the lot, I stumbled upon a truck emblazoned with logos for Anchorman 2. Not totally out of the ordinary, but I’m always on the prowl for comedy-related swag (Sex Panther cologne, anyone?) so I wandered over to investigate its offerings.
Boy, was I excited and surprised to find none other than Baxter the dog, arguably the star of the film, sitting in a director’s chair, donning a small sailor’s hat and eating bacon. The life we all dream of living.
After feeling more starstruck than I care to admit, I attended a podcast taping for Pete Holmes’s You Made It Weird, which offered a dizzying array of hilarious guests: Thomas Middleditch, Jim Breuer, Matt Braunger, Nicole Byer and Andy Haynes. One high point occurred when Byer illuminated the coded and not-so-coded words casting agents use to ask her to “be blacker.” Apparently casting agents tend to be blunt.
Although most of the taping was dense with hilarity, the discussion closed with a poignant and moving discussion of life after death with Jim Breuer at the helm. All listened in rapt attention, audience and panelists alike, and it was truly a moving experience. Let this be an official recommendation to you: find and download this podcast. You will love it.
The show that followed, Laugh Button presents Gotham Comedy Live, offered a slew of polished comedians and wonderful stories. Take Byron Bowers’s mostly accidental experience taking 2C-I (it’s like LSD and ecstasy in one, for those of you like me who don’t know what the kids are up to these days). Or the always delightfully low-key Nate Bargatze recalling how he was locked out of his hotel room in Montreal recently. Naked. At 11:00am.
The comedian who followed Bargatze was another example of one of those “only at SXSW” moments. Taking the stage for a fast-paced, incredibly tight, and interactive set — a work of mastery — was none other than Sinbad.
After delivering an impressive takedown of Austin’s labyrinthine road and highway system (the reason why Texans drink a lot, said Sinbad), the comedian delved into the vagaries of marriage and dating. Which, of course, prompted Sinbad to ask the female [married] audience members, “What about him bothers you the most?” Bantering and riffing with folks in the audience to solve their problems, Sinbad offered an incredible barrage of advice sure to help anyone stuck in an unhappy situation. Words can scarcely do the set justice, particularly because so much of it was improvised and rooted in spontaneous audience interactions. Ultimately, a set like Sinbad’s was the perfect way to close SXSW’s Interactive conference.
But stay tuned: SXSW Music has kicked off, which means the nerds are replaced by weirdos wearing Aztec-printed onesies and other terrible things.