Austin — Thursday’s rambles bring a mellower vibe as we avoid Sixth St. in favor of Congress Ave. Even so, a bucket drummer bangs for tips on every block; none of them are capable of syncopation. The core downtown streets of Austin are lined with narrow two-story brickfronts, some historic, some not, and half of them clubs. Our current fave is Speakeasy, all decked in a Roaring ‘20s brick, bronze and wood-paneled vibe with the nicest club staff. Usually a dance music club, it’s been appropriated for comedy by Moontower. A second level is set up with rows of chairs for viewing shows, but only the front half can hear the show.
We’re here at the L.A. Movers and Shakers show to fill a half-hour before heading to Maria Bamford. The host is classic comic Dom Irrera, still sounding like an entertaining, storytelling Italian-American bar guy. Like many of the comics at Moontower, he expresses nervousness about being in the conservative Christian South. Dom being Dom, he faces it straight on: “Let’s start a show in Texas with three minutes of Jesus material.” Funny stuff on the squabbling of followers after the Resurrection ensues, but as an emcee he fumbles.
Arden Myrin, known for her four years as a MADtv cast member, is near omnipresent on television in a variety of comic roles, the crazy girlfriend among them. Crazy anything, actually. Her neuroses play across her whole body in a merrily tortured way that matches the softly screechy voice. Always a snappy dresser, she waxed on Spanx “a cross between panties and a wetsuit. How exciting for a guys to take a girl home and discover she’s packed in sausage casing.” In between making fun of a stoner on the front row, she stumbles through New York stories (in an L.A. themed show) on the shopper-eat-shopper world of Trader Joe’s and a vendetta against an uncaring subway official that are not quite funny enough.
A true revelation is Brent Weinbach who’s pushing the boundaries of standup. With no separation between this intense guy and the audience, he’s open-hearted yet seditious, as if The Yes Men did stand-up. A highly entertaining guy, he’s sort of a one-man sketch fest and improv show. Weinbach boasts a delicious sense of being not-quite-right-in-the-head that garnered him the Andy Kaufman Award at a HBO Comedy Festival. For most of his set he splits the audience into three parts and conducts us as we do sound effects, at times harmonizing, other times telling a story.
Maria Bamford’s show is nothing short of a revelation and the 1915 Paramount Theater is one heckuva hall, with the excellent acoustics of vaudeville-era palaces, and every inch boasting baroque revival filigree. Look for a separate review on that one.
Back to the pleasant Speakeasy for the last half of the 4 Eyes show featuring comics who wear glasses. Andy Kindler, known for his role on Everybody Loves Raymond, provides the best emcee presence so far, engaging and well-liked by the audience. Billy D. Washington shows a smooth, articulate intelligence of a well-read guy two decades in the business and still at his prime. As an African-American, he presents terrific sly twists on urban expectations: “I freaked this white woman out while I was parked in my car. She started walking toward it and I locked my doors.” A very funny bit layers one fantasy after another on how the roach in his kitchen died.
Dana Gould is headlining at the Stateside on Friday, but tonight he is here sharing his disturbing thoughts and far-left-field conclusions. Turns out, when a chimpanzee attacks live prey, it first breaks the jaw and chews off the hands so the attacker can’t be attacked in return. Then it chews the prey’s genitals off. Gould: “Chimps are so full of themselves. After step one and two, it still thinks you want a piece of him.” Gould’s on a roll ranting about religion, confounded by God as “an implausibly big guy with a long list of grudges” and the reality of Muslim martyr post-death sex with 72 virgins: “The next day, 72 whiny phone calls.”
Dry, obsessive and absurd comedy stylings are usually one of my faves, but I can’t warm up to nitpicky hipster Nick Thune’s long story on trying to find the baby penis in ultrasounds of his wife’s pregnant belly. It’s well past 1 am and the show seems over when Kindler announces a surprise appearance by Jackie Kashian, who warns us she is going to cram 30 minutes of material into eight. Great torrents of sweetly sarcastic words, it’s powerfully delivered, smart stuff. One story takes us back to her high school days where she goes psycho and slams down a kid tormenting her for being a nerdy girl. Kashian hosts The Dork Forest podcast.
» Our chief comedy critic Amy Martin is at Moontower Comedy Festival this week. Keep watching TheaterJones for interviews, reports, reviews and more.