The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival in Austin started off strong this past weekend with headliner Aziz Anzari, co-star of the hit NBC comedy “Parks & Recreation.” Back to back shows on Friday April 18th and Saturday April 19th were sold out at the Bass Theater and Concert Hall on the campus of UT-Austin, showing just strong of a draw Anzari is.
If you haven’t heard of the Moontower festival then you’ll want to pay attention. This is the third Moontower festival after the original in 2012. Moontower is a 3-day event with the goal of bringing top comedy acts from around the world to Austin for a wide variety of types of comedic performances like stand up, improv, sketch and musical comedy. Next week’s lineup of comedians will feature marquee names like Fred Armisen, Hannibal Burress, Maria Bamford, Dennis Miller and Demtri Martin.
The April 19 show was kicked off by Aziz’s opening act, comedian Joe Mande. Mande has worked as a writer for Parks & Recreation with Ansari as well as writing Comedy Central’s The Kroll Show and the Adult Swim show “Delocated.”
Most of the audience wasn’t familiar with Mande but his relatable nature and style of comedy was well received instantly. Throughout his performance Mande would use an app on his cell phone to play dramatic sounds like gun shots to add to his jokes. Joe Mande was a very good opener for Ansari and may have stolen the show for some fans even though his performance only lasted 15 minutes.
It wasn’t more than a few minutes after Mande said good night that Aziz Ansari took the stage to talk to the audience about dating and all the complicated things that come along with it. The South Carolina native and current New York resident decided to confront the issue of an audience taking pictures of him throughout a show by prompting the crowd to take pictures of him at the beginning of the show.
Aziz stood in funny positions in an attempt to give fans what they wanted so that he wouldn’t be bothered by the flashes of cameras for the rest of the show. This proved to be a very smart move as the rest of his 90 minute performance was virtually flash free.
Ansari’s observational comedy was entirely fresh during this performance. He debuted new material with very little recycled bits from his past comedy specials like “Buried Alive” and “Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening.” While this was a nice gesture from Ansari to not rehash material fans were already familiar with it was also a little too experimental.
The entire performance was about love and dating. Aziz had some funny insights into the life of a single person and how people should treat each other when dating. Later he would take aim at couples and admit that he believes that binge watching a critically acclaimed TV show with someone you love is superior to seeing the grand canyon for the first time.
There were multiple moments throughout his performance where the audience clearly didn’t react the way you would think for a drawn out joke’s punch line. Some jokes seemed to drag on too long and had Aziz’s doing repetitive things with his voice or hands.
No old material was used in the first 60 minutes of the show. After a brief break Aziz returned to the stage for a 20 minute encore where he asked fans what older jokes they wanted him to tell and he obliged with several fan favorites.
In a bold move he asked attendees to let him read their text-message conversations with someone they had recently started talking to romantically. This was probably the funniest part of the night for reasons that are too graphic to be said here. Ansari exposed some extremely dirty and over the top conversations that attendees were having and ran with it.
Aziz would later ask a fan sitting in the front row to tell her scariest real-life ghost story. When her story about getting freaked out by her printer randomly printing blank sheets at 2 a.m. flopped Ansari made several jokes about how that was the worst ghost story he’s ever been told and went on about the idea of modern, tech savvy ghosts.
The performance, while enjoyable and a lot of fun, didn’t live up to expectations set by Ansari’s past comedy specials on Netflix and Comedy Central. This was largely due to the first hour of his performance being based on entirely new material. His material about love and dating was far more grounded and less over the top than when he talks about other subjects. The entire performance suffered from a lack of genuinely funny, laugh out loud moments but was still enjoyable throughout.