Gut? Busted. Knee? Slapped.
From April 12-23, Moontower Just for Laughs Austin comedy festival packed the brightest standup stars into venues across the city. And from famous folks to up-and-comers, we caught a lot of comedians whom you need to know.
Here are our 16 favorite comics of Moontower 2023 and where to find them next.
Slate, whom you probably know from “Parks and Recreation” or “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” has made us feel like we’re about to pee from laughter many times, including at previous Moontowers. During her April 13 headline gig at Paramount Theatre, she worked out new material mined from her life: pandemic road-tripping with her partner, becoming a mother and forming a complicated fixation upon her therapist. Y’know, as you do. Slate’s warmth, wit and elasticity — those weird little voices — made us think, “Is Jenny Slate the millennial Robin Williams?”
Where to laugh next: Slate will film a new comedy special later this month in Brooklyn — stay tuned. Watch “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” streaming or on demand, because it was the Statesman’s favorite movie of 2022.
“Saturday Night Live” alum Jones’ April 18 headline show at the Paramount may have registered on the Richter scale. We’ll email the United States Geological Survey. The irrepressible comic kept the volume at 11 as she flowed through a loose set about lost loves, the virtues of growing up hard (never have we laughed more at the phrase “hot slide”) and her awareness that she’d make a poor lesbian. We can’t describe that last bit, but a hint: Jones has a career in mime if she decides to quit stand-up.
Where to laugh next: Jones’ memoir, “Leslie F*cking Jones,” comes out Sept. 19.
Let’s get this out of the way: Austin owes Rife an apology. The crowd for his April 19 headline show at the Stateside was the worst audience we’ve experienced in our years of show-going. The heckling was so out of control that Rife eventually gave in; the chimps took over the zoo, and apparently a long bar tab. So, do yourself a favor and seek out one of the sharpest new minds in comedy, who also happens to have the sharpest cheekbones in his field. Rife, 27, has gone viral on TikTok for crowd work that sits somewhere between roasting and flirting. At Moontower, we loved his riffs on airline inanity and the ultimate revenge on Instagram trolls.
Austin’s own Blackstone opened up for Jenny Slate. By far, she was the best opener for a headline act who we saw all fest. What’s not to love? Blackstone’s doing her part to keep the weirder world of comedy alive in this city.
Where to laugh next: Follow Blackstone on Instagram (@clara_blackstone). Catch her show, “Good Pollution,” every third Tuesday at Fallout Theater.
We might be biased toward Austin’s own “Saturday Night Live” player — Dismukes went to the University of Texas and cut his comedy teeth in the local scene. You don’t need the hometown affinity to appreciate Dismukes calm-cool-collected standup, though. He might ask the audience if anyone grew up with a goth in the house (it’ll always look like the ghost of a child is haunting your family photos) or hype people up for his restrained performance style. We want more Dismukes, and we want it now.
Where to laugh next: Watch Dismukes on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Speaking of homecomings, “Saturday Night Live” featured player Walker is an Austin native. We caught his short set at an April 20 Antone’s showcase of NYC comics, and we immediately wanted to see what he does next. Watching Walker work felt like supporting your funniest friend, which is probably a good vibe to keep when you’re workshopping new jokes. Walker got the biggest laughs for a bit about his uncanny resemblance to Pete Davidson, a face that you’d think would be a one-and-done from God, he joked. Plus, now Walker has no excuse for not scoring with the ladies, he said — he even has the same job Davidson used to hold.
Where to laugh next: Watch Walker on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Fans of the queer comedy scene know Branum, from podcast appearances aplenty to writing credits on shows like “The Mindy Project” to a role in “Bros,” which he also co-produced. (We’re partial to his 2018 memoir, “My Life as a Goddess.”) A slot on the “Cheers, Queers!” lineup April 19 at The Creek and the Cave reminded us how much we love the pop culture savant’s dry, brainy way with a punchline.
Where to laugh next: Find Branum’s memoir, comedy album and social media feeds at guybranum.com.
It’s not like the “Real Housewives” franchise is a difficult comedy target. The spiky Treyger, though, took the opportunity at her April 19 set at The Creek and the Cave — the same night Bravo spinoff “Vanderpump Rules” aired — to make a case for the franchise’s status as the most outrageous cinema vérité of our age. Par for the hilarious course for Treyger, whom we’ve seen before and would take any opportunity to see again.
Where to laugh next: Treyger co-hosts “That’s Messed Up,” a podcast about “Law & Order: SVU.”
We caught Kearney twice during Moontower, at showcases for queer and New York comedians, respectively. Maybe the “Saturday Night Live” featured player’s brand of boisterous bonhomie hooked you. Their viral “Weekend Update” bit about trans rights should have done the trick. Kearney’s Austin bit about running the kids’ table at family gatherings was irresistible.
Where to laugh next: Watch Kearney on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
English might think he’s becoming a bitter old queen, but the NYC comic’s snarky observations on LGBTQ life on April 20 at Antone’s were sweet, sweet hilarity. For example, his bit about young queer people needing to go back into the closet until they’ve cooked up a personality made us giggle, and so did his insistence that straight girls who go to prom with gay boys have paid their dues to society.
Where to laugh next: Catch English’s Emmy-nominated work as a writer every weekend on “Saturday Night Live.”
You might recognize Rudnitsky from his late-night sets or parts on TV shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” During the showcase of NYC comics at Antone’s, he blew the crowd away with a seemingly off-the-cuff riff on the gulf of expectations between comics and rock stars, using the instruments set up onstage at the storied blue club as props. Rudnitsky’s precisely observed physical comedy might have been the most welcome surprise of the whole fest.
Where to laugh next: Rudnitsky co-stars in two movies this year, “At Midnight” and “The Young Wife.” Follow him on TikTok and Instagram: @jonrudnitsky.
One of the best things about Moontower is watching pros at work. Vecchione is a pro. You just feel comfortable when he’s on stage, despite a haircut straight from the pages of Federal Agent Monthly. Top bit: his joke about the undue burden placed on airline passengers to watch out for human trafficking. They can’t trust you with a shampoo bottle, but they’ll deputize you for that?
Where to laugh next: Watch Vecchione’s comedy special, “The Attractives,” on YouTube.
Lisa Ann Walter
Lisa Ann Walter, who is Chessy from “The Parent Trap” and Melissa Schemmenti in “Abbott Elementary,” was raunchy and warm and downright hysterical April 20 at Parker Jazz Club. She taught us how her whole career was an accident, what it’s like to be a woman in her 50s on dating apps, and about what it’s like to be a mom to teens. We will be laughing about the janitor sweeping cobwebs in her vagina for a long time.
Where to laugh next: ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” just wrapped Season 2; catch up Hulu or other streaming services before Season 3 in the fall. Keep up with her on Instagram (@lisaannwalter) and TikTok (also @lisaannwalter).
— Kelsey Bradshaw