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Moontower Comedy Fest exceeding attendance expectations

Gary Dinges
gdinges@statesman.com

The first-ever Moontower Comedy and Oddity Fest is already "off the hook," said Jim Ritts, executive director of the Paramount Theatre, far exceeding organizers' expectations for attendance.

The four-day event kicked off Wednesday and continues through Saturday, featuring more than 100 local and national standup comedians, according to Ritts, and is expected to draw as many as 20,000 people to 11 venues scattered around town.

"We started off better than we ever imagined," he said Thursday. "People are telling us, ‘The vibe of this thing is like you've been here for years.' "

There's no doubt, Ritts and others said, that Moontower will return next year.

There have been a few small snafus, though. The line to get into a show by big-name comic and "Parks and Recreation" actor Aziz Ansari Wednesday night at the Paramount stretched two blocks, prompting Ritts and others to tweak ticket-taking procedures.

Still, attendees' reviews on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been almost universally positive thus far. Comics, too, are impressed.

"I've been to about 10 comedy festivals in my life, and even in the first year this is the best one by far," said Matt Bearden, a regular on Austin's comedy scene who has multiple shows this weekend, including one at 10:45 p.m. today at the Mohawk, 912 Red River St.

At the Paramount box office Thursday afternoon, a steady stream of ticket-holders stopped by to pick up single-show passes and multishow badges, which are still available and start at $129. Nearby, a crew from SiriusXM satellite radio's comedy channel was broadcasting from a makeshift studio set up on a folding table adjacent to Congress Avenue.

"I'm loving it," said festival-goer Russ Espinoza of Austin. "It's a chance to see some really great, old-school alternative comics."

In a city better known for its music festivals, several comedy fans said they were heartened to see comedians get some love, too.

"There's a really good comedy scene in Austin, and I want to support that," attendee Don Swaynos said.

"Live music doesn't excite me," Sarah Salazar said outside the box office. "ACL doesn't excite me. Standup is my thing."

Austin comic Jonathan Pace called the level of local participation "stellar." He's set to perform at 8 p.m. today at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research Blvd.

"I've been doing this six years, and in that time our comedy scene has doubled in size and really grown in quality," Pace said.

While big-name acts such as Ansari, Wanda Sykes and Seth Meyers have generated the most buzz during the festival, Bearden hopes folks will stop and see Central Texans on stage, as well.

"It's really opening up the idea to a lot of Austinites that there's a great scene right here," he said. "Go ahead and take a chance. Go see some of the names you don't recognize."

Contact Gary Dinges at 912-5987