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SXSW Comedy Recap: Days 7 and 8

Though I just spent 60+ hours of a sleepless week watching stand-up, sketch, and improv, I'm itching to do it all over again.
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Despite the dubstep bass filtering through the thin walls of Esther's Follies all weekend -- and despite Saturday's apocalypse-inducing overlap of the final night of SXSW, the end of spring break, and St. Patrick's Day -- we made it through the last two nights of SXSW Comedy, which brought nine stand-up showcases, two podcast recordings, two installments of The Benson Interruption, and a screening of Reggie Watts' remix of Legend.

And on Friday afternoon, there was the Music Video Haters Club, a sparsely attended but still hilarious takedown of some of this year's most baffling showcasing artists (musical visionary Scrillex? Up-and-comer Eminem?) from Scott Aukerman, Mike Lawrence, and Jerrod Carmichael. It's too bad there weren't any VH1 execs in attendance, cause Carmichael's commentary could easily earn him a slot on their roster:

  • On Eve 6, "Inside Out": "Hey, I don't know much about the 90s, is a little girl in a bumblebee suit gonna dance?"
  • On Live, "Lightning Crashes": "I was knee deep in the ghetto in the 90s, so I have no idea who these guys are."
  • On Lionel Richie, "Hello": "This video should be called, 'What the Fuck is Her Major?'"

Next up, a live recording of the Sklarboro Country, the sports-centric podcast hosted by brothers Jason and Randy Sklar. featuring Canadian band The Sheepdogs, comic Ryan Stout, Batting Stance Guy, and a satisfying number of Red Sox-related gags from special guest 'Mark Wahlberg' (did I catch a Youkilis shoutout? Be still, my heart.)

Friday's Benson Interruption welcomed guest Scott Aukerman, who joined Doug onstage to derail sets from the Sklar brothers, Brendon Walsh, and Chip Pope (who was, wonderfully, gifted the nickname "Chip Poprah"). It was a typically absurd hour that focused less on material and more on catching up with old friends, and my only specific note from the show is a quote from Benson: "Coughing is a choice, like being gay or going to a Transformers film." Sure! The weekend's second Benson Interruption, on Saturday, featured guest co-host Brendon Walsh, with attempted sets from Ryan Stout and Louis Katz.<

Reggie Watts closed out his week of shows with an intimate late night screening of Ridley Scott's mind-boggling Legend, re-scored with Watts' own narrative soundtrack. The 1985 classic, which launched a million pre-teen fantasies with a shirtless Tom Cruise, seems like it couldn't get any weirder, but additions like the upbeat ditty "Wine Time" push it over the edge into total WTF-ery. It's not all comedy, though; Watts' slow, reverb-heavy loops perfectly complement the film's stunning landscapes, with perfectly timed crescendos climbing through sweeping, misty shots.

On Saturday, Kulap Vilaysack and Howard Kremer welcomed guest Jonah Ray to the live taping of Who Charted? In addition to counting down top Texas-themed songs and movies, the hosts challenged Ray to identify five notable musicians who share his initials (spoiler alert: he had some trouble). Though you'll be able to hear the episode online soon, some of the more visual gags you'll miss out on include Vilaysack intermittently hurling fun-size bags of Doritos into the crowd, and Ray's increasingly violent takedown of two piñatas (the first containing candy, the second -- you guessed it -- full of Doritos. Someone get SXSW Comedy some of that sweet sponsorship cash, already?)

And, of course, there were the stand-up showcases, which ran all night Friday and Saturday at both Esther's Follies and the adjacent Velveeta Room. Though there were nine separate shows, by Saturday they began to blend together, with breaks between slots eschewed in favor of adding a few more names to the lineups; between the two stages, acts included Kurt Braunohler, Jerrod Carmichael, Chris Cubas, Andres du Bouchet, Cameron Esposito, Matt Fulchiron, Cody Hustak, Louis Katz, Martha Kelly, Jessi Klein, Howard Kremer, Ben Kronberg, Mike Lawrence, Kristine Levine, Mike MacRae, Nick Mullen, DC Pierson, Chip Pope, Jonah Ray, Ari Shaffir, Jason and Randy Sklar, Dan Soder, Dan St Germain, Beth Stelling, Ryan Stout, Nick Turner, Brooke Van Poppelen, Brandon Wardell and Brendon Walsh.

Evenings earlier in the week featured huge headlining acts and themed, curated showcases, but these sets were stacked with some of the newest faces on the festival circuit (like Brandon Wardell, who made his debut at last year's Bridgetown) alongside favorites like Dan St. Germain (an NY Comedy Contest finalist) and Dan Soder (winner of the 2011 New York's Funniest Stand-Up competition), Austinites old and new (like former Funniest Person in Austin winners Martha Kelly and Brendon Walsh, and current FPIA finalists Cody Hustak and Chris Cubas), brilliant writers (like Conan's Andres du Bouchet), soon-to-be TV hosts (Kurt Braunohler, of IFC's forthcoming series Bunk), and current TV stars (Portlandia's Kristine Levine) -- which is to say, the lineups were wide-ranging and insanely strong.

The aforementioned dubstep echo was an ever-present soundtrack to the weekend's sets (and Friday night in particular felt a little rough for everyone), but with the club located at the epicenter of SX activity, a little craziness crossover was to be expected. Most performers chose to ignore the din (which seriously sounded like Skrillex and a high school marching band were holding a three-day jam fest), or call out the utter ridiculousness of the situation: "This is like orientation at the most fucked up community college," said Jerrod Carmichael, gesturing towards the intersection of 6th Street and Red River. "I imagine this is what orientation at DeVry is like."

There were plenty of weekend highlights, like the fact that Andres du Bouchet switched things up and performed different character bits ("Danny Yeahyeah," "Finches" and "100 and Me Percent") for each of his three appearances, the last of which included an impromptu Q+A wherein he earnestly answered audience queries, from "When did you start doing comedy?" to "Why are your sleeves so stretched out?" Then there was Brandon Wardell's Saturday night set, where he took the stage with a posse that included Nick Turner, Ben Kronberg, and hype man DC Pierson, who punctuated Wardell's jokes with his own punchlines.

Mostly, there was the can't-believe-it's-almost-over cloud that hung over the crowd and SXSW Comedy crew as the weekend came to a close. With such a sweet lineup and so many unforgettable moments, I definitely don't regret missing music (unless catching the tail end of Snoop Dogg's performance at the inane Doritos Jacked stage, visible from the comfort of the Esther's patio, counts), and though I just spent 60+ hours of a sleepless week watching stand-up, sketch, and improv, I'm itching to do it all over again. The only thing I'd change? More Murray, please.