Where the Funny Matters: Down the rabbit hole at SXSW

by Corbett Cummins

For your humble WTFM blogger, South by Southwest was like the rabbit hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Just like Alice, I knew I wasn’t going to find anything normal on the other side, even so I still wasn’t prepared for it.

My brilliant, beatnik inspired plan was to go “without a plan, man.” I knew that a list of bands to see would be too cumbersome, so instead I went with a goal, a goal so impossible and offbeat that I would most definitely fail. The idea being that I would have so much fun not succeeding that it would nullify the failure. Is it obvious that I came up with this idea while drinking vodka cranberries on the oxygen-deprived flight to Austin?

No matter. The point is that I had to choose a goal. So I decided to try to see the famously illusive Janeane Garofalo and eat as much barbecue and Tex-Mex food while trying. With that, it was time to dive down the rabbit hole.

South by South West was not so much a festival as it was a city wide invasion. Ground zero was a 6 block by 6 block square situated right up against the river. The area was barricaded off from civilian vehicles, and it was filled with what seemed like everybody and everything. There were regular people, frat boys, freaks, ravers, hip-hoppers and newscasters. There were barbecue stands, t-shirt stands, taco stands, ticket stands, free beer, free music and free hugs. And all of it was covered in marinade of roots rock with hints of punk, hip hop, pop, and electronica.

There was something for everybody at SXSW

It was 92 degrees in Austin my first day, so I quickly found myself in front on my first Lonestar, the official beer of Texas, which momentarily cleansed me of all of my sins and evil thoughts. Unfortunately, they all came rushing back in when found a poster for the Make Funny Not War Comedy at Esther’s Follies put together by LA’s Comedy Death Ray and Superdeluxe.com.


The irony was almost lethal. I hadn’t been in town for 24 hours and I had already failed in my plan to fail. I mean, there they were, in black and yellow, not just the suddenly non-illusive Jenean Garofalo, but a small army of fantastic comics. Their names called to me, saying “get in line, buy a ticket, don’t get left out… follow the white rabbit, Neo.”

And so, about 40 minutes later, my girlfriend and I found a spot near the front and nestled in for a fine show. The show began with one of Brad Neely’s video clips. Brad Neely is the artist responsible for the Baby Cakes and The Professor Brothers video series that revolve around basically inept people in silly situations.

Neely Comics – Jesus F**king Christ
(with apologies to anybody who ever thought about Christianity)

This is where the rabbit hole started to get deep. After a brief argument about Calculus, we concluded that this would be a 5 hour event. Now even a true comedy junky would flinch at the thought of plowing through a 5 hour comedy show while an entire nation of music swirled outside.

We decided to get a taco and think it over. But we were stopped by a lady at the door who told us that we would lose our seats if we left. We were trapped with nothing but a backpack, a fleece and an open tab to sustain us. So I said the one thing that a guy who wants to keep his girlfriend would say at that moment: “Baby, you don’t have to sit through a 5 hour show.” And with a parting kiss, she was gone. I dove back into the show. Now I probably could have worried about my girlfriend, but she’s a big girl. Besides the comedians were really good and as of yet the only thing I had to eat was beer. So I wasn’t worried about much at all. At least I don’t remember worrying anyway. In fact, the only memory I have are these video and the text messages I received from my girlfriend.

Matt Braunger makes us think about bathroom stalls

After watching Matt Bruanger, I received this text: “Jst 8 th bst taco ever! How R U?” I didn’t want to say that I was laughing at bathroom stall jokes, so I just said that I was fine and the show went on.

Eugen Mirman takes on stupid stereotypes

During Eugene Mirman’s set, I received this text: “Met cool local, heading 2 Irish Pub for Guinness. How R U?” At first I tried to send a text about elevators and wolfcats, but decided against it and just said that I was fine. And the show went on.

Morgan sees eye to eye with a teen tragedy on Maury Povich

During this set, I received a text from my girlfriend saying that she was backstage at a club 2 blocks away. I actually wrote a reply that said “Dnt’ sex 4 cheezbrgr” but couldn’t bring myself to send it. I just said that everything was fine and the show went on.

Reggie Watts does it like only he can

During Reggie Watts’ set, my girlfriend sent me a text asking what I was watching. Since there is no way to describe Reggie Watts over text, I just said I that everything was fine. And it was, because Janeane Garofalo was coming up.

Janeane Garofalo is very embarrassed by evil doers

After Janeane Garofalo, I was about to text my girlfriend to tell her that I had completed my mission, but then I realized that there was still over an hour of show left. I had laughed so much that my lungs hurt and didn’t send enough oxygen to my brain. Again, I texted her that everything was fine and the show went on to the final performance by a music comedy group called Hard N Phirm, who closed out the show with a beautiful bilingual number.

Hard n Phirm later rocked out with the Mexican Institute of Sound

After speaking with some of the producers, I shuffled off, spent, defeated and happy, and went to find my girl, who I think was on stage with R.E.M. at the time. She won’t admit to it, but I think she is trying to spare my feelings. We then drove to one of Austin’s many superlative 24 hour dining establishments and sat down to the best plate of nachos the world has ever seen. As the concoction of cheese, chicken, chilies and chips revived me, I realized it was still only Friday. I was as far south as I had ever been, and there was a long road still ahead of me.

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  1. Posted March 31, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Glad you dug the show! Love the blog, and yr station!

  2. Posted March 31, 2008 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    “Who’s got pills?”

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