Moontower Just for Laughs Comedy Festival mixes legends with rising stars

Logan Dubel, Senior Life&Arts Reporter

When Andrew Murphy moved to Austin after high school, he said he had no plans. In the spirit of his new city, he started working at a meat market, where in between chopping the daily pick, he grew close with a “curmudgeon” coworker who took up side gigs as a comedian. 

Murphy’s butcher’s block colleague told him he was funny and encouraged him to try stand-up. A decade later, Murphy, now a local funnyman, prepares to return to Austin’s Moontower Just for Laughs Comedy Festival alongside some of the biggest names in show business. 

“I started in 2015 or 2016, and it was a humble little festival,” Murphy said. “It was a blast and had a lot of big names coming through. Now, I’m a little bit more established, and it’s cool how I’ve been able to meet a bunch of comics I’m already a fan of. … It’s a really heartwarming thing to be a part of.” 

The festival began as a four-day event in 2011 but expanded to 11 days in 2021 after partnering with Just for Laughs, the world’s largest comedy festival brand. The endless joking started last week at the Paramount and Stateside Theatres with celebrity headliners and local talent. 

“Austin has a vibrant comedy scene, and it gives us a chance to mix locals into the crowd of bigger people,” said Javier Ramirez, director of marketing for the festival and a 2015 UT advertising alum. “They’re used to playing clubs, but we get them in front of 1,200 people. The talent is there, but I’m just so happy to have them all in one place.” 

This year’s lineup includes Jenny Slate, Leslie Jones and Howie Mandel along with Murphy, who recently received the title of Austin’s Funniest Person. In addition to performances at the Paramount and Stateside as well as ACL Live and clubs, the festival offers various community gatherings from a golf tournament to drag shows. 

“What’s cool about Moontower is that comedians call us a summer camp,” Ramirez said. “They’re always traveling and get to feel like this is the time they get to hang out. Our after parties are filled with comedians swapping stories and jokes. We’re one big family.”

Moontower also opens doors for people aspiring to join their funny family. Sylvia Hansen, a radio-television-film senior and member of UT’s long-form improv group, SNAFU, attended Jenny Slate’s act and said seeing the star in action and testing new material humanized the craft of comedy.

“It’s cool to see the bigger comics in a smaller place and see their process when they’re in a vulnerable position,” Hansen said. “Sometimes I assume (bigger comics) just step on stage and have their whole set polished, but that’s not the case. It’s great that Austin has this, but while it’s an opportunity to see a big comic, it also brings attention to smaller ones.” 

After many years of laughs, Murphy said every festival promotes a new chance for discovery. 

“(Moontower) gets better comics, and it gets more people who are looking for actual talent and voices instead of just fun comics, which is an important distinction,” Murphy said. “This year, I’m excited to see who gets a bump from this, like if someone gets signed or more attention. On top of having a good time, it’s really cool to see the community and people that I love and care about get a bump.”