Thursday, May 10, 2012

Janet Varney

photo taken by Clayton Hodges

One of the cool things about working for Austin Fusion is all the cool stuff I’m able to do, and the amazing people I’ve been able to meet. The coverage for the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival was no exception, and I was able to meet and interview the very talented Janet Varney.

Janet Varney was at the Moontower as part of the sketch group Theme Park. Jessica and I sent over a request for an interview based on her involvement with SF Sketchfest.  She is a co-producer and creator the festival that’s grown to be one of the most talked about comedy festival.  I wanted to get her opinions and insight on Moontower.  All the typical questions you tend to ask when someone has knowledge on a subject you’re writing about.

To my surprise, and joy, we ended up talking about so much more than that.  Yes, we talked about the festival, and if you read the Moontower article on Austin Fusion (link) you would of read her wonderful insight.  We also talked about her new job as the voice of Korra from the Avatar series in The Legend of Korra, her new podcast JV Club.  By the end of the conversation, we (AFM staff) had a woman’s crush on her; she’s just so sweet!

I hope you enjoy, and please check out all that Janet has done.  I promise you won’t regret it.
JV Club Podcast on The Nerdist Network
JV Club Facebook page for bonus material

Keep an eye out for some upcoming projects.  An online show with Ben Stiller’s company, called Burning Love, and her show with dear friend Neil Patrick Harris on The Nerdist YouTube Channel (spoiler, there are lots of puppets)!

 LMM: How has your experience been at Moontower, at our inaugural year?

JV: I’ve been so impressed.  Our festival just celebrated its 11th year, and to be in the first year and it be this smoothly run, with excellent communication leading up to it, it’s nailing everything.

LMM: What was behind starting the Sketchfest?

JV: The whole reason we did the festival was because we had a hard time finding places to perform. We wanted to do a run, but couldn’t afford a theater to rent, so we asked five other sketch groups if they wanted to help with the rent, and promoted it like a festival. What we were doing was unique enough that we got some crazy coverage, and we sold out every show.  The second year we took applications from elsewhere, and had two headliners; Fred Willard and his sketch group, and Upright Citizen’s Brigade. The following year we asked a few more headliners, and it just grew out from there.

LMM: Do you find that people want to be involved now?

JV: Yes. The word of mouth has been really great, and the ripple effect of those involved has been amazing.

LMM:  With listening to so many podcasts, the weeks leading up to it, they all seem so excited to be involved with it.

JV: Yeah, it’s so great. What podcasts are you listening to?

LMM:  Oh man.  Um…The Nerdist, Jordan Jesse Go, Pod F. Tompkast, Marc Maron. I’m listening to like 19.

JV: I’m such a music nerd, and I have some friends who listen to NPR when they drive instead of music, and I envied them.  How can they learn while driving?  I just want to zone out and listen to music.  With the shift towards podcasting, things began to change for me.  Now, I just listen to Radiolab podcast. 

LMM: It’s been great, since I have a desk job, I can listen to all these shows.  Once I finish catching up, I am excited to download a few new ones.  Yours is next on my list.

JV: I’m always shocked when people come up to me and say they’ve listened to mine.  It’s so new, and I know how many other amazing choices they have.

LMM: How has your experience been with starting JV Club podcast?  Did having friends with podcasts help?

JV: It’s been so great.  I recorded so many episodes before I started airing them, and I’m glad I did it that way because it was really scary putting the first episode out.  With the podcast, you’re not playing a character; it’s a raw form of you.  I’m just talking, and if it doesn’t resonate with anyone I can’t blame him or her.  My friends have really helped in this venture; it’s been helpful to see the process on so many different types of shows, and of course dealing with the feedback. The negative comments hurt my feelings, but the positive things have been the most exciting feelings in the world. A few reviews even said they were surprised how well done it was for a first episode, and I appreciate that compliment, but it should be taken off me and placed right on those other people that showed me the way.  Without them, who knows what I’d be doing.

LMM:  All of the Nerdist podcasts are great; you know you’re going to hear something great.  It’s also a great way to be introduced to new comics.

JV: I’m so glad it’s become what we hoped it would, and that it hasn’t been over saturated.  There are so many choices, and there is something to celebrate about that.  That’s something great about the festival, too.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen so much standup, but I really prefer a comedian on a podcast.  It’s not that their stand up isn’t great, cause it always is, but at the end of the day I would rather hear them talk.  What surprises them, when talking to a guest, is more electric than their act on stage.  That’s my best way to get to know a comic.

LMM: When you get to hear them on the podcast, you connect with them on a different level, which makes you understand their standup even more.

JV: I couldn’t agree more.

LMM: I hate to ask the typical question, but with the movie Bridesmaids being such a hit, do you feel it’s a new era for the female comic?  Do you feel there is more pressure to succeed?

JV: I think it has made a huge difference.  It sucks to go to a place, in the middle of celebrating, to be so excited yet worried that the trend will end.  I really hope it doesn’t end.  In a way I feel the pressure that we have to find a way to ride the wave.  We shouldn’t have to feel this way.  We should be able to feel that our work is valued, not because it’s part of a trend.

LMM: Can we discuss your voice over work in The Legend of Korra?  How has that experience been?

JV: I was so excited when I found out I got it.  It’s been so well received, and I’ve never experienced anything like that before.  It’s a great show.

LMM: I had a huge debut.

JV: It’s has a huge fan community, a protective anime fan community who know everything and more about the series.  If you know it, you know it and love it.

JH: I started watching the show, and I wanted to ask, did you have an influence on the visuals of Korra?  I ask because you both have the same striking eyes.

JV: Oh, thank you, that’s very sweet.  No, they had the character totally drawn.  I wish I could say I inspired any of it, because she’s awesome, but they had already illustrated the character. I, by the way, didn’t see any association at all. She’s awesome. I saw the character and was nervous about how to audition.  Oh, right, it’s a voice, and you don’t have to look like this. 

LMM: Is the first thing that you’ve done that’s been so fan oriented?

JV: Yes. This something fans are inspired by and reach out about their love of the show.  It’s the first thing I’ve ever done that… I get so emotional about it.  There is something so pure about it. They love the show, and they love and approve of me.  I get tweets from these fans, “You equal Korra.  Korra equals awesome.  You equal Awesome.” It feels so real, good natured, and positive.  I love that.

LMM: You’ve been doing a lot of new technology, with the online series and podcasting, is it fun coming back to something like Moontower, when you have an interaction with an audience.

JV: It’s been great.  There’s nothing like it. I don’t get to perform live all that often, so getting out in front of an audience, in a different city outside of LA, like Austin is great.   There is freshness here.  The audiences are smart, savvy, there to support; and that’s why people love performing in a city like Austin because they feel like everyone is having fun.  Performing in a city, be it a show or a festival, that supports your craft (comedy) makes such a difference.  The fans make it all so worthwhile.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Moontower Recap

Man, I had such an amazing time this past weekend at the Moontower Comedy and Oddity festival.  It was a great festival for a newbie.  Things were smoothly run, and if there were any issues, they were fixed the next day.  That says something about the staff and how much they care about their participants and performers.

In the course of 4 days I saw some awesome comedians: Jackie Kashian, Chelsea Peretti, Aziz Ansari, Moshe Kasher, Maria Bamford, TX Artist: Paul Varghese, JR Brow, Mike MacRae, Bob Biggerstaff, John Ramsey, 
John Tole, Matt Bearden, Aaron Aryanpur, and Chase Durousseau, John Mulaney, JB Smoove, Theme Park with Oscar Nunez, Janet Varney, Jessica Makinson, Cole Stratton with Special Guest Laraine Newman, and finally the a showcase with Rachel Feinstein, Joe Mande, Chelsea Peretti, Brody Stevens, Brendon Walsh, Sean Patton.

Lots of comedians, lots of different styles, and lots of laughs.
My favorites are Aziz, Moshe, John.  It was amazing to see Maria at work.  She gets so involved and into her characters when she's performing, it's fascinating to watch her work.  It was cool to see JB, I'm not familiar with his standup, so it was interesting to see his style.  We got a chance to talk to Janet, and will be posted our conversation on the 10th to coordinate with the Austin Fusion Magazine Moontower article, and she was so sweet and very friendly.

I hope we're able to continue covering this festival throughout it's growth.  Even though there are quite a few famous comedians, and some that are big in the comedy community (us comedy nerds know them), the festival was very calm and laid back.  We were able to get into the artist/badge lounge each day, and so did the comics.  They were relaxed and open to conversation.  I didn't go up to any (which I would of talked to Marc Maron), but it was cool to know they were there if you wanted to.   Then again, comics are friendly.

Such a great time.  I was sad to see the festival end.  I can't wait to see what happens next year, and especially see the line up.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Laughter is the best medicine.

Oh, so true.
It's been such a great few days with the Moontower Comedy festival.  We have seen some great acts; Jackie Kashian, Aziz Ansari, Moshe Kasher, Maria Bamford, and some good old Texas boys (Paul Varghese, Jr Brown, Mike MacRae, Bob Biggerstaff, John Ramse, John Tole, Chase Durousseau, Maat Bearden, and Aaron Aryampur).

That's one of the cool things about a festival like this.  With so much going on, while it can  be intimidating, you always have options and they are always good.
Yesterday we got out late from the Moshe/Maria show, and there wasn't anything we really could  make, except Texas Stew.  We knew we wanted to cover a local show, with local acts, just didn't know which one.  Man, it was awesome.

It was a rapid fire of comics and bits.  You were exposed to their comedy, and aware of who they are.  It's the beautiful by product of festivals.

I also mentioned yesterday that the festival had some growing pains.  They tackled those issues, being aware of what they were, and corrected them for the next day.  Pretty impressive.  Then again, when you're in a city that has a festival about every 2 months, you are familiar with how best to fix things.  Well done, Moontower, well done.

Today we have our first interview, with Janet Varney.  Looking forward to meeting her and getting an insight into her comic brain.  That's one of the coolest things about comics, they are so friendly and talkative.  I very much enjoy having conversations with comedians.  I hope I can have several throughout the rest of the festival.

For our scheduled shows, whatever happens.  We all have shows we want to see, so we'll let the night shape the road for us.  No matter what happens, it's going to be awesome.

I heart comedy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

If tonight is anything like last night...

it's going to be amazing.

It's so fun being apart of a festival, especially like Moontower.  It's one of those festivals that you know people are there  because they really enjoy the shows they are seeing.  It's like going to a comic con, or any con, in the sense that are you surrounded by liked minded people.

Although, since there are some pretty big names headlining the festival and they are on big networks, you also get the audience members who just know these actors/stand-ups from those shows.  A lot of the times the actor is not the same as the stand-up. 

I also noticed that your topics of conversation tend to revolve around the festival itself.  I never realized this before because I'm such a film nerd that I'm always talking about films.  Granted, I talk a lot about comedy as well, but that's besides the point.  I noticed that last night my conversations were about what comics we liked, what bits where our favorite, even which comics we've seen (which oddly enough sounded like I was bragging).  It makes complete sense though, you talk about what's around you.

So far my experience at the festival has been nice.  It's hard to have an entire feel for the festival after only one show, and you also have to take into consideration that they are going to have growing pains that every first year festival goes through.  Above it all though, I'm excited to be a part of it.

Tonight promises to be just as awesome, maybe even more so.  I have an idea of what to see, as my OCD organized person likes, but I'm also leaving it up to whatever strikes my fancy at the crucial decision time.  That's a brilliant element of a festival, and also their downfall, so many choices!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Today is the Day

Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival starts today.  I'm so excited.  Comedy, yay! 

Our first show is going to be Maria Bamford.  I can't wait.  I remember watching one of her specials, years ago, and I have to admit, I didn't like it.  It's not necessarily that I couldn't get her comedy, I couldn't get over her voice (which I know probably wasn't her real one).  I've grown as a comedy nerd, and I'm pretty sure I can re-evaluate her stand-up routine.  That, and everyone freaking loves her.  If all the people I love, comics and fellow nerds, love her, there's got to be something to her.  I'm excited to revisit her stand-up and hopefully board the Maria Bamford train.

After that, I think we might try to get into Aziz.  I'm not sure, but that's what the original plan that I had mocked up would be.  Of course, we'll discuss it, Jessica-Clayton-myself, and figure out what we want to do, and what we can possibly get into.  (ah, the damn annoyance of festivals)  But, come on,  you know Aziz Ansari is going to be badass!  I've seen a bit of his stand-up and loved it. 

There will be a bit of pressure on me this week, which I don't mind, cause I'm definitely the biggest comedy nerd out of the three of us.  I will be leading the charge on what shows to catch, or who we have make sure we see.  It will be kind of fun to organize the raid for the next few days.  I just hope they like it as much as I know I'm going to.

Let's be honest, though, have you seen the list of comics?  It's an awesome list, any show is going to be badass!

So excited!  I love when work and my nerd traits collide. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A New Chapter

These last two years have been a roller coast ride in life.  So many things have happened, some for the good and a lot for the bad.  I'm still working through the bad elements, and not sure if I'll ever fully recover, but that's okay.  Maybe one day I'll express it on here, it's something that people go through all the time, but it's still being worked out in my head and can't release it.

On the much bright side, things have been great in the career area.
I am now writing for a wonderful online magazine Austin Fusion Magazine.  It's been a great experience and I can't wait for things to continue to grow.

The other "crew" members are awesome and we have a great time together.  It's fun to be around people, it's fun to do things.  It's always a good thing when your co-workers are cool and you enjoy hanging out with them.

It's also been a great writing exercise for me.  I'm used to writing stories, creating this new world with situations and characters.  Now I'm writing interviews and descriptive pieces.  It's not that I'm horrible at it (my April interviews were awesome, if I do say so myself), it's just taken a few articles to feel totally comfortable in my new writing role. 

Viva Latino has also taken on a new life.  We have hooked up with, and will be airing the new season, as well as starting a Fitness Channel.  It should be up and running by this summer, and I can't wait!  The girls at iLatino are amazing, and it's going to be a great venture for all involved.

It's an interesting time in my life, that's for sure.
Looking forward to all that's involved.

Speaking of which, check back this week for recaps of the upcoming Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival.  Austin Fusion Magazine will be covering it (don't forget to read the article in the May issue of the magazine), and I'm so excited!  Comedians!  Awesome.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Happy New Year!
I can't believe it's already 2012. Time seems to be going faster and faster as the years go by. I can't say I'm sad to see 2011 go, but I wasn't happy for it's quickness either.

2011 for me was a year of some very low lows, and some equally high highs.
It's funny how life can tend to do that. Maybe it does that on purpose, balancing out your existence and experiences to help in shaping a well-rounded human being. Or maybe things just happened to happen that way.

2011 set up a very interesting 2012. I know that this year will bring, going to stay positive, some of my best moments. I can feel them coming. I know that this will be the year that things really start growing within my career. 2011 did a good job with dropping some varied projects into my lap, of which I'm stoked! Yet, at the same time, whether I want to admit it or not, I'm afraid that this year might also be the hardest moments of my life. I want to stay positive and think that things will sustain, but I can't be selfish. So again, highs and lows are what is for seen in 2012.

With the shift that my life seems to be gravitating towards in 2012, I feel calm about things. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe more good than bad will occur this year. Maybe it's my avoidance of reality that's kicking in. Maybe it'll be a year of acceptance as well as advancement.

I'm trying not to picture the year, or whatever time increment you want to use, is a positive or negative light, instead I'm focusing on taking things as they happen. It's not that the universe is for or against me, things just happen. Instead of focusing on what will happen, I just need to focus on my present and make sure that I'm happy and doing what I can, when I can.

That is my resolution, after all. To steal Chris Hardwick's line from "The Nerdist Way" (you should pick it up, fa sho!); Don't be a pawn for the darkness. It's a good life philosophy, but one step at a time.
I want to be a better person. Not that I think I'm a horrible person, cause I'm pretty rad, but there is always areas of my life that need to be worked on. All of us have those areas, so why not make a conscience effort to evolve.

Life is evolving everyday, from new career paths to a change in family. The only way you can experience the fullness of life to absorb everything, let it breath within your bones, and then incorporate it into your being. This seems like it would be the logical thing to do, however we tend to let our emotions take control over our thoughts and effect how we react. I'm a very emotional person, sometimes a person who relies on emotional contact, so not making it about my emotions is going to be a challenge. Instead, for every bad thing that makes me want to hide under my blanket for a week, I'm going to focus on the good in my life. It's all about balance.

A life of balance. That's not a bad resolution/goal to strive for either in 2012. I hope I'm able to attain/stick with my resolutions.
It's a new year, anything is possible.