Patton Oswalt, Chelsea Handler, Eric Andre score at Power of Comedy

AUSTIN, Texas — Patton Oswalt, Phoebe Robinson, Eric Andre, Chelsea Handler and others were in fine form Friday night as Variety helped kick off the 2023 SXSW festival and conference with its Power of Comedy event.

The kudos recognize innovators in the business of being funny. Presenters and honorees, gathered at downtown Austin’s Creek and the Cave nightclub, mentioned comedians who are facing a difficult moment as social norms and cultural attitudes shift.

Mike Lawrence, who hosted the second half of the evening, noted that he had to show more ID at registration to get his SXSW conference badge than he had to buy a gun.

“It’s harder to get a festival badge in Texas than it is to get a gun,” Lawrence said. “Go into a gun shop and say ‘I hate Jews’ and you’ll get a gun. Go to registration and say “I’m an artist”. They will question you.”

Eric Andre, creator and star of Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show, has been recognized with the Cult Favorite Award. Andre quickly read the subtext of this category. “I’ve been trapped on Adult Swim for over a decade. I need you to get me out of there. I need to start making more than $300 a week,” he said.

Andre was one of several comedians to point out that there was none other than TV news veteran Katie Couric in the audience. “You’re in the presence of a bloody queen,” Andre told the SRO crowd. “We meet.”

Handler also referenced Couric when accepting the Comedy Icon Award. She briefly recounted how Couric took her to New York for an upscale dinner party with Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn, Charlie Rose and Prince Andrew. “It was a hot evening,” said Handler.

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She was conflicted at the moment about spending time with Allen due to the sexual abuse allegations his daughter Dylan Farrow had leveled against the filmmaker. She took her time, and as Allen put a bite of dessert in his mouth, Handler recalled leaning over to him and Previn to ask, “So, how did you meet?”

Phoebe Robinson, a multiplatform comedy whiz known for TV, sketch comedy, podcasting and standup, was celebrated with the Innovator Award. She pointed to the steep rise Black women comedians are facing in entertainment. She also thanked Variety for the recognition and “for putting me in the back corner. Didn’t we learn anything from Rosa Parks,” she quipped. “No, it’s good to keep myself humble.”

In true comedy club fashion, no sacred cows were spared by those who took the mic. This included the evening’s presenting sponsor, Inspire Brands, which is home to fast food chains such as Arby’s, Sonic, Dunkin’, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jimmy Johns and Baskin Robbins.

“I’ll be brief because I have to accept People magazine’s Chips Ahoy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Comedy Vanguard Award over in the Velveeta Room,” Oswalt said in his opening statement.

Lawrence summed up the sponsorship situation, saying he was chosen for the hosting gig because Inspire Brands “wanted to make sure there was at least one host that looked like they were eating their food,” he said.

(Pictured: Patton Oswalt)