The Meltdown Show with Jonah and Kumail is irrefutably one of the best shows in Los Angeles, recently earning the #1 spot in LA Weekly’s Top 10. It boasts consistently killer lineups, great crowds, plus, you’re almost as likely to run into “industry” as you would at the Improv. It’s a popular ticket for audience members and a sought-after spot for comedians. It’s also managed to move into a space of cultural significance that transcends all of that.
In two short years, it’s become a landmark in Los Angeles’ live stand-up scene. A very specific kind of landmark; almost a monument to the future of comedy. Also, like every unexpected success, it’s helped give a boost to everyone doing something similar and spawned numerous imitators.
Meltdown certainly wasn’t the first show in LA to take place in an “odd” venue (it takes place in a small room in the back of Meltdown Comics on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood). Comedians want stage time and will create their own space to get it. As comedian Kyle Kinane puts it, “Comedy’s like a cockroach thing – everywhere has [comedy nights], or has had them. You can just drive around like ‘Yeah, that had a show, that had a show, that had a show…’” However, Meltdown did come along at the perfect moment and created the perfect show in the perfect location. It has hit the sweet spot of talent, appeal, buzz and reputation that has made it a force to be reckoned with.
It started as a monthly show with a kind of cult following, and then, gained enough momentum to move to weekly. From there, it just kept growing. The move to weekly coincided with a mass migration of a certain type of New York comedian to LA and Chicago. These “certain types” were New York comics used to the thriving in a varied New York scene. They had the chops to make the experience of a show in the back of a comic book shop seem every bit as important as one at a big comedy club (but kind of cooler). The fact that it’s conveniently located just a short hop from The Big Three clubs doesn’t hurt in attracting the industry types. They might think twice about driving all the way to Los Feliz or Silverlake to see the comedian that their assistant called “The Next Big Thing”. When Nerdist Industries took up residence, bringing a variety of stand-up/theater/podcast/uncategorizable performances to the gallery on Thursday through Tuesday, that pretty much cemented The Meltdown Show’s dominance in comedy and pop culture at large.
Thanks to The Meltdown educating Angelinos that “yes, there is a show over there in the back room… and it’s good,” shows in other unlikely spots now have the opportunity to thrive. Holy Fuck has followed quickly on Meltdown’s heels, bringing a similar mix of talent and buzz to the downtown scene. The trend seems to be more than a passing fad. So who’s next? AmericasComedy.Com spoke with producers of three of the shows that seem to have hit on the kind of alchemy most likely to make theirs the next “Must See Show.”
If you thought a comic book shop or an old movie theater was a weird place to have a comedy show, how about a sex toy shop in West Hollywood? That’s where the very popular Performance Anxiety takes place every second and fourth Tuesday night at 8 pm. And, no, the space doesn’t become a giant elephant shaped vibrator in the room. The performance area is curtained off; though browsers do sometimes interrupt the show to get to the tiny thongs and costumes housed in that corner. Also, the choice of space helps weed out the squares. As Kinane points out, “If you’re already sitting in a sex toy shop, then you’ve gotta be a pretty open minded person.”
Founded in April 2011 by Eli Olsberg and TJ Miller, the show consistently features a mix of top level comedians and some newer faces that can actually bring the funny. Olsberg is enormously grateful to the venue for being so supportive of their show, even when its initial strong few months were followed by a period of anemic audiences of only 30 or so (and one night when there were more comedians than audience members). “They always want to make sure we’re happy when, ironically, we just want them to be happy,” stated Olsberg.
And, of course, it’s the lineups, stupid. Olsberg mentioned, “We’re also very lucky because we’ve got TJ on board. So, we can get a surprise drop-in; someone who notoriously won’t do any other shows. They’ll come by because he asked.”
Venice Underground is exactly as promised in the name – it’s in Venice and it’s underground (in the downstairs former speakeasy part of The Townhouse) every Wednesday at 9 pm. Co-produced by Bronston Jones and Matt Devlin, it brings a rowdy, drunk beach crowd in to laugh and heckle some of the best comedians in LA since July 2011. The first thing Kinane recalled about his recent performance there was that “you could tell they got the Venice drunkards. It’s nice to get up in front of a different crowd in your own city. Beach drunks are different than cynical downtown drunks.”
Jones credits everyone involved with the success and endurance of the show, “We had unbelievable comics who were willing to support this room in the beginning and then the people of Venice just started hearing about it and 7 months later, we barely have to promote. People just know in Venice, ‘oh, it’s Wednesday, go down to The Townhouse to see some comedy.’”
Jones cites LA comedy promoter Jay Davis as his inspiration for building a show with such strong local support that the one year anniversary had to be split into two sold-out shows. “Jay Davis runs great shows. They’re unbelievable! The lineups are incredible, and they’re packed like crazy because he doesn’t fuck around.” Devlin and Jones wanted to bring this same kind of quality experience to their own neighborhood, “It’s local support; it’s local love. We’ve had [audience members] who have been there 30 times already because they’re seeing the best in the business. They’re getting a comedy education and learning the styles- like what kind [of comedy] they like.”
The youngest – and possibly oddest – show of the group is at Best Fish Taco in Ensenada (deceptively named, it’s located on Hillhurst Ave. in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles), held the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7 pm. It’s got a very different vibe from any other venue in Los Angeles – it takes place under the thatched-roof cabana outside of the popular taco shop and feels a little like a comedy show broke out at someone’s really awesome backyard fish taco barbecue.
The first show was in December of 2011, and it got an immediate boost on its sophomore outing when Demitri Martin, who lives in the neighborhood, walked by and asked producer Jeremy Burke if he could do some time. That word-of-mouth spread like wildfire through the neighborhood, attracting many of the local resident comedians and a consistent crowd of over a hundred people looking to have fun at a comedy show.
The happy and generous crowd is what will likely give this show its staying power. Kinane’s voice is full of a little bit of wonder and awe when he says “I don’t know how he does it… get out a great crowd like that.” Burke thinks that it’s a combination of the neighborhood and the show structure that keep the core regulars coming back for more and fresh blood coming in every time. “Well, it’s free and it’s BYO, and everyone who performs is funny. So, everyone is just genuinely happy to be there. Plus, it still feels a little secret because we don’t promote heavily. People in the neighborhood love comedy – everybody loves comedy, but not everybody wants to go to a club to see a comedy show. This is the show that attracts those kind of people.” Kinane adds “So many comics live in Los Feliz, and it’s a walking neighborhood. So, you’re just like, ‘Oh, let’s see what’s going on down here… a free show at the taco shop? Let’s go!’”
What Makes a Good Show?
Kinane expanded on what he thinks makes a good show. In general, “A separate room always helps. I don’t like the idea of surprising people who are already there. Get decent lighting and sound so it looks like something. Keep it to an hour, hour and a half tops.” He then added to our list with some of his other favorite shows around town: PowerViolence, Hamclown, Keep it Clean at Public House, and especially, French Toast at Taix. “I just feel comfortable there,” says Kinane about French Toats at Taix, “I can try new material. I think that’s an underrated room with a good lineup and a great little spot.”
All of these shows seem poised to make the leap to the next level. On the contrary, maybe a dark horse like Taix or a show that hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet will swoop in and grab the brass ring. Of course, for every one of these great shows in odd locations, there’s some terrible shows making angry drunks even angrier. As Kinane says, “I love that you can do a show anywhere, [but it] doesn’t mean that you should.”
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About the Author: Amy Hawthorne is an LA-based stand-up and writer and the founder of ComedyGroupie.com. She is convinced that the food industry is being unduly influenced by Big Avocado.