The festival has changed dramatically from its 2012 origins, when it was a Kickstarter-funded party to celebrate the Los Angeles independent comedy scene away from the watchful and stressful eye of The Industry. Since then, RIOT has grown to include flashier headliners, booked more mainstream comedians and considerably more out-of-towners, and has placed more emphasis on existing themed or branded shows rather than general showcases. Many of the original touches remain, though, including The Lot, a centrally located vacant lot that is transformed into a comedy carnival, complete with an outside stage, food, drinks, a photobooth, and skeeball.
With all that happening, there’s a lot to choose from. here’s a handy cheat sheet to get the most bang for your Superfan pass bucks.
Every festival books a couple of big headliners to draw in the crowds, but this year’s RIOT festival is overstuffed with them! From monsters of stand-up to massively popular podcasts, RIOT’s got them all.
The biggest of the big names take the spotlight Friday night with a very interesting juxtaposition of shows. Gilbert Gottfried, one of the quintessential mainstream club comedians of our time (and certainly one of the most recognizable voices in pop culture) headlines two shows at The Downtown Independent. Meanwhile, the Ace is hosting David Cross, one of the godfathers of the original alternative comedy movie and a continuing fan favorite thanks to his multiple groundbreaking television series. Rounding out Friday at The Ace are a trio of comedians who have nothing in common besides a lot of talent and two X chromosomes. Natasha Leggero, Maria Bamford and Janeane Garofalo cut across styles, scenes and generations, offering an almost perfect Sampler Pack of comedy.
Saturday night takes a turn for the weird, wild and completely delightful. Sadly for you, T.J. Miller’s show is already sold out. You’ll have to get your dose of one of the greatest and funniest weirdos of our time somewhere else (might we suggest his recent appearance on Colbert). So is Bridget Everett’s 10 pm show at The Regent. If you aren’t familiar with the Bridget Everett experience, imagine a 1970’s Bette Midler mixed with a 1980’s hair band and a 1990’s Jersey Shore castmember and you’ll still be completely unprepared for the musical rollercoaster of a night that one random gay man at the New York Comedy Festival said “made me feel like a prudish schoolmarm!” If you didn’t plan ahead, you’re in luck because James Adomian and Anthony Atamanuik will be presenting the West Coast premier of their insanely popular and totally awesome Trump v Bernie debates.
RIOT sure isn’t coasting to the finish line, with another strong slate of big name shows closing out Sunday. Brody Stevens brings his trademark #positivity to The Smell at 7:30. Brody is a Comedian’s Comedian, one of the most loved acts in Los Angeles. He’s best known to the public for his Comedy Central series Enjoy It and via his massive online following, including as one of the most popular personalities on Periscope. At 9, Ron Funches brings his sweet, cuddly stoner brand of awesome to The Downtown Independent. You may recognize Ron as the unofficial King of The Internet (aka reigning champion of @midnight) and he’s has been killing it as one of the quick-witted ensemble cast of Undateable Live. Also at 9, Five Star Bar is hosting Jermaine Fowler Laugh Fiesta. If you’re a huge comedy nerd, you’ll recognize the play on Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival…and you’ll also recognize the festival level lineup of James Adomian, Nicole Byer, Dan St. Germain, Lil Rel Howery and Hugh Moore.
In keeping with the festival’s Los Angeles roots, this year features special editions of a number of the city’s most popular weekly and monthly shows.
Saturday, 11 pm at The Downtown Independent. Continuing its reign as the coolest show in LA, Roast Battle returns to RIOT for the second year, this time upgrading its digs to the main theater. While it’s difficult to translate the chaotic circus vibe that makes the LA flagship stand out from its cross-country franchises and imitators to a theater space, nothing will put a damper on the sharp-tongued writing that will be on display from main event competitors Sarah Tiana and Guy Branum and judges Joe DeRosa and The Sklar Brothers.
Sunday, 5 pm at The Downtown Independent. Hosted by Brandie Posey, this show that asks professional graphic designers, artists and animators to illustrate a comedian’s act in real time is a long time favorite for comedians and audiences alike. The interplay between the words and pictures creates a one-of-a-kind experience that’s sure to be memorable thanks to the varied lineup of Eddie Pepitone, The Puterbaugh Sisters and Ron Funches
Sunday, 5 pm at The Lot. This dog-themed show is presented in partnership with Best Friends Animal Society, who will receive a portion of the admission proceeds and are holding a pet adoption event in The Lot throughout the weekend. But you don’t need to be a dog owner or even a dog lover to enjoy this show that features the strong talents of Janine Brito, Baron Vaughn and Jake Weisman (who shhhh prefers cats).
Saturday 3 pm at The Downtown Independent. MST3K meets old school hip-hop when Al Jackson, Joe Derosa, Tone Bell and Moshe Kasher present, then dissect, wax poetic about and riff mercilessly on the music, lyrics, videos and style of the era that made hip-hop mainstream. It’s a treat whether you’re taking an irreverent trip down memory lane or you’re so young this feels like a very cool History class.
Saturday 7:30 pm at The Smell. Moshe Kasher and Kyle Kinane should be more than enough to convince you to check out this show. But even if Hunter Hill and Flula Borg aren’t familiar names to you, this show has a reputation for featuring some of the best and brightest unknowns so just consider that they aren’t familiar yet.
The headliner shows may bring the flash, buzz and badge sales to a festival, but the showcases are its heart and soul. The collection of showcase comedians this year are so strong that you’ll be picking a winner with any one of the shows, but here are a few highlights you may want to make an extra effort for.
Saturday 7 pm at Five Star Bar. Hands down, the showcase packed with the highest density of talent, this show proves that the square states can turn out more than just corn and cheese. Hosted by E!’s Michael Kosta, it’s co-headlined by two exceptionally talented comedians who are still inexplicably not household faces – frequent Onion contributor and @midnight social media master Dan Telfer and Doug Stanhope’s go-to opener Junior Stopka. Megan Gailey, Joel Kim Booster, The Puterbaugh Sisters, and Michael Palascak round out this tremendous show.
Sunday, 7pm at The Downtown Independent. Honestly, even if this show were not packed with some of the best young talent in NYC, I’d recommend you go see it for the sheer joy of watching Eddie Pepitone host a show. The Bitter Buddah, given nine chances over two hours to come out amuse, delight and berate you? Sign me up. The in between is pretty great, too, with a troupe of Comedy Cellar regulars (Sam Morril, Liza Treyger, Phil Hanley, Ricky Velez and Alingon Mitra) joined by the inventive Jo Firestone and rising hotshots Kyle Ayers and Joe Pera.
Saturday 5 pm at Fusion Stage. Despite the fact that this show has been consigned to an early evening timeslot while the sun will still be out, it will certainly be a highlight of the fest. Baron Vaughn and Open Mike Eagle present a group of the hottest comedians in one of the hottest categories in comedy and pop culture at large right now – black nerds. If the label “alternative comedy” has become so stretched out, overused and misused as to be meaningless, “black alternative comedy” is somehow both a more useful and entirely less specific moniker. Kind of like people use “urban” as a euphemism for “black,” “black alternative comedy” has come to describe a style that’s alternative to the traditional urban scene and therefore more accessible to a non-black audience, which is kind of just the definition of “mainstream”. After all, Baron, Candice Thompson, and Jermaine Fowler are bicoastal club staples, while Phoebe Robinson and Solomon Georgio are much lauded heavyweights in the independent comedy scenes of New York and LA, respectively. Langston Kerman and Ed Greer are no slouches, either.
Saturday 10 pm at The New Jalisco. Austin gem Chris Cubas hosts this packed-for-primetime showcase that features a bunch of comedians best lumped together as “hot shit.” LA’s wunderkind Jak Knight is joined by two of the city’s edgiest rising hotshots – Marcella Arguello and Rob Christensen. New York makes a strong showing, too, with master of the clever one liner Sam Morril, bittersweetheart Megan Gailey and party girl philosopher Liza Treyger. And if Sabrina Jalees’s talent and charisma doesn’t make you swoon, you aren’t a human being.
Saturday 10 pm at The Lexington. Karl Hess hosts headliner Andrew Santino, arguably the hottest ginger in comedy right now, with roles in the upcoming film The Disaster Artist with James Franco, Jim Carrey’s 1970’’s stand-up drama I’m Dying Up Here, and a fresh Comedy Central album and Half Hour special out now. Plus, charmingly low key Phil Hanley adds his special brand of fourth-wall-breaking humor to the evening.
Sunday 6:30 at The Lexington. Junior Stopka and another fantastically funny redhead, Matt McCarthy, headline this one, hosted by the absolutely wonderful Sabrina Jalees.
Sunday 8:30 at The Lexington. The delightfully biting Julian McCullough headlines the festival’s last gasp, hosted by Sam Morril.
This year RIOT features a multitude of live editions of TV shows and podcasts to enjoy. Top of the pile is No You Shut Up! Live with Paul F Tompkins at 9 pm Saturday on the Fusion Stage. The Fusion TV show is an absurd take on news panels and talk shows, where the regulars aren’t just metaphorical cartoon characters but literally puppets, including a bigoted squirrel, a crotchety rock pile and a fairly pleasant talking hot dog.
If podcasts are more your thing, RIOT features three of LA’s best. Saturday evening, Jonah Ray nerds out about music with his pop punk cover band Snake Plisskin and the I Thought You Were Deads on Jonah Raydio. Sunday afternoon Jackie Kashian’s long running podcast The Dork Forest will delve into the specific “nerderies” of her guests Dana Gould, Matt Weinhold and Ken Daly. And Sunday night promises to be a raucous party when killer storytellers Ryan Sickler and Jay Larson sit down with major goofball Pete Holmes for a live CrabFeast.