This year’s Riot LA took over downtown Los Angeles for a weekend of amazing comedy lineups. Riot LA is a festival which features a variety of comedians, podcasters, surprise guests, and more. For any comedy nerd, this is an oasis. DTLA was full of people all ready for great laughs and storytelling. The lot was set up like a small carnival and was full of people hanging out, getting food from the food stands, enjoying some drinks, and playing games.
The partially outdoor festival was during an unusually rainy weekend, but comedy fans pushed through with umbrellas and rain jackets. The Women’s March was the same weekend, so everyone seemed to be buzzing off the energy of that historical event. Many comedians would ask the crowd up top if they had went to the march with loud cheers from the crowd following.
If you missed this year’s big festival, read below to find out why you should definitely make it next year!
Riot LA started out with a bang watching a live conversation with comedy legend Mel Brooks at the Microsoft Theater. Interviewed by Kevin Salter, Mel was asked a variety of questions about his long and brilliant career.
To no one’s surprise, Mel put on a killer show. He rarely stayed seated after each question, instead energetically jumping up to regale the crowd with stories and jokes. He’d be up with the crowd for so long at time, the host mentioned that this was “Q and A without the Q.”
At one point, Mel was asked to describe what the casting process was like for Blazing Saddles. He remembered how perfect Cleavon Little was for the role of Black Bart. Mel said Richard Pryor was his original choice for taking on the Black Bart role, but that it was Pryor who said Cleavon was a better choice because he was darker skinned. Mel also reminisced with stories of when he was young before his success and described carrying heavy sour cream tubs to and from 22 tables at a popular restaurant where he worked as a busboy. At one point, an audience member had asked, “Boxers or briefs?” Mel waits a beat, looks toward the audience and enthusiastically states, “Depends!”
Switching gears from a giant crowd at the Microsoft Theater to an intimate show at the Cigar Lounge, I watched Todd Barry show off his crowd work skills. This show was all about audience participation and you could tell people were ready. The small room was standing room only by the time I got in. Ahmed Bharoocha opened and did really well. When Todd got on stage, he said dryly, “That opener killed didn’t he…I don’t like that.”
I’d never been to a 100% pure crowd work show and wasn’t sure what to expect. Todd’s already proven to be a master at working the room in the past and this wasn’t his first crowd work tour. I watched Todd turn an awkward audience member’s boring comment into a hilarious bit more than once that night. Todd’s dry and sarcastic remarks rebounded perfectly off each audience member. Todd was brutal, but the audience was in on the joke and seemed to enjoy themselves despite harsh criticism of their crummy stories.
I finally got to see Andy Kindler’s Particular Show live at the same venue right after Todd’s show. Todd even dropped in to do some written material and poked fun at the fact that the crowd had reduced in size from the previous show. Performers included Lisa Best, Nick Vatterott, Natalie Palamides, and Jon Dore. Andy’s animated energy was so fun and I had a giant smile on my face the whole time. The crowd loved it and I felt like the only one who was a newbie to his act. I had absolutely been missing out on Andy Kindler. Even though he’s been in the game for a long time, he is my new favorite.
Natalie Palamides was introduced as “Fairy Godmother” and came out dressed the part in costume for an absolutely wild performance. The audience participated in telling her their one true wish. Without giving too much away, the stage ended up in shambles with torn up red and white onions scattered about and a pungent odor for the rest of the show.
Jon Dore was the last comedian to perform and he told us he hadn’t been on stage for a while because he had very recently experienced an unexpected seizure. He didn’t go into details as to why he had the seizure, but it seemed like he had been through a scary and stressful time. He appeared to be having a cathartic experience being able to perform again. I’d never seen his performance before, but he didn’t seem at all rusty to me. He appeared comfortable and was quick to improv on the onion mess he was left with on stage.
Sunday was the last day of the festival and I was lucky to see some fantastic acts. I started the night with The Drop In, hosted by Anthony Jeselnik, which features a surprise lineup. With Anthony Jeselnik as host, I knew we were in for some good appearances. Unfortunately, Los Angeles is currently experiencing much more rain and lower temperatures than usual, so the audience was cold and wet. My knock-off dd’s Discount Vans shoes were soaked all the way through. The venue was also in a large outdoor tent, and the only heaters were on stage. Before the show started, there was definitely a moody and uncomfortable vibe in the crowd. Being a Seattle native, I’m used to the rain and it’s uncommon for Seattleites to cancel plans for rain because then all plans would be cancelled. There’s no “rain check.” When the show started, seats in the back were empty that I’m sure would otherwise have been full on a regular LA night. When Anthony came out, he was upfront about two of the surprise comedians who had cancelled. Kumail Nanjiani and T.J. Miller were supposed to be the biggest surprise stars of the night and without them, the show featured talented, but relatively unknown comedians.
Performing acts included Brent Weinbach, Jono Zalay, and Jermaine Fowler. Jermaine Fowler came out to do his set and said, “We expected a better lineup, but it rained.” He mentioned he had just seen Split, a new horror movie out by M. Night Shyamalan. Without spoiling the movie he said, “I don’t want to ruin the movie, but you guys, M. Night’s back!” It was obvious no one in the audience, including myself, had seen the movie yet, so there wasn’t much response. I just saw the movie last night and I now I wish I could have cheered during his set because I get it now and he was right. Everybody, M. Night’s back.
I was excited when they announced Johnny Pemberton was coming on stage, especially when I realized that he was performing the same material I had seen him do during Duncan Trussell’s You Are God Tour. That’s some rad stuff and I loved seeing it again. But when his time was up, he walked off stage past Anthony and gave him a look like they both knew how difficult this show was to pull off. This was an unhappy and difficult-to-please audience. I could sense they both felt frustrated. Maybe take that last sentence with a grain of salt. I’m not an empath, here.
Anthony kept it real the entire time, poking fun at the fact that there weren’t any currently huge stars in the lineup after the two biggest stars cancelled. The show wrapped up and Anthony mentioned it one more time and then also said, “But just so you know, you aren’t a great crowd.” I laughed hard because he was right. The crowd was sour from the get-go. The person behind me scoffed and everyone shuffled out the exit.
The final show of the night was John Early & Friends. After watching John’s episode on Netflix’s The Characters last year, I was smitten. I had also seen him at The Meltdown about a year ago and loved his stand-up material. His show at Riot LA featured much of the same material I had seen at Meltdown, but now polished and seamlessly blended into a variety of topics. I was so excited, I arrived early and snagged a seat in the front row. His friends included Aparna Nancherla, Jacqueline Novak, Chris Laker, and Mark Ronson on piano.
Now, this is going to sound extreme, and I’ve seen a lot of comedy shows, but John Early’s show at Riot LA was the best comedy show I’ve ever seen live. I had never laughed harder during a show than I did at John Early talking about his Toni Collette obsession or his rendition of “Everytime” by Britney Spears. His argument for why Toni Collette should have won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Sixth Sense instead of Angelina Jolie for hers in Girl, Interrupted is indisputable. He did a spot on Toni Collette impression from a scene in Sixth Sense and I was moved. Moved! I’m kind of embarrassed about it.
Near the end of the show, John shows us his Toni Collette Geocities fan page website he had when he was 13 years old. This is an absolute treasure, especially for people who remember what it was like in a world where clunky Geocities websites dominated the internet. He showed us page by page his Geocities site sections. I was wiping the tears around my eyes as he read out loud from the “News” section of his site, “This is completely unrelated to Toni, but I just got braces.” Gold. Time to go make my John Early fan page.
If you missed Riot LA this year, make sure to buy tickets for the next Riot LA festival. You won’t regret it!