You never know how much one comedian, show or event is going to change the shape of a scene. Over the last five decades, the LA Comedy Scene has been driven by unexpected forces, large and small. Carson’s move to LA, Mitzi and Sammy Shore’s divorce, and UCB’s LA expansion all changed the face of LA comedy in a big way. While not as obviously major historical events, many influential shows and rooms – like BrewCo, The Unknown Theater, Big Fish, Dublin’s, Holy Fuck!, The Parlor and Comedy Juice – have changed the course of the scene. So it’s not that inconceivable that a little show in the back of a comic book shop could grow to influence everything from a generation of open mic’ers, to the podcast landscape and even which comedians you get to see on your television. And that’s exactly what The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail did.
The Meltdown is a weekly independent show produced in the back room of a small comic shop– Meltdown Comics– in Hollywood. Over the past four years, it has grown to be one of the most popular shows in LA, drawing top talent and regularly selling out at $8 a pop. During that time, Chris Hardwick took over the back space and transformed it into NerdMelt Theater, which now has comedy-related programming seven nights a week and serves as the physical home of the Nerdist podcast network. And now, starting Wednesday at 12:30am, The Meltdown will go national, as The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail debuts as Comedy Central’s latest stand-up showcase series.
Any comedian working in or visiting Los Angeles who says they don’t want to get booked on The Meltdown is lying (or incredibly self aware and pragmatic that that is not their crowd). It’s always packed with comedy-literate folks who come with the attitude, “yay, entertain me!” rather than [crosses arms] “All right, let’s see if you can entertain me.” When you are that in demand, you can be selective and make sure the crowd is getting more than their $8 worth every time.
If you look at most mid- to top-tier comedy festivals over the past few years, the West Coast contribution to their lineups read like a month’s worth of The Meltdown rosters. And, of course, you’ll likely find a festival edition of The Meltdown on the schedule too. For many cities, this is the greatest exposure the local community gets to stand-up over the course of the year, engendering new fans who will remember these guys over whoever is rolling through the local club on a given weekend.
Now, arguably, the festivals are booking these comedians for the same reason that The Meltdown is – they are both talented and popular. But you can’t argue that the festival lineups look a lot more like The Meltdown than Comedy Juice or The Parlor.
Despite Patton Oswalt’s mostly accurate and passionate claim that “There are no more gatekeepers,” there are, and these are them
One comedian (who shall remain anonymous) suggested that it’s because young assistants feel more comfortable at (and can afford to go to) the free and cheap shows, rather than the clubs, so as they move up in the ranks, these are the comedians they take with them. On the no-gatekeepers flipside, “Nerds ‘got’ the internet first. They knew how to make tumblrs and videos and get on reddit before everyone else, so they were able to amass a fan base that way and seem more appealing to executives.”
Now, it’s entirely possible Chris Hardwick would have set up shop in the back of Meltdown Comics even if his pal and podcast co-host Jonah Ray wasn’t already running a hot show there, but that fact didn’t hurt. The show’s popularity and visibility certainly helped bring in crowds to the newer shows and made the open mic one of the busiest and most supportive ones in the city.
Once you get a certain amount of success and love, you attract a lot of scrutiny and hate, and often that scrutiny is legitimate. While the show has done a good job of expanding their bookings lately, many new faces don’t feel the same love from the crowd that old-hat regulars get. And you can feel the room’s collective asshole clench when the dick jokes veer from self-deprecating “I can’t get laid”/”I’m terrible in bed” to anything more confident or edgy.
There have also been various complaints, aimed more at NerdMelt and The Nerdist Network than The Meltdown Show, that the theater is not supportive of show producers and takes a way-too-large cut of podcast profits. In defense of these accusations, the theater does not turn a profit and they have helped incubate or give a home with cache to many very interesting new shows, so if they have to help float the theater on podcast funds and get a little cutthroat about attendance at the shows, they’re still doing more good than harm.
Even if the mere mention of the word Meltdown makes your blood boil, there’s no arguing that the show is a cultural juggernaut that has permanently altered the face of comedy in LA and all of America.
You can follow The Meltdown on twitter @meltdown_show. The Meltdown w/ Jonah & Kumail goes down on Wednesdays at Meltdown Comics located at 7522 W. Sunset in Los Angeles, and catch their show Wednesday nights at 12:30am on Comedy Central. The premiere episode will feature David Koechner, Neal Brennan, Moshe Kasher, and Steve Agee.