The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail opens its second season on Comedy Central tonight June 30th at 12:30am, as it continues its fifth year as the preeminent independent comedy show in Los Angeles. We talked with producer Emily Gordon and co-host Jonah Ray about the live show’s accidental magic and the intentional decisions on how to capture that magic for TV.
The IBang: So, when did you know you had something special with the live show?
Emily Gordon: I would say pretty early on we got a sense that – and I don’t want to make it sound too majestic – but that there was something bigger than us at work here. Just the fact that people kept showing up and the shows were going well and it just felt like a fun little secret we all had.
Jonah Ray: I haven’t felt that yet. I’m waiting for the moment. I feel like the guy who got the placebo drug.
Emily Gordon: Yeah, you’ve been smoking oregano for five years now.
Jonah Ray: No, I think it was really early on. The show picked up so fast because at the time there were no other Wednesday shows and it filled this need and people showed up. Probably it was around the year anniversary that I felt it. Because you’re doing it week to week, so you’ve just gotten over last week and the next one’s about to show up, so when a year happened, it just felt like it showed up out of nowhere. And we looked at this crowd of people who showed up week after week and we had these amazing posters being done by a guy we had now become friends with and it was just this nice moment of looking around and realizing we’d kind of made our own little scene.
Emily Gordon: There were so many different pieces. Like the fact that Ed, who is our tech guy and resident hype man, he started high fiving people as they walked in somewhere in the first couple months. And then it became a thing where you were required to high five him before you came in. That’s how everything is, it’s random until you decide it’s A Thing.
The IBang: So, speaking of the posters from Dave Kloc, they are so badass and I know everyone who does the show takes them home and treasures them, how did you decide that was an important piece for you guys?
Emily Gordon: We didn’t! We didn’t decide any of that!
Jonah Ray: I was doing the flyers for it digitally and I was running out of ideas, but I always liked the idea of how when we grew up as kids going to concerts, you’d get the flyer of it and put it up on your wall. And it’s so weird that I don’t see that happening with comedy shows, where there’s just as many creative people hanging around. So I kind of always had it in my head. Then this guy who had been coming to the show and was a friend of our friend Jordan Vogt-Roberts goes, “You know, this show really has a punk rock feel to it. You should do posters for every show.” I said, “You wanna do them?” and he said “Sure!” He’d never screen printed or made flyers or anything like that before. And just like everything else on the show, he started doing it and it became a thing.
Emily Gordon: One of our first shows, The LA Times came and sat on the floor (I should have offered them seats) and they did a piece on the show with photos of the crowd and one of those happened to be of Dave Kloc, who just happened to be in the audience. We didn’t know him at the time and I just love that when you look back, you can see all those pieces were there already. Now he’s got a whole career out of it. He did the sets for the TV show…
Jonah Ray: Yeah and he goes and does commissioned pieces and he just did a mural for a new gay bar and they asked him to do it all in one night, so he stayed up all night making a mural of people sixty-nining!
The IBang: Even now it still feels a little like a secret, even though you go and it’s packed beyond packed. How do you keep that feeling of community?
Emily Gordon: We have a core group of thirty or so who come every week and are very vocal and active, so we just make sure we take care of them and acknowledge them. Like, if the show sells out very quickly and a couple of our regulars say they couldn’t get tickets, we say, “We got you.” When we see people who are loyal to the show, we want to stay loyal to them.
Jonah Ray: The ones that come every week also love sitting up close and becoming almost characters in the show, themselves. Like Aldrin, he’s always in the same spot, Vince is always in the same spot. We know we can talk to them. If me & Kumail are stuck trying to think of some movie or game thing, we can go to one of those guys and they’ll know it. I mean, we’re all crammed in to this tiny space, there’s no separation, the stage is 6 inches off the ground so our feet are touching their feet basically.
Emily Gordon: You guys are barely pharmacist height.
The IBang: So, this is the closest it feels to being actually at the show that I have ever seen on TV. When you were putting together the filming, were there specific things you knew you had to have in to get that feel?
Jonah Ray: Well, the biggest part was that we had to figure out what makes our show special in the first place and not mimic that, like in a studio or a theater, but just capture that. And one of the big things is that it’s in the back of Meltdown Comics, which is in itself a great place and a creative, awesome superstore, so we decided to just throw cameras everywhere we can and just let it happen.
Emily Gordon: yeah, we drilled into our crew that we couldn’t leave a big footprint. To our audience and our comedians, it just had to feel like a regular night. We also decided that once the show started, we were not going to stop the show to reset and check the cameras and sound. Once the show starts, it starts and just keeps going. And I was still lighting comedians like I do at the regular show and we were still running around trying to find people for their set times.
Jonah Ray: I did the second season of “Live at Gotham” on Comedy Central, which I will always be grateful for, but we kept having to stop down to pump in smoke to make it “look more like a comedy club” but it was at a comedy club! So then there’s no energy and you’ve off down in this green room and my show was like Andy Kindler and Amy Schumer and Ryan Hamilton and I couldn’t enjoy their sets because I was locked away in some other room. 99% of the time, you’re watching the other comics and then going in the back and hanging out and that’s what a comedy show is to us. So it was very important to us to try and show that without any pretense.
The IBang: You have literally hundreds of great comedians who have been on the live show, how did you decide who would be on the taped show?
Emily Gordon: That was hard. We did the best we could and there’s so many people we would have loved to have on, but there’s only so many spots. We looked for people who had shown a willingness to have fun and do something on television that was kind of weird and not what they’d normally do. We also tried to pick people who had not had a lot of exposure or didn’t get to do stand-up on TV that often but are very accomplished stand-ups. It was a tough thing to do.
Jonah Ray: And we realized we had the freedom to showcase stuff that you wouldn’t see on normal Late Night or stand-up shows. So, like Claudia O’Doherty did this one very amazing conceptual bit about chairs. And you have Brett Gelman and his whole Gelmania think with King Cyrus.
The IBang: So, Emily, even though you were a semi-public figure before the show, now you’re like a face that people have seen and you’ve even been on @midnight. Is that weird stepping out from behind the scenes like that?
Emily Gordon: Oh, I love it way too much!
Jonah Ray: [laughs way too hard and knowingly] Oh man, last season when we were doing our photo shots, she got soooooo excited
Emily Gordon: I do think it’s cool. I didn’t realize the job that I have was a job that existed until I was in my late twenties. I always thought comedy was cool ever since I was a little kid, but I never wanted to be a performer. So the idea that I could show someone else that this is a job – you can run stand-up shows and interact with comedians and help determine what goes on stage – I like showing people that this is something you can do.
Jonah Ray: But the selfish answer is all the free clothes you get sent.
Emily Gordon: I get free clothes, I get my hair and makeup done, none of that is terrible. I still don’t get recognized that often and when I do, I know that’s a deep nerd.
Jonah Ray: But that’s gonna help when your book comes out.
Emily Gordon: Yeah, I have a book coming out in September that’s a funny self esteem guide for young women called Super You. Jonah and Kumail are both way better at promoting my book than I am.
The IBang: Jonah, you do a ton of other artistic things besides stand-up, but the one I wanna ask you about is your record label [Literally Figurative Records, an imprint of A Special Thing Records]. Why start a vinyl album label?
Jonah Ray: It’s actually very similar to Emily’s answer. The thrill of showing other people the stuff you think is great, there’s nothing like it. Most of my favorite guys in bands also run their own record labels. They don’t fall into this idea that just because you’re creative, you can’t help other creatives. You don’t have to be competitive and jealous of other people’s stuff. The idea is that when you get big enough in any artistic scene, people are going to start caring about what you like as well, so it’s your duty to do what you can to help other people that other people might not know.
Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail premieres Tonight, June 30th on Comedy Central at 12:30am.