Only four years in and RIOT has grown into a mature and formidable national festival! The two and a half day event was crammed with eye-catching headliners like David Cross, Gilbert Gottfried, TJ Miller and Ron Funches and had more talent scuttled onto the generic Comics To Watch showcases than many festivals have as their top names. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one day of the festival, but that was filled with so much goodness I almost felt fine missing out on Sunday.
The big draws were the shows in the Downtown Independent theater and the outdoor Fusion Comedy Tent, but even the shows at the smaller bar venues were pretty packed. Baron Vaughn’s The New Negroes was the first show of the festival in the tent and it completely delivered on its promise of greatness with killer performances from Jermaine Fowler, Langston Kerman, Solomon Georgio, Phoebe Robinson, Ed Greer and Candice Thompson, all DJ’ed by Open Mike Eagle who added a musical performance of his own. Candice and Ed are two vastly underrated LA comedians, so it was pretty awesome to watch them more than hold their own among that group. Best of the Midwest at Five Star Bar really shined, drawing in a huge crowd, many of whom turned out to be midwest transplants, themselves. Megan Gailey stole the show with her charmingly aggressive crowdwork that really opened up the crowd.
Back at the tent, Paul F Tompkins was doing a live version of his Fusion TV show No You Shut Up! If you aren’t familiar with the show, or the network for that matter, Tompkins knows. He opened up with jokes about “What’s Fusion? Fusion is that channel that ISN’T Fuse. Now what’s Fuse?” He also had a giant irony to contend with. At last year’s RIOT, cops came to investigate noise complaints at the tent during the Goddam Comedy Jam. This year it was Downtown LA holding a street fair about two blocks away that included live bands that were now so loud they threatened to drown out the sound system in the tent. But like the pros they are, Tompkins and his band of puppet contributors made fun of it and then moved on to delight the crowd with the absurd and surprisingly edgy, including one bit about how Steve Carrell had such a large dick, they had to make special chairs on the set of The Office to accommodate it.
One of the most heavily stacked Comics To Watch showcases was late that night at The Jalisco, featuring Sam Morril, Liza Treyger, Sabrina Jalees, Jak Knight, Megan Gailey, Chris Cubas, Rob Christiensen and Marcella Argeullo. The Jalisco is a latin gay bar and it is decorated probably exactly how you’d imagine that would be, which gave everyone plenty of fodder to riff on. Both the crowd and the performers were pretty loose by now, thanks to boozing it up all afternoon and the THC sodas all the comedians received in their gift bags. So it was a fun, a little bit off the rails kind of show, with Sabrina even getting up on the empty first row of chairs and high fiving the entire second row during the first few minutes of her set.
Saturday night closed out with Roast Battle at the theater. The Battle now has enough festival experience under their belt that they arranged the stage to best capture the insane circus vibe of the Belly Room in a much larger space. Judges Jason Sklar, Moshe Kasher and Joe DeRosa offered a near perfect amount of affection and respect for the battlers to go along with their perfectly biting digs. Only DeRosa got a little too mean with some inside baseball jabs at crowd favorite Sarah Tiana that landed with a thud. The Negro Wave was in full water-spitting, kung foo fighting, shirtless dancing splendor and the battles were all top notch. Though Olivia Grace vs Earl Skakel wasn’t billed as the headliner match, it was just about as good as Sarah Tiana vs Guy Branum. Earl is an LA comedy vet who has been part of the Roast Battle from the start, first as House Racist and later the main figure in the evolving group of Haters. He’s is also known to have some hilariously biting observations about everyone around him offstage. Olivia is a relatively new comedian who has really shined in the Battle format (Mike Lawrence still gushes about the writing skills and quick wit she displayed in her landslide upset victory over Ashley Barnhill this summer and if you know how seriously Mike judges roasters, that should tell you how good she is). It was a pretty evenly matched fight, with Earl eking out the W. Then it was time for Sarah v Guy, which was a joke for joke slugfest that went into an extra round and a win for Sarah. Both have won multiple Battles, which should be no surprise since they’ve written some of the most biting things to come out of Jeff Ross and Chelsea Handler’s mouths (respectively). It was a glorious finale for the show and the night.