Jesus, there is so much incredible comedy going on in Los Angeles.
Last night I went downtown, which like most sprawled cities’ downtowns is smaller than you’d imagine, to see Holy Fuck, a weekly standup showcase hosted (normally) by Dave Ross at the Downtown Independent theater. Taped sketches, ten comics, and host Jeff Wattenhofer all in just around two hours.
This was my first such packed, hosted showcase of comics (unless you count the 6:30 open-mic I caught at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood, which cost me $15 for the ticket, an extra $1.50 to buy said ticket online, and another extra $1.50 for the privilege of having the ticket waiting for me at will call as opposed to printing it out myself, which with the two-drink minimum the club enforces made for an event that was worth nobody’s time or money). I’m going to try to replicate the experience here, in short-burst reviews of every bit of the show.
It’s a stuntedly animated video series of a Portuguese-speaking Muppet Babies ripoff that is, I hope, a new Internet phenomenon. Gonzor, Animanuel, et al. found themselves with a rampant cough infecting the nursery, one only cured by lots of sugary canned juice drink Sumol. Do yourself a favor and run to tinyfuppets.com and then be an early adopter and forward to your friends at work/school.
From the Steven Wright school of thinky one-liners (“So for my birthday, I got an M.C. Hammer touch lamp … I can’t turn it on”). Though surely older, he looks about 15, and moves very little, keeping a steady calm while the audience works its way through whether it wants to groan or laugh. It usually laughs. Whole silent seconds pass by between gags. One time Hammer just stood very still for twenty-seven seconds and didn’t say anything. Laughs bubbled up around the audience the whole time—nervous laughs, anxious laughs, or delighted ones, what does it matter?
THE WALSH BROTHERS
A duo in the style of the Sklar or Smothers Brothers. David, who has glasses and darker hair and a whiff of the older brother if they indeed are brothers, is the chief talker/storyteller. Chris, taller, is more of an instigator/hype man. What’s great about their act is how often and fully they talk over one another, but never at the detriment of a joke. If rehearsed, it’s done well enough to come across as breezy and effortless, the way brothers talk to/with/around each other. Their bit about a sad 365-day haunted house in Florida was amazing.
ANDRÉS DU BOUCHET
Writer for Conan whose set began with him on his cell phone. This was the whole first minute. “I’m a huge fan of your work as well,” he says at one point. More gestures of trying to end a phonecall. Then: “Goodbye, the band Radiohead.” All loud to us in the audience. Hammed up and great. One of his schticks is comically belabored setups to jokes, with long pauses before the punchlines. Sometimes repeated setups, to make sure we totally got the setup. To kind of milk that potential energy. “I think iTunes receipts … are a lot like STDs.” It’s precisely like what Carnac the Magnificent would do before tearing open the envelope, and it totally worked.
Literally indescribably good in that I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain how. So lemme just provide a transcript of her first couple minutes. Read the following with lots of audience laffs in between most of the sentences, and then picture Gray—a shorter and full-figured woman with a mane of curly red hair—wandering around the stage with a beer, barely even looking at the audience:
Ladies. Woo Ladies night, right?! Who wants to get drunk tonight?! Who wants to find love tonight?! Who wants to do coke off each other’s areolas in the bathroom? I got big ones! Who’s drinkin’ tonight? Told myself I wasn’t gonna drink tonight … and then I woke up this morning. All men are dogs, right? Yeah, all men are dogs. Which is why I wear peanut butter as lipstick. Ladies night, who wants to find their real dads tonight, huh? … Ladies, tell me something, you ever wish that dicks were made out of chocolate? [Audience member says, “Oh yeah.”] Yeah you do, you’re women. We love chocolate, don’t we?
It’s never clear when this act (which Gray told me afterward was a departure for her) moved from the act of one of the newer brand of brash, sex-positive female comics (Wattenhofer said “Give it up for Lisa Lampanelli!” when Gray finished her set) to something newer and more aware/critical of these acts. Everyone got to laugh. Gray’s was the sort of cake-and-eat-it-too bit that Maria Bamford’s ended sets with, where cornball jokes about fucking and sex get laffs from both those looking for such jokes, and those in on the joke. Or the meta-joke.
Lots of crowd work from this comedian (who runs Holy Fuck but I guess handed hosting duties off last night), picking up from the same crowd work Gray began with three young and mildly hostile college dudes in the front row. He didn’t bomb, but it’s like if he felt he was bombing, he was bombing happily and warmly. The grins on his face his whole set broadcasted that—whether it was true or not—he didn’t give a fuck about the audience. Some people might find this arrogant, off-putting, and unfunny, but I’m always attracted to it. It’s like a more voyeuristic audience experience.
Stole the show, no question. Hyland’s comedy is character-driven. He’s got a white hip-hop Fred Durst-type figure named Jesse Miller that hosts shows around town. Last night he did his adult-nerd, earthy new-age guy Phil Gower, who was led on the stage with costumed guys playing an African drum and a pan flute. Gower himself held a rain stick. He led the audience on a horseback riding tour through Peru via slideshow, which showed lots of horse pics taken from the Internet, then an increasing number of middle-aged nudists, often jogging, and then with perfect pacing it all devolved to something I’ll never erase from my head ever, and which is so NSFW I don’t want to ruin it by putting it to words, but I’ll link to Gray’s Instagram of it here if you’re interested and brave. The audience fully lost its shit, and everyone left transformed.
This guy’s good. Apparently just had a Comedy Central special air in May. He has a touch of Nick Swardson to his vocal delivery, a kind of no-homo sibilance and lazy California-style vowelling that effects a sort of comic languor. I’m sorry for that sentence. It was the best I could do.
Having just written so fawningly about this guy I’ll keep it short. Dore did a bit about having been slipped two acid tabs in a beer a friend gave him back in high school, and then he acted out the LSD trip he went on. He got Dave Ross to play a Doors (or Doors-style) trippy guitar track, during which he claimed to have been the lizard king and danced like Jim Morrison. Then he described this sex scene he either participated in or hallucinated in increasingly graphic detail. Things turned bloody and violent, and right when I thought this bit about a funny trip had turned into a great teardown of Morrison and his brand of deathly sex appeal, Dore stops and goes, “The Aristocrats! Okay so I don’t know how that joke works.”
(Also, there was a visiting comic from Australia who wasn’t on the bill and whose name I didn’t catch [Ray Mandarin is my best guess] who was given the unfortunate task of following up Hyland’s act. He did as good a job as anyone could, I imagine.)
What I’m finding more and more here is that comedy in LA isn’t so strongly about comedy itself, in a potentially annoying meta way, as it is literate of standup’s history and the comedy industry. And audiences are, as well, which allows (or perhaps forces) comics to perform acts that operate on more than one level. I don’t think it’s a requirement. Surely there are folks that are just funny, and these comics are finding plenty of success. So maybe it’s just a preference of mine: why be just funny when you can be funny plus?