Los Angeles Comedy Festival begins tonight

Los Angeles Comedy Festival begins tonight
WATCH OUT: The Fordham Underground Comedy Troupe will perform at the festival. (Lori Barber)
Funny doesn't discriminate.

At least, that's the philosophy that prompted Lawrin Goulston Salazar and her husband to launch the Los Angeles Comedy Festival last year. The "all-inclusive" biannual event is a sort of comedy smorgasbord featuring improv, stand-up, sketch, duos, alternative, music, video and even animation.

"It's a great mix of genres that gives people a chance to see things they may not ordinarily be exposed to," Goulston Salazar said. "It's kind of a fun way to see comedy."

More than 60 acts from around the country -- including Austin, Texas, Boston, Chicago and, of course, Los Angeles -- are scheduled to perform at the 17-day festival at Art/Works Theatre in L.A. Cult followers of acts that have produced Web videos as an outlet for their material can expect to see some familiar footage come to life, Goulston Salazar said.

"It's like seeing your favorite singer perform your favorite song live," she said.

Goulston Salazar says the U.S. economic woes have affected the festival. About 70% of the acts hail from the local area, a figure she said is probably due to out-of-town performers being unable to afford the costs of traveling. She also was prompted to reduce the admission price to $10 from $12 per show.

"The ticket prices are very reasonable," she said. "I was thinking about the economy and I asked myself if $12 sounded like a lot to ask our audience to spend . . . and it did sound like a lot. Ten sounds like, 'Yes, I can go out and have an hour of great fun without regret.' "

As for the future of the festival, Goulston Salazar said she hoped to expand it to include multiple venues and maybe even add some household names to the roster like, say, Steve Martin -- "He's brilliant." But luring big names isn't exactly top priority. Salazar envisioned the festival as a platform to showcase unknown talent -- think NBC's "Last Comic Standing," without the elimination -- and said she doesn't see that ever changing.

"It's an amazing environment that sheds light on a lot of talented people," she said. "There are lots of wonderful bursts of laughter waiting to be had."

The festival kicks off today. Among those hoping to generate some of those outbursts are:

Paul Stroili

Paul Stroili can fold a sheet better than Martha Stewart . . . and he kind of wishes that wasn't the case. In his one-man show, "Straight Up With a Twist," the L.A.-based actor-comedian introduces audiences to his dysfunctional family -- which "doesn't understand the distraught guy who can't work tools but can fold a sheet." A guy he refers to as a Renaissance Geek: Whereas a metrosexual is proud of his ambiguity, a Renaissance Geek "really wants to be interested in the football game but can't because [he's] more interested in the buffet."

The inspiration for the show came in what is now the opening line, Stroili said. He was helping his wife pick out her wedding dress; the first one he picked, she wore -- prompting her to say: "You're like this gay friend that I can have sex with."

The show had sold-out runs in Los Angeles and Chicago, and a twice-extended off-Broadway run in New York earlier this year. Stroili has trimmed the 75-minute play to a half-hour to meet the festival guidelines and will open and close the festival (tonight and Nov. 23, and a third performance Nov. 10.)

Fordham Underground Comedy Troupe

The troupe, which bills itself as "sketch comedy so funny it hurts," will make three appearances at the festival, and they promise to be crude if it garners even a few chuckles.

"We hold nothing back when we perform," said Joe Galan. "Nothing is sacred to us. We'll do anything for a laugh."

Apparently. One bit from their act, titled "Mangina," features three men poking fun at Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. There's also a "Jackass" element, referring to the now-defunct MTV series. And then there's what they call "The Pee Pee Dance," in which members dance to music from "The Nutcracker" as they anxiously wait in line for the bathroom.

The eight-member troupe, which will perform three shows (Nov. 14, 15 and 16), began six years ago when a group of students at Fordham University in New York illegally performed an evening of underground comedy in the university's small theater with a curtain, a microphone and a keg.

Audience members can expect to become part of the fun -- just be wary, Galan warns. "We love our audience," he said. "We would never put them in harm's way . . . maybe."

Ben Kronberg

Some comedians prepare for shows by going over their material until it's etched in their brains. Others rehearse their bits in front of friends. How about Ben Kronberg?

"I'm eating a lot of stuff from Whole Foods," he said, referring to the Texas-based grocery store that sells natural and organic foods.

Kronberg's stand-up career began five years ago in Denver after he discovered he lacked the necessary hand coordination to nurture his guitar-playing habit. He credits his lack of musicality for fostering his "funniness."

"I found that I would make up funny songs so the content and lyrics would cover up the fact that I wasn't a good musician, and that parlayed into telling jokes," he said.

Kronberg, 31, who describes his comedy style as abnormal, says audiences can expect his act (Nov. 7 to 9) to feature quirky observations, one-liners and, of course, a few strums on the guitar.

Kate Soglin

Some know her as Citizen Kate. Others simply know her as the platform-wearing minx trying to get press credentials at various events along the 2008 campaign trail. But to her family and friends, she's just Kate Soglin.

Soglin, without any knowledge of politics or reporting, has spent the last two years attending political events, where she's chatted with senators, convention delegates and presidential candidates in an effort to inform "commoners" about the often hard-to-grasp political process. She documents her quest to change politics "one hug at a time" on her website, Citizen Kate.

The Chicagoan, who cites Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen as comedic idols, will offer an offbeat retrospective of the campaign trail during her sets (Nov. 20 and 22). She promises that the results of this week's election will influence a lot of the material.

"Hello, I'm a citizen journalist," Soglin said. "It's my job to entertain people -- I mean, inform them."

Villarreal is a Times staff writer.


Los Angeles Comedy Festival

Where: Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.

When: Today through Nov. 23

Price: Most shows $10; $40 for a five-show pass