If Thelma and Louise spontaneously took to producing comedy variety shows, the result might be a little like the show called "Trick: Bordello" — a rollicking, multidimensional staged adventure that's a little bit sexy, a little bit spunky and a whole lot of funny.
Flying by the seat of their pants, rising local comics Emily Maya Mills and Brandie Posey have buddied up to launch the raucous monthly comedy series last month at Bordello Bar downtown, on the edge of Little Tokyo. Next Sunday will see their second event, a Christmas ensemble they've billed as "a holiday extravaganza fit for virgins and atheists alike."
Why a new comedy show? Because, as road movie heroine Louise declares, they've "had it … with sedate!" Mills and Posey are mixing things up on the L.A. comedy scene.
Starting with the comics. It's not uncommon for stand-up shows in the alternative comedy world to either line up the biggest names possible or stick to a stable of developing talent. Mills and Posey aimed for another option. "We wanted to bridge the gap between the household names people are familiar with and the up-and-comers," says Mills, who has worked at Upright Citizens Brigade in various capacities since it opened in L.A. five years ago. She has also performed in multiple sketch and variety shows there. Posey was the first stand-up comic on E!'s "That Morning Show" and now hosts the weekly "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" at Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill. So the duo had access to a deep pool of talent ranging from top headliners to lesser-known, emerging names.
The acts are also a disparate mix, as Mills and Posey had diverse inspirations — traditional stand-up and vaudeville, "The Carol Burnett Show," "Laugh-In" and UCB's "Comedy Death-Ray" among them. Set against the dimly lighted and lavish blood-red-and-gold interior of Bordello Bar — a stucco building that once housed downtown L.A.'s oldest bar, which doubled as a brothel — the free 90-minute variety show includes roughly six acts of varying lengths, ranging from straight stand-up and sketch comedy routines to musical sets and elaborate dance numbers. But the through-line is laughter.
"We were really trying to reach out and bring people together across genres," Mills says. "[Create] a good, monthly, high pressure, high-quality, event-style show. True entertainment. But it's all comedy — even our dancers have a background in comedy."
"Trick: Bordello's" debut featured Matt Braunger of MadTV, Conan's opening act Jimmy Pardo and Maria Bamford, who tried out some of her new, untested material on the crowd, plus the somewhat racy, absurdist UCB sketch team A Kiss From Daddy and the Brothers Brothers Band, which performed a bluegrass set while bantering, between songs, in hillbilly personas about their convoluted familial relationship.
Mills and Posey — who met on an open-mike night at the Silverlake Lounge two years ago — did a major guerrilla-style promotional push for that first show. They pooled their Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr resources, put up YouTube videos and sent out e-mailers. Still, Posey says they expected only about 50 people to respond. But the show was wildly successful, bringing in more than 100 people for a standing room only event. They're proud that, keeping in the spirit of mixing thingsup, the audience was "a true civilian audience" — the expected twenty- and thirtysomething comedy nerds and hipsters as well as older professionals, downtown residents and plain, old, "true seekers of laughter."
"I want my comedy to be as universal as it can be," Posey says. "And it's nice to get a crowd where it's like, 'Oh, cool, that 45-year-old 'stached man in the back is laughing. This joke is actually funny. It's not just funny to people born in 1984.'"
After the debut show wrapped, the evening devolved into drinking, mingling and a full-on dance party. DJ Denver Smith spun a mix — there's that word again — of indie pop, retro dance music and nostalgic rock, like the Cure. The only element missing was a food truck, an oversight that's already been remedied for the upcoming Christmas show. The Flying Pig will be on hand for post-show snacks.
Natasha Leggero will headline Sunday's show, which will also feature self-described "Jew comedian" Moshe Kasher and Mike Phirman from the duo Hard & Phirm, plus original Christmas songs, dancers, elves and an array of "special guests." It's a lineup that Bordello manager Shaun Shahar calls "quirky, high energy, unstructured and spontaneous."
Downtown L.A. isn't necessarily known for live comedy. But, Shahar says, the spirited, iconoclastic variety show might be changing that. "They've brought something to Bordello we've never had before — and to downtown," he says. He takes issue, however, with the Thelma and Louise comparison. "They're more Laurel and Hardy," he says. "They make a really great team."
Trick: Bordello Bar Comedy
Where: Bordello Bar, 901 E. 1st Street, Downtown L.A.
When: Sunday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m. doors, 8:30 p.m. show.
Info: (213) 687-3766; http://www.bordellobar.com