Riot LA comedy festival plays for laughs downtown

Los Angeles is home to hundreds of comedy clubs and sketch shows and some of the country’s strongest improvisation schools, which have trained and put a spotlight on comedians like Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Taran Killam. But the city didn’t have a comedy festival quite like Riot LA.

Riot LA is the alternative comedy festival presented by the public radio station KCRW, created and executive produced by Abbey Londer. After a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding, the first Riot LA hit the streets of downtown in September 2012, showcasing the work of underground comedy.

“Kickstarter was a test,” explains Londer. “If we could raise the money, then it would be clear that there was a market for this in L.A.”

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It quickly became clear that there was: Londer’s team managed to raise half the money in just 10 days.

The first Riot LA brought in 150 performers, 32 shows and, with 2,500 attendees, the festival sold out. It was such a success that Londer added an additional day to this year’s festival.

The second Riot LA is Thursday through Sunday, bringing more than 50 comedy shows ranging from stand-up to improv to sketch, to five venues all on downtown’s Main Street, the majority of them small spaces.

With over 130 comedians in this year’s festival, including names like Kristen Schaal, Pete Holmes, Kevin Nealon and Fred Willard, there is an expansive range, including a few eclectic sets, like “Storytime for Grow-Ups” and “Unfictional Live.”

While Riot LA provides a few big-name comedians the opportunity to perform in intimate venues, the heart of the festival is about talented comedians who are not yet known on a wide scale.

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“I look for comedians who have a little bit of heat underneath them but might not be well-known yet,” says Londer, who is also an associate producer of events for KCRW.

“There are some comedians who are really well-known within their communities, but it’s my goal to look for people who should be known in a greater way than just in a little niche spot.”


On Saturday and Sunday, the Lot at Riot LA — a parking lot on Main — provides a retreat with free beer, arcade games and snacks and beverages for pass holders and those who pay $10 to get in. There will also be food trucks, DJs and AstroTurf lounges.

While Londer has hopes for expanding the festival into other cities, she has no intention of making Riot LA sprawl beyond a block.

“I didn’t want to do a big comedy festival in Los Angeles that was scattered all across the city, in big venues and big theaters,” says Londer, who has roots in Chicago’s Second City, iO and the Annoyance theaters. “What really matters is the way that you expose the comedy. Which is why I craved something that really felt like it was a block party.”



Riot LA

Where: Downtown Independent, The Lexington, Five Star Bar, The Smell and The Jalisco

When: Thursday-Sunday


Tickets: Superfan pass, $85; VIP pass, $500; The Lot, $10