An aerialist, a magician and a stand-up comedian walk into a warehouse. …
There should be a joke attached to that opening, but it's just a regular night at "Scot Nery's Boobie Trap." The variety show — held every Wednesday in an Echo Park storage facility for circus equipment and the former home of the female roller derby team the Derby Dolls — also attracts spoken-word poets, musicians, sword swallowers and contortionists.
How did this fringe entertainment come to be in gentrifying Echo Park?
"In May, my friend said, 'Why don't you do an open mike night and do it here?' I said, 'OK. Yeah, let's do it,' " said Scot Nery, a comedic whirlwind with a dry sense of humor. He is the emcee of the show and keeps it moving at a brisk pace. Performers get about four minutes before they're played off.
Nery has been performing as a juggler, magician, contortionist and comedian since he was a preteen, and through his travels he has racked up an eclectic group of friends in live entertainment. The name "Boobie Trap" just made sense to him.
"Yeah, I started performing professionally at age 11, and I'm 36 now, so that's over five years," he joked. "As an open mike, the idea was to get all kinds of weird people — 'cause that's who my friends are — and get some variety in there. People really like the circus and the variety element, and it kept setting the show apart, so I kept putting more in."
And the circle grew. An aerialist would tell a contortionist friend who would tell a fire-eating friend. The show is in its seventh month, drawing modest crowds of 30 or more people — a mixed group of curiosity-seekers who found it on Facebook and locals supporting the neighborhood.
"My stay in Echo Park has been good," said Nery, a nomad who has traveled the country performing on the streets. "I had some tamales yesterday, so that was good. It's a weird thing because I'm still landing on the idea that this is a real show — that I'm committing to a real show. I just kept showing up and making it happen, and people kept showing up and saying it was good. Now, it's like, a thing."
It's a thing that those in attendance and the performers seem to love. The acts are not paid, and most are participating just to hang with friends or to get video footage of their work. Reggie Watts, comedian and band leader for "The Late Late Show With James Corden," performed a couple of weeks ago.
Sagiv Ben Binyamin, an aerialist who teaches at Cirque School in L.A., recently performed in the show using a rope dangling from the warehouse ceiling. He tumbled and spun and came precariously close to hitting the concrete floor at high speeds. The crowd gasped often.
"I love it. I wish it was a little bit bigger and people would come more, but I think Scot is doing a great job bringing in different talent every week and kind of keeping it alive as much as possible," Binyamin said. "It's very hard in L.A. to keep any live thing for a while."
The core of Nery's performers are comedians. Brandon Burkhart, who has known Nery for years on the comedy circuit, lives nearby and liked the reaction to his set.
For the record, 12:07 p.m. Dec. 2: An earlier version of this post misspelled the first name of performer Brandon Burkhart as "Brendan."
"It was a good, supportive crowd," Burkhart said. "They had to deal with technical issues and ropes almost hitting people in the face and audience participation. They were pretty game."
The four-minute limit at first seemed constraining, he said. "You have to be creative. I had to tell my story quick. Most people give you seven to 10 minutes, but it gets people to refine their act."
Nery knows that many performers come to hone their routines, but that's not why he does it.
"I think that there are a lot of problems that people have with variety arts," he said. "One is that people don't know how to hire good variety artists. Another is that people don't know how to present variety artists in a way that the audience can appreciate them. I want to build that structure if possible."
Nery spoke about how early Vaudeville acts traveled from venue to venue under contract. He aims to follow that model and build popularity for his show. To do so, he'll need more visibility and possibly some breakout stars. Celebrity performers and actors such as Cirque du Soleil's Eric Newton and "Community" actor Erik Charles Nielsen come out, but having more could help the show gain traction.
"I've had mediocre famous people come to the show. Toby Huss, he's on 'Reno 911!' and 'Carnivàle.' Kate Flannery, she was the red-haired lady on 'The Office,' " Nery said. "But, I haven't gotten great celebrities, like Bill Cosby or Michael Vick or anybody."
Well, he can only hope.
'Scot Nery's Boobie Trap'
Where: Way 2 Much Entertainment, 1910 W. Temple St., Los Angeles
When: Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Tickets: $20 online, $25 at the door