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‘One-Two Punch’ comedy show really hits home

Comedian Barbara Gray’s underground comedy show, “One-Two Punch,” has become something of a staple on the L.A. alternative comedy scene, drawing about 80 to 100 people per event, largely “comedy scenesters.” It’s held irregularly, about three to four times a year, and is open to the public in exchange for a $3 donation. Like any number of recurring group shows these days, established comics cycle through (Maria Bamford, Matt Braunger, Kyle Kinane) along with younger and emerging stand-ups, performing eight- to 12-minute sets each.

What sets “One-Two Punch” apart, however, is that the show is held in Gray’s living room.

From the outside, Gray’s house is a nondescript, yellow stucco bungalow atop a hill overlooking Echo Park on one side, Silver Lake on the other. But on select Saturday nights, it’s home to a raucous happening à la “Last Comic Standing” meets “Dance Party USA.” With punch.


FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this story contained Gray’s address. That address has been removed.

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“I think the key to comedy is intimacy,” Gray says. “That’s why it’s such a good show. You’re in a house. The set-up is perfect. We’ve got a big pile of boozy punch in the corner — it’s very inviting.”

More than a dependably comfortable comedy show, “One-Two Punch” is also a placeholder for Gray on the local comedy circuit. She curates/hosts the show and performs jokes between sets. And it speaks to the DIY, if somewhat disenfranchised, nature of today’s comedy and entertainment landscape. Comics are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial about creating stage time for themselves, rather than relying on local clubs or the national touring circuit.

“You want to have something you have control over,” Gray says. “You don’t have any [time] limit, you can do whatever you want. I’ve always started stuff myself. I know I can run a good show, so I thought: ‘Let’s just do it.’”

Like her seemingly ordinary home, Gray, too, is something of a contradiction. She’s a 27-year-old bespectacled brunette from Salt Lake City on the outside; a comic who’s “the bad girl next door” on the inside. Her humor is an unapologetic mix of goofy and dirty, traversing all the expected sex, dating and relationship jokes, but with a somewhat loopy air. One of her signature jokes is about a space abortion on Mars.

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Since moving to L.A. three years ago, Gray has eschewed the mainstream comedy clubs and forgone TV/film auditions. Instead, she has focused almost obsessively on the local alt-stand-up scene, attending shows nearly every night of the week, isolating role models like Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt, and launching her own platforms like “One-Two Punch.”

Gray also produces the monthly stand-up showcase “Space Boners” at the Silverlake Lounge, which caters to “younger, hungrier” comics, she says. But “One-Two Punch” is her baby. When she started the show 2 1/2 years ago, it drew mostly friends and friends-of-friends. But it’s grown steadily — seating regularly spills onto the front porch — and the lineup seems to get increasingly solid with each Facebook flyer. This Saturday’s show will see Kumail Nanjiani, Baron Vaughn, Paul Danke, Tamra Brown, Dave Child, Whitney Teubner, David Christenson, and special surprise guests.

Bamford, who played “One-Two Punch” last October, says even though the room was “super-crowded, you had to squish to get in,” it still felt like a safe place to try out new material. “It was a lot less pressure [than a comedy club]. At the Improv or the Laugh Factory, you’re really exposed. There are high expectations because people have paid,” Bamford says. “If you’re invited to someone’s home, you’re less likely to heckle or be hyper-critical.”

Staging is a critical part of cultivating that comfort zone, albeit “comfort” with a decidedly kitschy edge. Gray and her roommates Teubner (co-producer of “One-Two Punch”) and Christenson methodically transform their home before each show. Furniture is cleared, folding chairs are rented, and a makeshift stage, dressed with a red curtain and white lights, is set up, along with a decent sound system. Obscure, creepy VHS tapes, salvaged from Goodwill, play silently on a TV in the kitchen. The final touch: an elaborate, three-tiered electric punch bowl overflowing with heavily spiked pink juice.

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“I believe the environment is so much of it,” Gray says. “I love shows so much, I love comedy so much, and I want to foster a great show. To have something unique that will remain memorable to people — that’s a big part of it for me.”

When the last joke is told and the curtain falls, a DJ will crank up Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder and the evening will devolve into a full-on dance party. The overall effect is more post-college house party than professional comedy show; but the juxtaposition of well-known comics playing the Laugh Factory or Comedy Store one night, and Gray’s living room the next, is distinctly L.A.

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

‘One-Two Punch’

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When: Saturday, doors open at 8 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m.

Price: $3 suggested donation

Info and RSPV: onetwopunchshow@gmail.com


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