Riot L.A. (various venues, downtown Los Angeles, Friday through Sunday). Los Angeles is a city of comedy. It’s not the only city of comedy – there are New York and Chicago (and Toronto and London, among other places where English is spoken). There is comedy practiced everywhere – given the minimal capital required, the barriers are low. But if you are not satisfied with being the funniest person in Syracuse, Peoria or Spartanburg – which might be a perfectly great thing and possibly even a living – you will at some point want to head to the big-fish pond, to a major metropolis with a major media profile and an improv theater/school even people not specifically interested in comedy might have heard of.
And while New York and Chicago may seem the more historically, classically likely destinations, with their Greenwich Village and Second City associations, and “Saturday Night Live” still a power vortex and so on, Los Angeles, has attractions of its own – not just the swimming pools and movie stars – but television. Because, as active as things may be on the stages of Astoria, Queens, at the Ed Sullivan Theater or on the eighth floor of Rockefeller Center, TV is very much a Los Angeles business; and TV -- writing for it, being on it, making voices for cartoons -- is a paycheck, a stepladder, a stairway.
You see what I did there? (Popular comical construction used ironically.) I made this about television. Because I’m a TV critic.
This weekend, the 4-year-old comedy festival Riot L.A. sets up camp in downtown Los Angeles – which, having a hashtag now, has become officially a Real Place, just as Los Angeles at large has been crystallized into being by the attention of the New York Times – with a host of performers well and lesser known. Many have been on TV. (I did it again.) See them in the flesh here, the way they’re occasionally meant to be seen.
‘There are “live versions” of actual television shows. At “No, You Shut Up! Live” (Fusion Stage, 9 p.m. Saturday), Paul F. Tompkins hosts an in-person version of his puppet-peopled current-events panel show, while “Adam Ruins Everything Live!” (the Downtown Independent, 7 p.m. Saturday) brings Adam Conover’s Web-born cable TV series, in which he destroys cherished beliefs, straight to the people. Harsh.
Coincidentally, the festival will feature two ensembles with new, self-created series in which the members all play teachers: the six-women Katydids (Chicago-born, now L.A.-based) whose “Teachers” premiered recently on TV Land, and Denver’s three-man Grawlix, whose “Those Who Can’t,” developed first as an Amazon Studios pilot, premieres Feb. 11 on TruTV. (It has already been renewed for a second season.) Grawlix’s “World’s Best Comedy Show” (Five Star Bar, 9 p.m. Saturday), will feature Kumail Nanjiani (a man of many TV shows, including “Silicon Valley,” “Portlandia” and the “X-Files” reboot and his own “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail.” The Katydids’ event (Downtown Independent, 1 p.m. Saturday) will be a “watch and talk” centered on their TV series.
Not surprisingly, some of the shows featuring the more famous names are sold out – wrist bands, still available at the sub-VIP rate -- do not get necessarily get you in everywhere. Perhaps you can find someone trying to unload a ticket to David Cross’ “Making America Great Again!” (Ace Theater, 7:30 p.m. Friday) or the starry Sunday evening bill at the Regent featuring Jerrod Carmichael (“The Carmichael Show,” renewed!), T.J. Miller (“Silicon Valley”), Ron Funches (“Undateable”), Nanjiani (see above) and Anthony Jeselnik (“The Jeselnik Offensive”), As Seen on Television.
At the same time, as of this writing, tickets are still available for Friday’s dyn-o-mite triple bill, Natasha Leggero (“Another Period”), Maria Bamford (“Louie,” “Kroll Show,” “Arrested Development”) and Jeaneane Garofolo (“The Larry Sanders Show,” “The Ben Stiller Show,” lots of other stuff); Fortune Feimster, a regular on the “The Mindy Project,” hosts (Ace Theater, 10:30 p.m.). There’s also room for more at “Patton Oswalt Can Always Go Downtown” (the Regent, 9 p.m. Sunday), the Twitter-mad comic actor/acting comic, whose credits include “Veep,” “Shield,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Reno 911!” it goes on and on -- just look him up, he’s practically ubiquitous.
Other familiar-faced hosts include Jonah Ray (“The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail” – that Jonah), soon, or eventually, to host the reborn “Mystery Science Theater 3000"; Ron Funches, with “Funch-a-Mania” (Five Star Bar, 5 p.m. Sunday); Brody Stevens (the Smell, 7:30 p.m. Saturday) with guest Steve Agee (Outside Dave on “New Girl”); Baron Vaughn (“Grace and Frankie”), co-hosting “The New Negroes” with Open Mike Eagle (Fusion Stage, 5 p.m. Saturday); and Lauren Lapkus (“Orange Is the New Black,” “Comedy Bang Bang”), whose “With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus” (the Smell, 5:30 p.m. Sunday) will feature her UCB sketch group, Wild Horses, with Stephanie Allyne, Mary Holland (“Blunt Talk”) and Erin Whitehead. All provide voices on the upcoming HBO cartoon “Animals,” along with half of the other comic actors in Hollywood, seemingly.
T.J. Miller, with his “Silicon Valley” costar Thomas Middleditch, Lauren Lapkus & Mary Holland and Jon Dore (Tig Notaro’s traveling companion in the Showtime documentary “Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro”), will participate in Ian Abramson’s “7 Minutes in Purgatory (the Downtown Independent, 5 p.m. Saturday), in which a comic sequestered in a soundproof room does her or his act to a camera while the audience watches a video relay, their (presumed) laughter inaudible to the performer. And at Brandie Posey and Sam Varela’s “Picture This! (Downtown Independent, 5 p.m. Sunday) comics perform while being drawn by artists as they work – it’s a “live animated comedy show,” animated this time by Mike Mayfield (“Mr. Pickles”) and Mike Hollingsworth (“BoJack Horseman). Ron Funches turns up here again, along with Eddie Pepitone (“The Sarah Silverman Program”).
The secret of all festival-going, of course, is that great things happen away from the main stage; the high-priced spread may differ in kind from the cheap, homemade stuff, but it does not necessarily differ in quality. And many comics will have a multiple presence over the weekend, appearing in one another’s shows, mixing it up, the stars with the stars of tomorrow. It can feel sometimes that all these people are friends, and while this is probably not true – the comedy scene may be as cliqueish as high school, for all I know – it is true that there is strength in numbers. A rising tide floats all boats. Fest!
Sorry to everyone I left out (there are a lot of you). A full schedule, links to tickets and general information is available on the Riot L.A. website.
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd