Glendale residents who watched the pre-finale of NBC’s competitive comedy show “Bring the Funny” on Tuesday probably noticed it showcased a local historic landmark — the Alex Theatre.
On Monday, social media magnate Chrissy Teigen, Jeff Foxworthy of “The Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” and Kenan Thompson of “Saturday Night Live” judged five comedic acts in front of an audience of about 450 people.
“Bring the Funny” is considered a major get for the city-owned Alex Theatre, which completed a 6,600-square-foot expansion of its backstage facilities in 2014 to attract more upscale shows.
The upgraded amenities include additional dressing rooms, a new freight elevator to access the street and subterranean levels and additional storage space.
The show’s executive producer, David Friedman, said the season’s first episodes were done on the NBC studio lot on a stage designed to look like a comedy club.
By the finale, the show runners wanted to up the stakes and challenge the comedians to perform in a theater.
“For our show, it made sense for our comics to grow and evolve where they can step out on that stage and show they deserve that vote to get to the finale,” Friedman said.
While looking for a finale venue, Friedman had heard other shows such as “Last Comic Standing” had used Alex Theatre with success and ultimately decided to go with the former movie palace, which dates back to 1925.
Audience members braved sweltering temperatures to line up on Brand Boulevard for their chance to see the finalists: silent sketch comics Chris O’Neill and Paul Valenti of “The Chris and Paul Show,” stand-up comics Ali Siddiq and Tacarra Williams, comedic musical group Lewberger. Audience members were surprised to see the return of a sketch comedy group, the Valleyfolk, following a vote by viewers.
The top comedic act selected by viewers will receive a $250,000 cash prize during Wednesday’s show.
Friedman said he has been impressed with all of the comics’ development since the first episode.
“The four acts in the show have all stepped up,” Friedman said. “They’ve all had to perform multiple bits in a short amount of time. It’s all about writing and material.”
Williams, who also works as a life-skills coach in Southern California jails, earned some of the biggest laughs by talking about how people criticize her for jokes she tells about her three kids.
Thompson, the longest-running “Saturday Night Live” cast member, had some uplifting words for her.
“We all have hardships,” Thompson said. “This show is an opportunity to get your shine on.”
Teigen was brought on stage by O’Neill and Valenti to help with a wordless skit about a man who deflates like a balloon.
“You guys are really like watching a cartoon,” Teigen said. “It’s so thought out. To work in silence like that takes a lot of creativity.”
Foxworthy described “The Chris and Paul Show” as a throwback of comedy from 50 years ago and said they should be performing every night in Las Vegas.
Siddiq also earned some big laughs from a bit about dine-and-dashing at an expensive restaurant. The winner of Comedy Central’s “Up Next” stand-up competition also received an impressive note from Teigen.
“Just like when Dave Chapelle comes out on stage and lights that cigarette, when you come out and sit in that chair you dominate the stage,” she said.
Elissa Glickman, chief executive of Glendale Arts, which manages the Alex Theatre, said “Bring the Funny” is the Alex Theatre’s largest production since she took her current position in 2010.
The 1,413-seat facility averages about 10 television shoots per year, which have included comedy specials for HBO and Showtime. That represents about 12% of the Alex Theatre’s annual business.
“I think what my team has been really successful at doing is building a good rapport with these folks, and that’s why they keep coming back,” Glickman said.
Three weeks ago, production crews started installing lights, cameras and a massive LED marquee above the stage, Glickman said.
To accommodate NBC’s time frame for the finale, Glendale Arts canceled the Alex Theatre’s annual open house scheduled for Labor Day weekend to celebrate the building’s 94th birthday.
With all of the set-equipment staging and installation, Glickman said it would have been impossible to do both events.
According to Glickman, Glendale Arts annually provides about $150,000 in rental subsidies to nonprofits and community groups that use the Alex Theatre.
“Productions like NBC and other film shoots give us the opportunity to do that,” she said.
For tickets to the final performance and results show of “Bring the Funny” at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., visit 1iota.com.