The weekend of September 21 marks the beginning of the inaugural Riot LA comedy festival. Riot LA is equal parts comedy and party, nestled in one square block of downtown Los Angeles, featuring food trucks, live podcast tapings and, of course, some of the best stand-up in the country. Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, Maria Bamford and Pete Holmes are just a very tiny representative sample of the caliber of performers throughout the weekend.
The festival got a lot of early buzz around LA and in the comedy press thanks to its Kickstarter campaign, which netted the festival about $20,000. According to festival founder Abbey Londer, this covered 50% of the festival, including start up costs like venue deposits, printing and web design, with the balance relying on ticket sales, “which is terrifying.”
Londer decided to plunge into this terrifying endeavor after spending about 4 years producing comedy shows around LA and participating in the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival in 2011. “I know a lot of people ask, ‘Why would you bring a festival to a city that already has everything, every day?’ But because we are a city of Industry, it’s always ‘Go! Go! Go!’ I wanted to celebrate the people that do live here in a way that’s fun. It’s comedy and laughter without all that stuff we have to deal with every day.”
Helming a festival was probably inevitable for Londer, who began doing stand-up in LA after spending years in Chicago focused on theater and improv. “I really enjoyed doing stand-up, so I started producing my own shows. I would always be in charge of things and then I realized I really, really liked it. And the shows just kept getting bigger and crazier.”
Londer’s shows were often in “very oddball places – a warehouse loading dock, the outdoor patio of a vintage shop…” and featured everything from DJs and free beer to ping-pong and s’mores around a firepit. “I always wanted it to feel like you were coming for a comedy show, but getting an experience.”
Londer brought this same comprehensive approach to the Riot LA planning. “I wanted it to be community-oriented, where the audience really felt like they were a part of it. I started with that in mind, so the festival isn’t just about comedy, we’re also supporting local artists and vendors, like the food trucks.”
Speaking of food trucks – a very hipster dining experience – Riot LA unabashedly proclaims itself to be an “alternative comedy festival” at a time when that word can can be simultaneously controversial and meaningless. “It’s kind of a double entendre,” Londer explains, “The comedians are less mainstream but literally the festival, itself, is different. It’s packed into one weekend at small, intimate venues within walking distance of each other. Basically, it’s more of a block party than a machine.”
Londer chose the venues because she “LOVES Downtown LA. I love the buildings and the history,” starting with The Downtown Independent Theater, already home to one of the most popular weekly comedy shows in LA, Holy Fuck!
Riot LA was fortunate to be able to coordinate logistics with nearby bars, The Jalisco and Five Stars Bar as well as art space The Smell. They used the lot next to The Downtown Independent as a space for food, free beer and just hanging out in between shows.
Not that there’s a lot of down time between shows, with a near constant rotation of events at all three venues (The Jalisco is the official after-party bar but will not be hosting any ticketed shows) that are a comedy nerd’s wet dream…or nightmare. “‘How am I gonna pick?’ is a great complaint to have,” Londer points out. “I wanted to only book quality comedians so that everyone would want to come back next year.”
There’s no filler and attendees must make agonizing choices like a live WTF podcast taping or the festival edition of The Super Serious Show. “I actually only booked about 6 of the shows myself,” Abbey points out. “The rest are shows that are already around LA, just all brought together for one weekend. They deserve to be celebrated because they are the best shows in town.”
Like a good mother, Londer won’t pick out a favorite show or comedian, but does admit, “I’m a sucker for storytelling, like The Moth and Risk!” and says she’s excited to include a special screening of The Bitter Buddha, a film about comedian Eddie Peppitone. But Londer remains utterly diplomatic, saying, “Everyone in the festival is a champion forever and always.”
Riot LA runs September 21-23 in the 200 block of South Main Street in Los Angeles. Tickets, lineups and all other info are available at RiotLA.com.
About the Author: Amy Hawthorne is an LA-based stand-up and writer and the founder of ComedyGroupie.com. She is convinced that the food industry is being unduly influenced by Big Avocado.