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STYLE & CULTURE

The roast of the town

With a low-budget launch, the humor mag L.A. Innuendo is out to skewer the city.

August 08, 2003|Deborah Netburn | Special to The Times

"Magazines are launched every day, but it is not every day that a young boy becomes a man," said Richard Rushfield, dressed in a tuxedo and addressing the 300 people assembled (mostly around the cash bars) in the second-floor ballroom of the Friars Club in Beverly Hills. They were gathered there Wednesday night, according to the e-vite, for a twofold purpose: to celebrate the launch of L.A. Innuendo, a new humor magazine that Rushfield founded and edited with Stacey Grenrock-Woods, and to celebrate the bar mitzvah of a 13-year-old named Nick Borenstein.

Although Rushfield was standing on a small stage and holding a microphone, almost nobody was listening to him. Nobody stopped talking when Rabbi Kramer (actually a comedian named Jeremy Kramer) took the stage, saying: "Shalom, I ask you to lower your voices, shalom, please stop talking." Nobody stopped talking during comedian Andy Kindler's set, which followed. They did stop talking, however, when Borenstein, in a dark suit, a white tallit draped over his shoulders, announced that he was going to sing "Shadowland," a song from "The Lion King."

"They wanted me to sing my Torah portion, but I was like, 'I'm going to do 'Shadowland,' " he had said earlier.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 09, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
"This American Life" -- In an article on L.A. Innuendo magazine in Friday's Calendar, "This American Life" was incorrectly identified as a National Public Radio (NPR) program. In fact, the program is produced by WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio and distributed to public radio stations by Public Radio International (PRI).

After Borenstein's impressive rendition, the crowd went back to its conversations and continued to ignore the rest of the night's performers: a terrible hypnotist/magician named Mesmerizo, a beer-bellied male exotic dance duo called Sashay and a trashy Christian-music performer named Crystal.

All in all, the low-budget extravaganza seemed a fitting introduction to L.A. Innuendo, a low-budget, free magazine devoted entirely to making fun of Los Angeles. Out this week, the first issue of what the editors hope will be a bimonthly starts with a satirical bang, skewering the annual "best of" issues of Los Angeles magazine and the L.A. Weekly with its "Worst of L.A. Awards." The cover features a photo of Kevin Spacey, named "Worst Person (Actor)" by the magazine's staff.

"It is a niche that begged to be filled," says Michael Sonnenschein, a television writer and L.A. Innuendo contributor. "Everyone has ideas about what Los Angeles is, and everybody who lives here and outside of here makes fun of it in all these cliched ways, but nobody is making fun of it in a sort of close and pointed way."

Rushfield and Grenrock-Woods, both natives (he's from the Palisades, she's from Sherman Oaks), are friends through the comedy and music scene that revolves around the club Largo on Fairfax Avenue. He co-writes the Intelligence Report column for Vanity Fair; she's a correspondent on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and a sex columnist for Esquire. In the mid-'90s, they collaborated on the e-mail newsletter the Barricade ("The Journal of Internet Liberation"), which made fun of pop-culture sources from the men's magazine Maxim to book reviews on Amazon. After three years, the Barricade's circulation was up to 1,000, but they decided to stop it right after Sept. 11.

"The Barricade sort of had this guerrilla warfare theme," says Grenrock-Woods. "Our assumed names were General Ciao and Commandante X, and we thought maybe that's not such a good idea right now."

Ever since, they had talked about starting a magazine. "This year, we started telling everyone we were going to do it, and if you shoot your mouth off about something too much, eventually you have no choice but to actually do it," says Rushfield.

They rounded up a staff of comedians (Rushfield's close friend Margaret Cho has promised to contribute, and Largo regulars Kindler and Paul F. Tompkins each has a column), young unemployed or underemployed television writers, and some veteran local journalists who wanted to help out.

"I consider Richard to be the social director of Los Angeles journalists," says Mark Ebner, a former Spy magazine writer. "So nobody is saying, 'Oh no, not another start-up, and I'm going to have to write for free.' Everybody showed up at these meetings with an altruistic spirit."

As they had with the Barricade, Rushfield and Grenrock-Woods envisioned a magazine that would carefully study and mock all aspects of the city, especially the entertainment industry. They also had clear ideas of what the magazine would not be. Contributors are warned not to pitch first-person narratives of the type featured on NPR's "This American Life," or stories that could appear in Los Angeles magazine or the L.A. Weekly. National fads don't count. And there are no sacred cows. The tag line of the magazine is "Your enemy's enemy is your friend."

"We wanted to put the mean back in journalism," says Rushfield.

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