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Amusing asides

Who needs comedy clubs? The worlds of sketch, improv and stand-up are happily colliding in offbeat venues all over town.

January 25, 2007|Chris Barton | Times Staff Writer

HEY, did you hear the one about stand-up comedy in L.A.?

Of course not, because stand-up died a horrible death somewhere around the time everyone started loving Raymond. Doesn't every comic here just want to get on TV anyway?

Well, believe it or not, no. Though there are still plenty of comics dreaming of that miracle sitcom gig and searching for the perfect head shot, stand-up comedy is enjoying a renaissance in Southern California. And it's happening far from the storied walls of the Laugh Factory, the Comedy Store and the Improv.

Inspired by unconventional outlets such as the Fairfax nightclub Largo and Beth Lapides' Un-Cabaret, a new generation is taking a DIY approach to the craft, and comedy fans are going right along. Seemingly every week brings a new night of performances in restaurants, bars and theater spaces, and with none of the rules and restrictions of the major clubs, competing for stage time has been replaced by a sense of community. As a result, the worlds of sketch, improv and stand-up are mingling like never before.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday January 29, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
'Garage Comedy': An article about comedy shows in Thursday's Calendar Weekend section identified a performer at the "Garage Comedy" show at El Cid as Jen Kirkland. Her name is Jen Kirkman.

In fact, you can take in comedy any night of the week without ever setting foot in a comedy club. And that's what we did. Seven nights. No two-drink minimums or bloated cover charges. Just anything for a laugh.

Saturday: Up all night

With its midnight start time, "The Tomorrow Show" is not for the typical comedy consumer -- or the early riser. Even so, the variety show's mix of music, comedy and the unexpected has been drawing packed houses at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood since its beginning a little more than a year ago.

"Stuff gets funny after 11. Stuff gets weird, and people lose their will to leave," co-host Brendon Small explains with a smirk. "They giggle because they've been kept too long in one place. You're too tired to know what's good for you."

Already an L.A. anomaly for providing a free parking lot, "The Tomorrow Show" offers a unique mix of acts every week, stretching well into the wee hours. One night the crunchy, nunchuck-bearing post-rock of Ninja Academy kicks things off before Small comes onstage with co-hosts Craig Anton and Ron Lynch. The veteran comics introduce each act and trade barbs and observations, like three friends hanging out in their living room.

The comics and characters include a baggy-panted clown (Chad Fogland) performing an impressively prolonged strip tease, a young sketch duo that captures the anarchic spirit of the Canadian comedy troupe Kids in the Hall and, surprisingly, a straight-faced slideshow of co-host Ron Lynch's Death Valley vacation. Bathed in an eerie yellow glow in the corner of the aisle, a bust of Steve Allen looks on, smiling in placid approval.

Though the night's eclecticism -- and its BYOB policy -- makes the late hour less of an issue, it inevitably takes its toll on some. At a quarter to 2, Maria Holland drifts through the lobby.

"I'm kind of sleepy; it gets hard to pay attention," she says. "I mean, it's funny but...." Her voice trails off as the show continues, boldly indifferent to the hour.

Sunday: Lounge act

It's just half an hour into Josh Fadem's show at 1160 Bar & Lounge when the host gets an important phone call onstage.

"Hello, Josh?" asks a booming voice over the club's sound system. "It's the King of Hollywood. I'm very concerned about tonight's show."

Though the voice belongs to the 26-year-old comic's friend and frequent collaborator Fogland on a microphone in the back, Fadem promises the King -- and the crowded, Reno-styled room -- that the show will bounce back. The first comedians, two inexperienced and possibly quite drunk friends, didn't bring much to the table, and things didn't get any better when one stripped down to his skivvies.

But such are the risks at "The Acid Reflux Hour." Booked by Fadem for the last year and a half in the basement of the Ramada Hollywood Hotel, the show features an unpredictable blend of successful and developing comics and sketch performers, culminating on some nights with a pie-eating contest. But Fadem takes his night and its occasional missteps very seriously.

"If [someone's set] goes badly, then maybe I can do something to get the energy up," Fadem says, possessed with the manic air of someone who'd rather be performing. "Which maybe I'll do right now."

And with that he darts to the stage, taking a seat in front of a second microphone as a young woman in a sweater performs. With long black hair and a Cheshire Cat grin, Fadem sits in like a veteran musician, occasionally interjecting his thoughts with a free-associative energy that keeps some sets from going off the rails. Though some comics are more appreciative than others, Fadem's genial nature and otherworldly quickness on his feet more often than not yield the comedic equivalent of a mash-up track.

"This room is so perfect for him," says fellow comic Fogland, who is a fixture at many comedy events around town. "Josh is a comedy genius."

Monday: Garage work

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