Left to right: Carl Kozlowski, Brant Thoman and Jake Belcher (Deborah Vankin/Los Angeles…)
Grand Theft Audio, a "political-comedy-whatever-goes" podcast that's now morphing into a string of live staged shows, is something of an enigma. Its three hosts, Carl Kozlowski, Jake Belcher and Brant Thoman, aren't well-known comics themselves; and they have exactly zero TV and film credits between them. But somehow, they regularly lure really big names onto their live Internet radio show, which broadcasts out of a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood.
Cheech and Chong, Carlos Mencia, Paul F. Tompkins, Marc Maron and Dana Gould have all appeared on the show, as has Brian "Head" Welch, the former guitarist for Korn. Andrew Breitbart phoned in at the height of the ACORN controversy.
What's their secret?
"I just put it out there and ask," says Kozlowski, who books most of the episodes.
"Carl is the best beggar in the world," adds Belcher. "He's made out of, like, crazy magic or something."
Or perhaps there's a different kind of magic at play. When the self-described "Kings of Internet Radio" get together, impassioned, compelling and often very funny conversation just sort of … happens. The two-hour, talk radio-style show is sort of like "The View" for dudes, says Kozlowski, who by day covers entertainment for the Pasadena Weekly: "A bunch of guys with different opinions getting together and making fun of the week's news."
What sets G.T.A. apart from the glut of comedy podcasts, though, is its mix of star power with the quotidian, quirky and absurd. They often bring on random, everyday people to chat, like a bail bondsman who specializes in jailhouse weddings or Belcher's weed dealer (under a fake name).
G.T.A. has had homes at both terrestrial and Internet radio networks, including a short stint at KABC-AM before landing at its current spot, newdissidentradio
.com. But the show is just now hitting its stride, with about 20,000 downloads per episode. And it's morphing into a live comedy offshoot; the trio will put on a show next week at the Lab at the Hollywood Improv and there's a benefit for Covenant House later this month at the Comedy Store.
In-person shows are far more stand-up driven. Next Saturday night will see performances from Chicago comedian Tim Joyce, burlesque comic Susanna "Lucky Deluxe" Lee, Comedy Garage's Sean Green and a surprise comic from the "Late Show With David Letterman." The upcoming benefit for Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth, will feature Christopher Titus (Fox's "Titus"), Comedy Central vet Kyle Cease and "Tonight Show" regulars Bil Dwyer and Jimmy Brogan, among others.
"We're trying to look for the best of the established and the up and comers," Kozlowski says. "We take pride that our reputation has grown to where we can draw these big stars; but at the same time we're helping the next generation become stars as well."
'Grand Theft Audio Live!'
Where: The Lab at the Hollywood Improv, 8162 Melrose
When: June 18, 10:30 p.m.
'Grand Theft Audio Presents the Hookup: Covenant House California'
Where: The Laugh Factory, 8000 W. Sunset Blvd.
When: June 22, 8 p.m.
Price: $20 advance, $25 door