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'50 First Jokes' showcases comedians in L.A.

Second annual event will be Friday at the Downtown Independent.

January 05, 2012|By Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times
  • "50 First Jokes," a long-running, popular New York comedy show, is picking up some traction in L.A. Fifty L.A. comedians, including Maria Bamford (pictured), tell their very first joke of 2012. The 2nd annual L.A. show is Jan. 6 at the Downtown Independent theater.
"50 First Jokes," a long-running, popular New York comedy show,… (Marsaili McGrath / Getty…)

Fifty of L.A.'s comedians will band together this week to kick off the new year the best way they know how: with a new politically biting, socially acerbic or self-eviscerating joke.

"50 First Jokes," a popular New York show that's making its second annual appearance in Los Angeles, is Friday at the Downtown Independent theater. The show's concept is simple: Each comedian has 2 minutes to unleash his or her first joke of the new year. Only qualification: It must have been written after the ball dropped, in 2012 proper.

Comedians — including Maria Bamford and "The Office's" B.J. Novak — will introduce the next comic onstage in what inevitably morphs into a fast-paced, frenetic stream of 2012 commentary. It's like speed dating for comics, except hyper-topical.

Co-producer Margie Mintz, a stand-up who hosts the weekly comedy show "French Toast" at Taix in Echo Park, says "50 First Jokes" is "the most popular comedy event of the year in New York." However, she takes no credit for the idea. That belongs to John F. O'Donnell, Claudia Cogan and Jiwon Lee, who launched the show in Manhattan.

Still, Mintz was a loyal fan of the show, which has been nominated for Excellence in Comedy New York awards for best comedy event in 2009 and best variety show in 2010. When she moved to Los Angeles in September 2009, she brought the show idea with her, with O'Donnell's blessing.

"I thought L.A. deserved to have these shows," Mintz says. "It's just a really smart idea that brings the community together and realizes the value in what everyone is doing."

Last year was "50 First Jokes'" inaugural run at the intimate Zephyr Theatre in West Hollywood; the show sold out in advance and there weren't seats left, even, for the performing comics, many of whom stood in the wings before their turn on stage. So advance tickets are recommended this year.

Along with the standard new year's resolution and hangover jokes, expect a heavy dose of politics and apocalyptic humor this year, says O'Donnell, who is flying out to co-produce and appear in the show. Cogan will also be performing and D.C. Pierson, from the sketch group Derrick, will host the show.

O'Donnell, who is hosting the New York show this year, wouldn't reveal the 2012 jokes he's written, but he did say that among the material he'll be riffing on is the idea of being over-loved as a child and how that's given him a sense of entitlement and arrogance. And he'll likely be deconstructing and making fun of the overused phrase "I'm just trying to be the best at being me."

"I mean, how much of a loser do you have to be if somebody else, who's not you, is better at being you than you!" he says.

Other comedians on the L.A. bill include Rory Scovel, Eric André, Matt Braunger, Brandie Posey and Dave Ross, as well as a handful of "Conan" writers and a smattering of the industry's promising newcomers.

O'Donnell says he is particularly proud of how quickly "50 First Jokes" has grown over the six years since it launched in New York.

"It built from a show that was in the back room of a bar to this big event at Webster Hall and 92YTribeca. And we're excited about the bicoastal expansion," O'Donnell says. "Now it's sort of a hangout for comedians and industry people, a big party. But there's also an element of pressure because there's a big audience and managers, agents and producers come out."

Now that the show is in L.A.— and given that, next year, "50 First Jokes" will be streamed live via Chirpbug TV, an interactive comedy video site now in beta — Mintz says she wouldn't be surprised if the show soon became a nationally televised event. But that's decidedly not the point, she says.

"After the first of the year, everyone makes a resolution that they're going to be the best comedian that they can be," Mintz says. "And this just starts the year off with a bang."

50 First Jokes

Where: The Downtown Independent Theater, 251 S. Main St., L.A.

When: Friday. Doors: 7 p.m.; show: 8 p.m.

Price: $8 in advance, $10 at door. http://www.brownpapertickets.com

Info: (213) 617-1033; http://www.downtownindependent.com

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

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