Maria Bamford is among the more than 130 comedians who will perform in venues… (Susan Maljan )
You may have seen the two-minute PSA parody on YouTube.
In the somber, black-and-white mash-up, dozens of well known Los Angeles comedians — Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron and Jimmy Pardo among them — stare the camera down, addressing the urgent question of why Los Angeles needs (needs!) an alternative comedy festival.
"No one is laughing at all," says Rory Scovel.
"The problem is ginormous," warns Kyle Kinane.
"Every day Americans are fake laughing," grimaces Maron.
The suggested directive? "Riot!"
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Riot L.A., which is being billed as L.A.'s alternative comedy festival, will take over a single block of Main Street in downtown L.A. this weekend, with more than 130 comedians performing (and many podcasting) across three intimate stages. A slew of comic heavyweights will headline, including Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins, Oswalt and Maron. But the event, which will run simultaneously at the Downtown Independent theater, the Smell and Five Stars Bar from Friday through Sunday nights, is decidedly not a Hollywood industry showcase for comedians to network with agents, managers and producers.
"It's a celebration of the people we have at our fingertips here in L.A.," says event producer Abbey Londer, who has produced comedy shows at Genghis Cohen and the Improv. "Sure, you can see a lot of these people at Upright Citizens Brigade theater; but you can't see them all in three days on an entire block of downtown."
Riot L.A. has strong indie roots. Londer launched a Kickstarter campaign in January to raise money for the festival. The goal, she says, was $20,000 in 30 days. Londer easily raised half of that in 10 days, she says.
Sponsors soon followed. Now the festival is being backed by KCRW, HBO, IFC and Funny or Die, among others. KCRW will host a fair in the parking lot across the street from the Downtown Independent, with retail and craft booths, food trucks, beer and soda. There also will be a late night open mike for newcomers in the back of the nearby Jalisco bar.
On Saturday night, KCRW will put on a benefit show, hosted by Colin Hanks, called "Storytime for Grown-Ups," featuring comedic riffs from "Parks and Recreation's" single-named Retta, Stephen Merchant, Cameron Esposito and others. Filmmaker Steven Feinartz's much buzzed about documentary about comedian Eddie Pepitone, "The Bitter Buddha," will have its L.A. premiere at the Downtown Independent later that night, with a panel discussion to follow.
A cacophony of live podcasting will emanate from the festival as well, including Maron's "WTF" Podcast, Pete Holmes' "You Made It Weird" and Matt Besser's "improv4humans," and the Moth will hold its StorySLAM from Riot L.A., featuring tales from "The Dark Side."
All of this lends something of a punk-rock-block-party-meets-comedy-club vibe to the festival, which seems appropriate. L.A. may be home to the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival, as well as the broader L.A. Comedy Festival, which blends sketch, stand-up, web shorts and a screenplay competition, but it is the "alternative" in Londer's festival, she says, that is its point of differentiation.
"Alternative" essentially means showcasing people that I think deserve to be recognized more, like Eddie [Pepitone] and Maria [Bamford]," she says. "But it also means different — different than going to a big club on a Tuesday night and paying $45, two drink minimums. These are very intimate, small spaces."
The largest international comedy festival in the world is the Just for Laughs festival, held in Montreal every summer. Given that L.A. is such a nexus of comedy and entertainment, Londer hopes that Riot L.A. will fill a void for Angelenos who can't make it to Canada for Just for Laughs.
"We absolutely need this locally," Pepitone says. "It's like a convention for comedians."
As the joke goes: "130 comics walk into a bar..."
Pepitone adds: "That's a whole lot of insecurity!"
Riot L.A.: Alternative Comedy Festival
Where: The Downtown Independent, the Smell and Five Stars Bar, all on Main Street, between 2nd and 3rd streets, downtown L.A.
When: 8 p.m.-midnight Friday, 2-11 p.m. Saturday, 2-10:15 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $110 VIP pass (all shows and KCRW benefit); $60 general festival pass; $5-25 individual show tickets