If you live or know even a fraction about what happens in Los Angeles, you’d probably know that it’s one of the centers of comedy in the world. Every single night, there’s world class comedy on display with hundreds of comedians performing in dozens of venues across the Greater L.A. Area. So, producing a comedy festival in a city where festival level comedy happens on a nightly basis is a big challenge. In fact, up until The Riot LA Comedy Festival debuted in 2012, Los Angeles had yet to have a live comedy festival it could regularly be proud of. Thanks to Riot LA creator and executive producer Abbey Londer, that is no longer the case.
Londer has worked her way up to a festival by independently producing several successful shows in L.A. at sites as disparate from the spare yard of a vintage clothing store to the world famous Hollywood Improv. A testament to the DIY spirit, Abbey went from putting on shows all throughout L.A. to launching an entire festival from scratch. “Kickstarter gave us exactly what we needed,” says Londer. “We got a [promotional] video that we didn’t expect to go viral and did.” They raised half of their $10,000 goal in just ten days. This time around, in the second edition of Riot LA, she didn’t even need Kickstarter, thanks to public radio station KCRW coming onboard as a presenting sponsor along with IFC, Yelp, Squarespace, Funny or Die, Laughstub, and more also sponsoring the festival.
Another challenge of producing live entertainment in L.A. is that there are so many other options for someone’s evening/weekend, pretty much anything you can imagine you’d ever want to do, you can go do in less than an hour from your house, depending on traffic. So, getting hundreds upon hundreds of people to come to Downtown L.A., which is still kind of a hassle no matter which article you read, is very impressive. Londer explains, “Social media is your best friend. Word of mouth really helped a lot.”
A really smartly packaged campaign across YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. as well as maintaining an online presence during the festival’s hiatus, made the festival a success the first time around and has built up of excitement for the second Riot LA this weekend. On top of that, it all takes place pretty much on one block and has an all inclusive party experience with “The Lot,” a large scale outdoor party with “…free beer, free Jarritos soda, food trucks, an outdoor video arcade, a breathalyzer stand, live music, and even AstroTurf.”
It’s almost unfortunate to think Riot LA would need so much promotion since the festival is pretty stacked. Londer comments, “The line-up is pretty incredible,” and it certainly is. Mixing in the likes of comedians of whom we can all not get enough, such as Kyle Kinane, Anthony Jeselnik, Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, Scott Aukerman, Doug Benson, Pete Holmes, Paul F. Tompkins, T.J. Miller, Thomas Lennon, Jen Kirkman, and Fred Willard with comedians that the whole country should know/will know very soon, like Ron Funches, Rory Scovel, Karen Kilgariff, Kurt Braunohler, Morgan Murphy, Jerrod Carmichael, Carmen Lynch, Jay Larson, Josh Fadem, Drennon Davis, Tony Sam, Matt McCarthy, Jesse Elias, and Jamie Lee makes for “…a solid balance. There is a lot of industry [and big names] there, but it’s also a celebration of comedy. So, there are a lot of people who love comedy, but don’t normally see comedy live that come to Riot LA and get to see all these great, hilarious people,” according to Abbey.
“I love watching comedy so much,” explains Londer, that she went across the country herself scouting acts for Riot LA to find all these hilarious people in addition to the ones in L.A.’s backyard. That’s a rarity for most festivals, as they just take submissions or have several middlemen showcase comedians several times. Riot LA also has a brand new Rodney Dangerfield Award that awards a handful of singular performers that “…all have the elements of originality, creativity, spirit, and execution, as exemplified by Rodney Dangerfield.” For Abbey, something like the Rodney Dangerfield Award got to be as simple to set up as “Joan Dangerfield (the widow of Rodney Dangerfield) wanted to do it,” since Riot LA’s notoriety has apparently caught on only after happening once.
Throughout my conversation with Londer, this remark stuck out and stayed with me the most: “Alt comedy doesn’t mean one thing. For me, it’s seeing great acts like Todd Barry in the intimate setting of a 220 seat theater or even a 100 seat theater. It’s an alternative experience to the one you might normally get watching comedy.” There’s a great debate and even a backlash in some regions of the Internet against something called “alt comedy”, which has become blurrier and blurrier in its definition since comedians like Bob Odenkirk and David Cross were first part of it in the ’90s. Abbey’s take on alt comedy is, thankfully, the original one, and one that seeks out to show how great comedy can be instead of the perception that it’s just this snarky, meta-filled style of comedy.
Holding up that ideal is how Londer’s favorite Riot LA moment happened with “….Eddie Pepitone, Todd Glass, and James Adomian all performing impromptu on the street with a crowd that just gathered around them.”
Will you be attending Riot LA? Who would be on your dream festival lineup? Let us know in the comments below.