The fourth annual Riot L.A. comedy festival returns Friday through Sunday at a half-dozen downtown venues including the Regent, the Downtown Independent and the Theater at Ace Hotel, a 2016 addition to the roster of spaces. Also new this year: dog-friendly show 2 Girls 1 Pup (one of L.A. Weekly's 10 Best New Stand-Up Shows) is partnering with No-Kill L.A. and Best Friends Animal Society for mobile adoptions; Fusion network's F-Comedy division is sponsoring a Saturday afterparty; and free app Everfest will provide festgoers with updated schedules, locations, reminders and even a few giveaways.
There's almost too much to do and see over the course of a mere 72 hours, so we asked some of the biggest names appearing at this year's fest, plus festival founder Abbey Londer, to recommend acts that shouldn't be missed, from up-and-comers to their friends and personal favorites. Tickets for all shows (except those that are sold out) are available at riotla.com.
Maria Bamford (Fri., Jan. 29, 10:30 p.m.): "Jackie Kashian is one of my best friends, and she is also one of my favorite comedians of all time. Her Dork Forest Radio podcast has inspired me to celebrate my own Comic-Con of self-help. I have been playing a long LARP of emotional Sudoku with breaks for Chex Mix. For over 40 years. Oprah is my George Lucas." Five Star Bar, 267 S. Main St., downtown; Sun., Jan. 31, 3 p.m.; $10.
Natasha Leggero (Fri., Jan. 29, 10:30 p.m.): "I would say Moshe Kasher, but he is my husband, so that would be cheating. So I'll say — Brent Weinbach. Brent is one of the most unique, absurdist comedians of our time. It's like if Maria Bamford were a half-Filipino, half-Jewish hip-hop–obsessed man-boy who listened exclusively to 8-bit Nintendo music and it informed his comedy. Weird. Offbeat. Hilarious. You've never seen anything like it." The Lot, 247 S. Main St.; Sun., Jan 31, 7 p.m.; $10.
Brian Moses (Roast Battle, Sat., Jan. 30, 11 p.m.): "Redheads are en vogue as of late, but Andrew Santino seems to always be in style. 'Santino' — as he's affectionately called in the streets — is probably your favorite unknown comedian's favorite unknown comedian. Part party frat guy, part Real N****r, his unique voice brings people of all generations to relate to his perspective of today's issues. Dude is remarkable." The Lexington, 129 E. Third St., downtown; Sat., Jan. 30, 10:30 p.m.; $10. Also at the New Jalisco, 245 S. Main St., downtown; Sun., Jan. 31, 6 p.m.; $10.
David Cross (Fri., Jan 29, 7:30 p.m.): "I have been lucky to be on a number of bills with Jo Firestone, and there is always a little bit of a weight lifted — the tiniest upward shift in mood — when I go to do a set and I see that Jo is there or, even better, hosting. I likes her vibe, I tell ya. She's effortlessly funny and self-deprecating without it seeming coy or calculated. She's also nice! And she's fucking funny. She's one of those people who not only makes you laugh when you're watching her but you just generally feel better about everything as a whole." Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown; Sat., Jan. 30, 5 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 31, 7 p.m.; $15. Also at the Lexington, 129 E. Third St., downtown; Sat., Jan. 30, 6:30 p.m.; $10.
Dana Gould (Sun., Jan. 31, 3 p.m.): "Watching Kate Berlant perform is like watching grass push up through the sidewalk. Los Angeles has such an incredibly strong comedy scene, but Kate is a rare jewel. To me, Kate transcends the definition of what a comedian is or is supposed to be, and has created something wholly unique. Kate doesn't have an 'act.' She is her act. She is not a comedian; she is a special effect. And, as is with all special effects, seeing is believing." The Smell, 247 S. Main St., downtown; Sat., Jan. 30, 9:30 p.m.; $15.
Ron Funches (Sun., Jan. 31, 9 p.m.): "Kate Berlant is a force of nature and a pleasure to watch. A gifted and hardworking performer who makes you question your own skills as a comedian and human." See above.
Paul F. Tompkins (Sat., Jan. 30, 9 p.m.): "Kate Berlant is delightful and always surprising. Guy Branum is pointed and insightful. Both are hilarious. Go see them! You must see them. If they are not pet-grooming opposite my show, that is. If they are performing when I am, do not see them. Find them someplace else some other time. This is not open for discussion." Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown; Sat., Jan. 30, 5 & 11 p.m.; $15. Also at the Lot, 274 S. Main St., downtown; Sun., Jan. 31, 9 p.m.; $10.
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Abbey Londer, Riot L.A. founder and executive producer: "I'm excited about A Watch and Talk with The Katydids. Their new show Teachers recently premiered on TV Land. They'll be showing some unaired, never-before-seen clips from their new show that had Alison Brie, Ian Roberts and others working with them. I grew up with these gals in Chicago and think they're super talented." Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown; Sat., Jan. 30, 1 p.m.; $10.
Sam Varela (Picture This!, Sun., Jan. 31, 5 p.m.): "Joel Kim Booster is comedy's next New York powerhouse. Not only is he a beautiful young man to look at with great hair, his biting wit and ability to deliver comedy truths that rip the current status quo apart have secured his spot in the next generation of comedy greats." Five Star Bar, 267 S. Main, downtown; Sat., Jan. 30, 7 p.m.; $15. Also at the Lexington, 129 E. Third St., downtown; Sun., Jan. 31, 6:30 p.m.; $10.
Londer: "Jermaine Fowler's show will open with a trumpet player and has an insane lineup: Nicole Byer, Dan St. Germain, Lil' Rel Howery, Hugh More and James Adomian." Five Star Bar, 257 S. Main St., downtown; Sun., Jan. 31, 9 p.m.; $15.
Baron Vaughn (Sat., Jan. 30, 5 p.m.): "Kristin Rand is a force of nature. Like a boxer in her prime, she hits you in unpredictable ways. Phil Hanley is relaxed and in control, made possible by being one of the best joke writers I've ever seen. Caitlin Gill is the smartest person I've ever seen explore their own stupidity. If your little sister was funnier than you — and really absurd — she would be Lisa Best. Josh Johnson's world is full of chaos, and he's equipped to make you laugh at it. Danny Jolles is one hell of a joke writer. A true comedian. Sammy Arechar: Hilarious. Original. Clever. Silly. All in a huggable package. Ever Mainard has an organic and effortless style that makes you giggle and feel you've somehow known her for years. Marcella Arguello is a natural. Nothing about her is forced. She's very dry and truly charming." Gill and Best: New Jalisco, 245 S. Main St., downtown; Sat., Jan. 30, 8 p.m.; $10. Johnson, Best, Jolles: the Lexington, 129 E. Third St., downtown; Sun., Jan. 31, 8:30 p.m.; $10. Arechar, Mainard, Gill: the Lexington, 129 E. Third St., downtown, Sat., Jan. 30, 10:30 p.m.; $10. Arguello: New Jalisco, 245 S. Main St., downtown; Sat. Jan. 30, 10 p.m.; $10.
RIOT L.A., various downtown venues; Fri.-Sun., Jan. 29-31; riotla.com.