A comic book shop in Hollywood supposedly hides one of the world's biggest comedy fanatics. Somewhere in line for a stand-up show, among Justice League omnibuses and vintage Dr. Who figurines, is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, inked with a mysterious symbol.
Blood in, blood out. That's the comedy fanatic's code, right?
OK, not really. But it might as well be. Because we heard about this one guy who has supposedly bled in to a dedicated cadre of comedy fans at the Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail. He did so with a handstamp tattoo.
Sure, some people get memorial tattoos of those they've lost. Some folks serve time in prison and get their confirmed shiv kills inked in commemoration. Some folks just like getting stabbed with a needle. But a tattoo mimicking the handstamp you get after buying a ticket? Who could possibly be so devoted to a comedy show?
We had to track this guy down.
On any given night in Los Angeles, there are dozens of outlets for comedy that range from sad DIY basements to even sadder two-drink minimum clubs. But one of the few saving graces takes place every Wednesday night in the dark, basementlike Nerdmelt Showroom at the back of Meltdown Comics. Run by Nerdist podcast co-host Jonah Ray and Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani, the Meltdown has a nice punk-rock, treehouse-gang feeling that eschews exclusivity — even now that it has become a Comedy Central series, which recently started its second season.
The artful banter of its hosts and superb comedic tastes of producer Emily Gordon, along with the high-profile celebrity comedian drop-ins, make the $8 cover well worth it. But the Meltdown is almost nothing without its faithful. They're "some of the most dedicated, sweetest weirdos around," Ray told Vulture earlier this year. "They are creatives and artists and comics themselves, and them knowing each other and us knowing them has created an amazing dynamic for Kumail and I to play with." He added that such play involves light-hearted crowd-ribbing that can only work in a supportive environment.
On Wednesday, July 1, the line to get in includes Adam Dorsey, a 34-year-old Seattle-area native and aspiring screenwriter who moved to L.A. seven years ago. Dorsey was the first official regular attendee. "I was buying comics here, and at some point, a flyer on the Internet said that there was going to be a comedy show here," he says. "And my girlfriend basically forced me to go, because I love comedy. And her, my friend and I just came every night for at least a year, or something ridiculous like that."
For Dorsey, it wasn't just the comedy that made it worthwhile.
"I'm not super social, but I slowly started to get to know people here. And now, honestly, every person I know in L.A., I know through here," he says. "It's my social base. I feel like if I hadn't started coming here, maybe I'd have left Los Angeles by now. I wouldn't have gotten that sense of 'Oh, I like it here' because I basically didn't know anyone for a whole year."
He has slowed down his attendance recently in the service of other pursuits, but most nights, Ray will nod to Dorsey (whether he's there or not) at the end of the show with a "Goodnight, Dorsey." Dorsey, however, does not have the tattooed hand we seek.
We meet other diehards such as Izzy Beers and Aldrin Cornejo. "There was the night that the power went out" due to the Santa Ana winds, Cornejo says. "But they still did the show. For free. They had some power next door in the annex and they ran an electric cord through to power one flood light. It was like an old-school coffee shop experience, all analog."
"Oh and the chairs, the old chairs would break all the time in the middle of the show, like glass breaking," interrupts Beer, who then mimics the sound.
Cornejo says, "Yeah, that's how we met — your chair collapsed next to me and we've been friends ever since."
While Beers, Cornejo, Dorsey and their old-guard cohorts like Vince and Mischa (a couple who drive in every week from "two hours away") and a dude named "Cadaver Bones" have been around since almost the beginning, there's a new crop of folks who are equally dedicated to the Melt.
This particular Wednesday, the greenhorns have snagged the front of the line an hour ahead of the doors. Among them is Doug Culp, 31, a San Diego transplant and an aspiring comedian in his own right, who has spent 10 months coming to the Meltdown. "I thought, 'How cool, a comedy show in the back of a comic book store?' and I've been coming ever since," he says.
Another fan, Kelly Hodgson, explains that even though she's been in L.A. less than a year, "I feel at home when I come here. I feel off if I don't come here every week." She and her contingent have even brought a friend's roommate's sister for her second show. The newbie was enthused but shy. She assured us that she's into it.
We want to know who's the most fanatical, though. Through his distinctively hyenic laugh, Culp says, "I guess I'm the most extroverted here." But he is, of course, not "that guy" — the guy with the tattoo. What about him?
We didn't actually meet him — so maybe he's not even real? Everyone seems to know who he is, though. And most of them know him. "Oh? Fahad? Yeah, he's out of the country right now," Culp says. We were skeptical. But Gordon, the show's producer who's also Nanjiani's wife, promises us he's a real live person.
So we reached out to him via email and found him at his family's home in the Middle East. His name is, in fact, Fahad, but he asked us not to reveal his last name, for fear his family wouldn't approve of what he did. He started going to the show a year ago, and his response mimicked a common theme among the crew, but with an even more profound twist:
"I was brand-new to America and it was difficult adapting to this new country and its society. The show and its community helped me tremendously during a time of confusion and anxiety. They welcomed me with open arms and treated me as if I have been one of them for years. I wanted to get a tattoo to symbolize my first year in the United States. Both the Meltdown show and Meltdown Comics have been two things that meant the most to me during that year. So yeah, there was no question that my first tattoo had to be Meltdown-related."
As proof of his sincerity, he sent us an important photo. The stamp. The blood in. The permanent mark on his body that reminds him exactly what two goofball comedians running a show in back of a comic shop really means — America. It might as well be a tattoo of a bald eagle perched on a bacon double cheeseburger with stars and stripes shooting out of it. But it is, instead, a sheep. A lowly Meltdown sheep.
And in case you're wondering, yes, Fahad now gets into every show for free.
So there. Who's crazy now?
The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail, Nerdmelt Showroom, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. nerdmeltla.com
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