Hot Tub with Kurt & Kristen Makes Its L.A. Debut, After Becoming a Hit Stand-up Show in Brooklyn

Kristen and Kurt
Kristen and Kurt

A standing crowd of 200 welcomed L.A.'s newest alternative-comedy offering, lauded New York City transplant Hot Tub with Kurt & Kristen, to The Virgil cocktail bar Monday night.

Nattily-dressed titular duo Kurt Braunohler (IFC's Bunk, Chelsea Lately) and Kristen Schaal (30 Rock, Flight of the Conchords) kicked things off promptly at 8 p.m. with a game of "I Never." "If you had a gay period in college, sit down," Schaal instructed the tightly-packed audience. "If you are gay but had a straight period in college..." Braunohler countered, the game rapidly escalating to include "If you gave a baby up for adoption in the late '70s and regretted it ever since..." and "If you masturbate with your right hand..." with a game "winner" named Eric chosen to serve as show stenographer (a position from which he was quickly fired).

About "seven or eight" years old by Braunohler's estimate and formerly housed at Littlefield in Gowanus, Brooklyn, Hot Tub has moved across the country and into new digs, which were scouted by Cleft Clips producers Joel Mandelkorn and Mandee Johnson (The Super Serious Show). Braunohler says, of the Virgil, "It's a relatively new space, there were no other comedy shows there when we decided to do our show (although I think since we announced, a bunch have popped up), it's on a slightly creepy corner, and once you get inside you're pleasantly surprised at how nice it is. We always want Hot Tub to feel like you discovered something special, and that it's just for you. The Virgil feels perfect, big enough that there's a real energy to the room, but cozy enough that bigger acts can feel like they can come here and try out new stuff."

"There are a lot of hidden gems around the city, but the most important thing to us was having the show on a Monday night," Schaal added. "Out of all the days of the week Monday needs comedy the most. The Virgil was available that night, and happened to have a fantastic layout, gorgeous stage, and a wonderful staff. We feel so lucky to have found a match."

"I can't tell you how excited I am to be doing Hot Tub in LA," first act Nick Kroll enthused after relating a story in which he "foamed" diarrhea all over his karate gi as a child and comparing brussel sprouts to "a Super Ball boiled in hot pee-water covered in a layer of fart lettuce." "Kurt and Kristen are the funniest people, and this show, in New York, was the best show, so it's here now at The Virgil. It seems like a very cool place, like maybe they did some b-roll for Boardwalk Empire here at some point."

On its first night, the remainder of the variety show boasting "comedy from L.A.'s best comics and sketch groups, new music, and the occasional oddity" leaned heavily toward the oddity end of the spectrum. Brett Gelman spent his set blindfolded and interrogated by a disembodied, distorted voice channeling every bad interview the Eagleheart star has ever sat through. "What makes you so funny? How did you get to be so funny? Do you like to laugh? Does laughter sound different now than what it used to sound like? How do you come up with your ideas?" Gelman was asked, his patience eroding to exasperation. "How long have you had your beard? Do you like having a beard? Do you look older with a beard? What do you look like without a beard? Does your beard itch? Does your beard shed in the summer? What's it like having a beard? Did your beard ever try to grow a beard?"

And after Schaal provided a small taste of her controversial one-woman show, Waking Shiavo, character-clown Red Bastard (Eric Davis) emerged through the back curtain in a bulbous red bodysuit, mincing and spinning as a vaguely French stage teacher breathily extolling, "Tonight's class: the theater of the mind!" He had game but slightly befuddled audience members count backward from ten, illustrating how, in his words, "You've got ten seconds to wow people; ten seconds 'til they've made up their mind." Audience members also heeded his instructions to "sing directly into my mouth...use your tongue." Though Bastard essentially had to be shouted offstage by Schaal, he did depart with Shakespeare's wisdom that "The whole worlds is a stage. He said this because he knew there are producers everywhere. Every moment is an audition."

"I was feeling a little weird today and I didn't know what it was," Braunohler admitted at the top of his set. "I realized it was because I hadn't heard a fucking Mumford & Sons song in like 20 minutes. Thank God for KROQ. Here's KROQ's playlist: Mumford & Sons, either Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer or Sublime, a Mumford & Sons song." Providing a few live samples from his Greeting Card Project, one highlight featured two pillows and advising, "'Take it easy. Take it slow. Put your feet up. Let it go.' And I wrote, 'Now you're poopin' in a bedpan!'"

Jen Kirkman
Jen Kirkman
Mandee Johnson

For her part, Chelsea Lately's Jen Kirkman, sporting outerwear seemingly made of abominable snow-fur, upped the maturity quotient with material on aging, the perils of exchanging holiday gifts with friends who are parents, and the upside of divorce: "It's so great to just wear a coat and not have to ask if it's okay that I stand next to them." Closing out the evening, a louche-chic Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!) wove his way to the stage from the rear of the room; launched into a drunken, sputtering version of "Born to Run"; and denounced Pink's Hot Dogs for taking "carcasses of meerkats that died 75 years ago, and they cover it with Tic Tacs, irony and whipped cream, and call it the fucking 'Martha Stewart.'" Stalling to flip through his mental notes, he announced, "Here's some jokes. But most of them are new, so they might not be good. Let's see...and then he shit his pants...and they put it on the cover of LA Weekly."

"Last night was such a thrill for us," Schaal reported the next day. "It felt like coming home. The audience was smart and game. You knew when you were possibly onto something with a new joke, but you also couldn't get away with a stinker. I appreciate that. I'm looking forward to performing here."

"It felt perfect," agreed Braunohler. "It felt like we had translated exactly what we had done for all those years in Brooklyn to a completely new place. I don't think there's any difference between the L.A. and New York City audience -- a smart comedy audience is a smart comedy audience. We're just so thrilled to have been received with such open arms. I look forward to getting up on that stage every week for a long time."

Hot Tub with Kurt & Kristen is at The Virgil, 4519 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake, Mondays, 8 p.m., (323) 660-4540 , $5 in advance, $8 DOS.

Julie Seabaugh edits comedy-criticism site Follow on Twitter at @SpitTakeComedy and for more arts news follow @LAWeeklyArts.

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The Virgil

4519 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029



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