L.A.'s Riot Comedy Festival: Could It Become a National Name?
Year one: three days, three venues on Main Street between Second and Third, 30 shows, local comedy linchpins Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, Patton Oswalt and Pete Holmes in headlining spots.
Year two: four days, five outposts on that same downtown stretch, 50 shows, the return of vets like Paul F. Tompkins and Pete Holmes, plus eye-popping additions such as Kevin Nealon, Fred Willard and Mike White, and the creation of the Rodney Dangerfield "Stand Up Stand Out" Award.
Year three: Even bigger and better?
"The challenge keeps growing," says Abbey Londer, creator and executive producer of L.A.'s Riot comedy festival, which runs through Jan. 12. "My first year I did the best I could, never having produced a festival before. There's no Festivals for Dummies book or anything like that, so it continues to be quite a learning experience.
"Eager participation from the likes of Doug Benson, Scott Aukerman, Paul Scheer, Anthony Jeselnik, Kumail Nanjiani and 10 dozen more proves it's a challenge the L.A. comedy community appreciates. The community vibe extends to KCRW's The Lot, an Astroturfed, DJ-populated, open-air weekend hangout. In addition to food trucks, vendors and a beer tent, this year also treats pass holders to skee-ball, air hockey, shuffleboard, retro video games and assorted toys.
In 2009, Londer moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, where she'd performed in sketch and improv comedy. She funded Riot's inaugural go-round with a $20,000 Kickstarter, and cites running the business end and finding sponsors as among her biggest challenges.
"That's been a hurdle I've had to train myself how to jump," she says. "That and getting the word out. I really went hard on the marketing this year. It's all me, which is something that a suicidal person might want to do."
"It's always great when comedians on IFC are involved in cool comedy festivals like Riot," says Blake Callaway, senior vice president of marketing at fest sponsor IFC. "IFC likes to work with brands that share our 'slightly off' comedic sensibility."
Riot's tagline positions itself as "L.A.'s Alt Comedy Festival." Yet with pronounced growth, big-name out-of-town guests, an army of sponsors and high-profile events (the launch of Comedy Central web series Roustabout With Kurt Braunohler; a live show from IFC's Birthday Boys), it's fair to wonder if the weekend can evolve into a destination event on the annual comedy-industry circuit à la Just for Laughs Montreal (the deal-making festival), South Beach (the corporate festival), SXSW (the rite-of-passage festival), Bridgetown in Portland, Ore. (the party festival) and LaughFest in Grand Rapids, Mich. (the community spirit festival).
"A large percentage of the established comedy community [lives] in L.A. already, but everybody's always doing their own thing," comedian Braunohler says. "So it's a time for everybody to have kind of a slumber party together, which I like."
Plus, he adds, "I think it's good for the community to kind of peacock around and show the world there's a great comedy scene in L.A."
While Riot may not yet bring in as many comedy tourists and economic dollars as, say, San Francisco's monthlong Sketchfest, Londer is adamant that it's a boon to downtown, where its venues include Five Star Bar, the Smell and the Downtown Independent.
"I'm obsessed with downtown," Echo Park resident Londer enthuses. "I specifically didn't want to put on a festival where you had to drive from venue to venue to venue. ... You feel like you're in a huge block party."
Though she could see taking Riot on the road to markets such as Chicago, Seattle, Portland and Boston, Londer says the L.A. version won't get much bigger.
"I would love for it to spread downtown on Main Street as Main Street starts becoming more alive and new venues open," she says. "But again, one of the best things about the festival is the intimate nature of it. I want to take my time and let it grow the way it should grow naturally."
Riot runs Jan. 9-12 at various venues downtown. For more info visit riotla.com.
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