Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Who knew hip-hop could be a way to get into college? Well, Jackie Lopez, aka Miss Funk, for one. And Leigh Foaad, aka Breeze-lee, for another. As champion hip-hop dancers, co-founders and co-artistic directors at the now–10-year-old Versa-Style Dance Company, the duo leads an eclectic, high-energy ensemble that reflects the rainbow diversity of L.A.'s population. Versa-Style's members perform a wide array of dance styles housed under the umbrella of hip-hop. Not content to head a first-rate professional troupe, Lopez and Foaad launched Versa Style Next Generation (VSNG) six years ago for dancers between the ages of 15 and 20. By invitation only, VSNG provides training and mentoring that extends far beyond dance. When they received a recent Horton Award from the L.A. dance community, Lopez and Foaad were as proud of the honor as of the fact that 100 percent of VSNG dancers have gone on to attend college.
(831) 419-0427, versastyledance.com.
Comedy writer Jason Shapiro started the Twitter feed @LosFelizDaycare in 2013, and you would have thought it would be old hat at this point, but there is no shortage of fodder for satirizing young, educated, progressive, Angeleno parents. The feed spoofs not only their child-rearing styles but also their other fixations, such as food trends ("Truffle macaroni art was a huge success today"), mindfulness ("Ramen (3) will only eat white foods but we're letting her live her truth for now."), debates over gender in pop culture ("Hmm we like that the new Ghostbusters cast is all female but we can't be supporting Judeo-Christian afterlife propaganda") and, of course, vaccination ("Java (3) is giving a talk on vaccine paranoia vs. vaccine hesitancy tomorrow. Time is meaningless so whenever you come will be the right time.") It's fun to imagine a daycare in which Intelligentsia shows up in a "Free Adnan" T-shirt and Wren calls Linus a "slacktivist" over the sounds of Sleater-Kinney before everyone sits down to watch Pussy Riot's House of Cards appearance together to avoid spoilers.
Photographer Kate Rentz's Instagram feed will make you want to put down your phone and grab a sleeping bag. The Los Angeles–based photographer is always outdoors: hiking in the mountains, camping in the forests, twisting through canyons or even just playing Monopoly in the park. Snap a shot of her dinner? Not unless it's a picnic basket. Rentz's quest to merit her favorite hashtag —#LiveAuthentic — has taken her as far as backpacking on an Argentine glacier, and her nature portraits of her husband, music video director Isaac Rentz, and their dog Maggie are both stunning and cozy. But it's her pictures of California that make her our favorite Instagrammer. Not only do her photos capture the ecological diversity of our state, they urge you to get in the car and chase her trail. Just check out the comments: "Where is that?" "How close?" and "Take me!"instagram.com/katerentz
As an L.A.-based musician of complex talents and singular taste with his own band, The One AM Radio, Hrishikesh Hirway understands the amount of finesse and perfectionism that goes into crafting fantastic songs. With his Radiotopia-powered podcast, Song Exploder, he takes that understanding to interviews with other music makers — some of whom are of the household-name variety — and draws out the best parts and thoughts. By doing all of the hard work of chasing down his favorite songmakers, conversing with them at length and — most importantly — filing his conversations down to their essential pieces, he ends up with a tight but well-tuned 13 to 15 minutes about a single song. All of his own effort cuts out the prosaic (though often necessary to the process) prattle that lesser music podcasts force their listeners to endure. Given that he's been featured in Wired and the AV Club and has featured acts like U2, Death Cab for Cutie and Best Coast, it's doubtful he'll have to do much more chasing.songexploder.net
Suffice to say, Dave Ross is a funny guy. His storytelling and self-deprecating entr'actes to his own late, great Holy Fuck free comedy show in downtown L.A. were perfect morsels of what the kids used to call "alt comedy." Even better, his superb taste in other comedians, from nobodies to marquee acts, brought together the kind of talent that average schmoes would have lined up to pay for at mainstage clubs. Ross takes all that and, with new co-host Anna Seregina, puts it into the magic of Internet streams. The show, operating under Nerdist's banner, focuses on insecurities rather than merely yuks, and, unlike certain garage-based hosts' nasal chattering, Ross' gravelly baritone has a soothing effect that facilitates his guests' self-dissection. While he's not drawing commanders-in-chief (yet), his roster pulls in the kinds of folks on the edge of L.A.'s cultural fabric whom you'll be posting about and retweeting in the years to come.nerdist.com/podcasts/terrified-channel
The setup is simple — six comedians rhyme over a beat, competing with one another for audience votes — but the results are endlessly varied. Every second Tuesday of the month, stand-up and improv comic Eliza Skinner, with the beatboxing assistance of Joshua Silverstein, hosts Turnt Up!, a rap battle that features your favorite local stand-ups leaving their scripts and set lists behind to risk humiliation in the freestyling ring. The audience rewards cleverness and fearlessness over insults and the show has become so popular that professional rappers — from Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle to comedic rhymer Wayne Brady — occasionally pop in, taking the stage at the end to play around with the winning comic. No matter the surprise star power on any night, though, the most impressive rhymes typically come from Skinner herself, who opens each show by spinning an audience suggestion into an impromptu track.
Based on an audience suggestion, the Improvised Shakespeare Company performs an entirely new, made-up-on-the-spot play in the style of Shakespeare. Yes, much of it does rhyme, and yes, it's hilarious, and while there are contemporary references thrown in, it's not just a spoof — the group takes the form seriously, and there's often a bit of poignancy mixed in. Blaine Swen, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Loyola University, Chicago, founded the group and serves as its director, and while it's technically based in Chicago, where it gets huge crowds at multiple weekly shows, it's expanded to include enough members to keep it going in multiple places. The group frequently makes stops in L.A. at Largo, and a handful of its main performers are now here, including Thomas Middleditch, the lead in HBO's Silicon Valley.improvisedshakespeare.com.
Comedy Central, Last Comic Standing and L.A. Weekly Comedy Acts to Watch veteran Drennon Davis' transfixing, FM dial–defying Imaginary Radio Program has toured festivals across the States and the U.K. Mr. Show With Bob and David performer Karen Kilgariff served as head writer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Rosie Show and The Pete Holmes Show; last year's acoustic Live at the Bootleg (ASpecialThing Records) may be the oft-derided musical comedy genre's most sardonic yet poignant release to date. Joining forces for live shows and July's I Don't Care, I Like It EP revealed untapped creative avenues and newfound focus for both. No less than Conan O'Brien praised "You're Gonna Be Fine" — a downward-spiraling ditty concerning hallucinated cops, demons and dead ghost babies — as "Fantastic! That was fantastic!" when the pair made their first dual TV appearance this summer.drennondaviskarenkilgariff.bandcamp.com.
Josh Adam Meyers knows every comedian wants to be a rock star. Helping his fellow comics achieve their musical dreams, the Goddamn Comedy Jam creator and host invites stand-ups to perform a set followed by the cover song of their choosing, bolstered by house band Elemenopy (Joel Rutkowski and Nick Liberatore), sweaty roadies Moshpit (Jeremiah Watkins) and Razorblade (Johnny Skourtis), fog machines aplenty and an inevitable saxophone solo or two. The raucous monthly event attracts standing-room crowds and top talent including Hannibal Buress, Bill Burr, Jeff Ross, Nick Swardson, Kyle Kinane, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jim Jefferies, Jerrod Carmichael, Eric André and Tenacious D's Kyle Gass; this year alone, GCJ split sides and melted faces at Riot L.A., Tulsa, Oklahoma's Blue Whale Comedy Festival and Montreal's Just for Laughs, and it hits the New York Comedy Festival in November plus the Maui Comedy Festival next year.
"Experimental" is too clichéd a description for a multitalented performer as highly magnetic, impressively original and infinitely castable as Ian Abramson. Though the 26-year-old grew up in Moreno Valley and studied theater at Cal State Channel Islands, in early 2012 he made the bold (and laudable) move to immerse himself in Chicago's rigorous improv scene before recently returning to L.A. He's contributed to The Onion, toured on the Oddball Comedy Festival and created high-concept shows such as UCB Sunset's Seven Minutes in Purgatory (comics perform alone in front of a camera with no sense of how the audience, seated in another room, is reacting) and Nerdmelt Showroom's Funeral for a Prop Comic (Carrot Top meets the Catskills). Abramson's refreshing modesty belies a timeless whirlwind physicality à la John Belushi or Jackie Gleason combined with meticulous wordplay heightened by meta-absurdist caricature.ianabramson.com.
Good Heroin is a refreshing oasis for Angelenos accustomed to comedy shows with two-drink minimums at crowded venues that look like nightclubs. The BYOB gathering occurs on Saturday nights on the back patio of Stories, a bookstore and coffee shop in Echo Park with a warm, comfortable atmosphere. The coffee bar remains open during the show, so you can spike your whiskey with a latte. Organizers, hosts and longtime L.A. comics Dave Ross and Matt Ingebretson mandate a decidedly chilled-out vibe. "It's more like a group of friends hanging out," Ingebretson says. It's also short, only 8 to 9:30 p.m., so you still have plenty of time to hang out with the comedians afterward (they're known to go out for drinks with attendees post-set). Nick Kroll and Kumail Nanjiani have both recently performed.goodheroin.tumblr.com.
The wooden stage was built by hand. The venue looks like somebody's loft apartment. The jokes tend to be weird, surprising and/or awkward. All in all, Good Looks offers the perfect boost to a weekday night. Hosted by Portland transplants Andrew Michaan and Ian Karmel, the free show — held at 8 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month at Play, a downtown warehouse events space — brings out veteran comics and local staples who feed off the DIY atmosphere and the eager crowd as they fine-tune their repertoires and test new material. Dud sets are exceedingly rare and some of the best performances are off-the-cuff, such as the time Marc Maron riffed on the venue's crappy mic stand only to get heckled by a sound guy armed with pithy clips from Maron's own WTF podcast.goodlookscomedy.tumblr.com.