Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Paris had its Théâtre de l'Œuvre, Zurich has the Cabaret Voltaire, Austin has the Fusebox Festival and New York has its COIL — revolutionary launch pads of contemporary performance where the "live arts" have taken a quantum leap into the cultural unknown. Since 2012, Los Angeles has joined that cosmopolitan company with Live Arts Exchange/LAX, the annual festival of local and international experimental theater so unprecedented and boundary-breaking that it feels like messages from the distant future. Sometimes it is. In 2014, LAX featured An Evening With William Shatner Asterisk, a video-puppetry manifesto on 23rd-century art delivered by Captain James T. Kirk, cut together from every filmed syllable of Kirk dialogue from the original Star Trek TV series. But LAX also has presented radical deconstructions of American stage classics, genre-defying interdisciplinary opera and dance, and immersive Wi-Fi soundscape concerts that took audiences around the city and — to paraphrase a certain astral explorer — to where no art has gone before.
The Dodgers' Brandon McCarthy is a good pitcher. Not a great pitcher, a good pitcher. But he is a great tweeter. And by the standards of most athletes, he's Sandy Koufax. The 33-year-old journeyman's tweets are refreshingly oddball, the kind you'd usually find on a struggling comedian's timeline. "Life hack: treat airplanes like a prison yard. Fear = respect," he tweeted, and then, as an example, added: "Just opened my tuna sandwich and left it on the armrest when my seatmate moved his arm. A real power move." Or: "Curiosity is up on Mars alone right now doing science which is cool, but mostly sad 'cause of crushing loneliness. Yes, I have taken my ambie." Best of all, McCarthy, a right-hander who's played for six teams over the course of his 11-year career, tweets like a true left coast–ian. He dislikes Republicans and loathes Donald Trump. And he likes soccer!
@Overheardla, which its anonymous founder describes as “sort of like group therapy for the L.A. experience,” is an Instagrammed anthology of the ridiculous things people have heard other people say in and around L.A. Say what you will about Angelenos (lookin’ at you, NYC), but at least we know how to laugh at ourselves. The idea for @overheardla hit its creator while he was on a trip to trendy health food store Erewhon’s West Hollywood location. He was eavesdropping on absurd conversations and thought it would be funny to post the conversations he overheard on his personal account. When that happened, he says, "I noticed I went from an average of about 12 likes [per post] to an average of about 30 likes." Then one day a Hollywood screenwriter friend suggested the page go public given that it's "soooo L.A." Populated by a steady stream of submissions from the account's followers, @overheardla has more than 250,000 followers and the number keeps climbing. Here's a recent favorite, overheard at Vicious Dogs in North Hollywood: "This city can be so Third World sometimes. The valets don't take credit cards and the restaurants don't even have phone chargers."
Busdriver is a cultural and intellectual treasure in Los Angeles. Since the early '90s, the Leimert Park native has expressed complex thoughts about the intersection of racism, history, economics, politics, technology and culture as a rapper affiliated with the Project Blowed experimental hip-hop collective. Busdriver (born Regan John Farquhar) is still putting out amazing music to this day, but he's recently expanded into podcasting with FR/BLCK/PR, aka Free Black Press Radio. Like Busdriver's rapping, FR/BLCK/PR can be fast, intriguing, long-winded and still compelling. The first episode starts with a soul jazz–type saxophonist blazing over a singing choir while Busdriver announces that the episode will be about the founding of the KKK. Over the next 18 minutes Busdriver takes the listener through a compelling analysis of the racist and classist history of this country's past, and its continuing hold on the present, occasionally punctuated by the return of the blaring saxophone and jazz band of the intro. It's kind of like reading Frantz Fanon in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard as the guy dressed as Superman pokes you in the side. This is Los Angeles.
In an age of casually informative, independent-minded, highly entertaining podcasts, it's great to hear such an edifying show on good ol' terrestrial radio. While L.A.'s 90.7 KPFK, part of the Pacifica Radio Network, is not generally known for humor or colorfully exuberant personalities, there are a few exceptions, and the Pocho Hour of Power is a notable one. Billing itself as "the nation's only English-language, Latino-themed political satire program," the show and its hosts — Patrick Perez, Lalo Alcaraz, Jeffrey Keller and Esteban Zul — along with music DJ Boxy Dee, maintain a sense of freewheeling fun, deftly weaving thoughtfully respectful discussions on art, politics and personal anecdotes with a vibe of controlled chaos bordering on merry pranksterism. Perez is a film producer-director-writer, Alcaraz the author of nationally syndicated comic strip "La Cucaracha," Zul a writer and former rap producer, and Keller a stand-up comedian. Together they're a kind of super team, fusing Latino consciousness with the broader landscape of L.A. and the world, bringing in acclaimed artists, writers, comedians and activists as guests for an hour that's poignant, funny and fast-paced.
Some girlfriends gossip about guys and clothes; other girlfriends gossip about the grisly ways in which people have ended other people's lives. L.A.-based comedian-friends Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff indulge their mutual desire to gab about horrifying crimes on their weekly podcast, My Favorite Murder. Over the course of 30-plus episodes, the duo has discussed everything from pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey's long-unsolved and gruesome murder to the mysterious death of Elisa Lam, whose nude body was discovered in a water tank atop a DTLA hotel (Lam's death was actually ruled an accidental drowning, but the internet's armchair detectives are dubious). Besides well-known true-crime cases, Hardstark and Kilgariff solicit stories from listeners (aka Murderinos) and friends about murders and horror stories from their hometowns. Their banter is extremely funny — it's a comedy podcast, ultimately — but you never get the sense that they're laughing at other people's tragedies. It's more like laughing at what a genuinely awful place the world can be.
Conan staff writer Laurie Kilmartin and The Dork Forest host Jackie Kashian are survivors of the '80s comedy boom who've seen, done and, most importantly, dealt with everything the stand-up industry can dish out. As tenets and tastes continue changing, so too do Kashian and Kilmartin's perspectives on what it means — and takes — to succeed. Since January, the duo has co-hosted The Jackie and Laurie Show; they've bitched, waxed poetic, named names, lauded an up-and-coming Female Comic of the Week and shared the bittersweet antics of Laurie's newly live-in mother every Monday on the Nerdist Podcast Network. Or as Kashian put it on the first episode, "As opposed to middle-aged white guys talking about comedy, it's middle-aged white ladies talking about comedy!" No guests or format gimmicks; just hysterical, invaluable insight on how the business really works and how it really feels to be a female in comedy. (Hint: At times frustrating, to say the least.)
Every Tuesday at 10 p.m. in the Improv Lab, '80s comic whirlwind turned genre-defying director Bobcat Goldthwait joins decades-younger San Francisco transplant Caitlin Gill (the Oddball, Bridgetown and Outside Lands festivals) to co-ringlead Crabapples, a variety circus of nontraditional locals and out-of-town pals who proudly rally around a certain freak-flag mentality. (Margaret Cho has been a frequent drop-in guest since the show's March debut.) Gill and Goldthwait were formerly assistant and boss, but now the pair are unlikely real-life roommates in a hectic house positively begging for the sitcom treatment. Crabapples' welcoming vibe and collective spirit embody the all-inclusive nature of the current stand-up boom, giving the audience a de facto living-room view of personal revelations, Goldthwait's outlandish stories from the past and the day-to-day travails of two transgenerational kindred spirits who'd pretty much be lost without the substitute-family support the comedy community provides for those most in need.
Midwest transplant Jeremiah Watkins began performing as a kid, won national awards in broadcasting throughout high school and landed a Kansas City radio station gig at age 19. Today the Second City and Groundlings veteran maintains supporting roles on Roast Battle and Goddamn Comedy Jam, both of which are beloved L.A. stand-up shows–turned–trendsetting Comedy Central properties. Watkins also hosts the monthly improvised show Stand-Up on the Spot, is half of musical-comedy duo Regan & Watkins and every Saturday night co-hosts and plays saxophone on late-night, party-heavy variety show Midnight Snack. Meaning — particularly for a local up-and-comer — he's got red-hot irons in an inordinate number of comedy fires, all the while exuding an easygoing, community-focused appreciation for the opportunities L.A.'s local scene offers. A handful of indie flicks and a Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance round out an acting résumé aimed at landing the ultimate dream gig: Saturday Night Live cast member. We're rooting for him.
When Tiffany Haddish was a 9-year-old growing up in South-Central L.A., her childhood effectively ended when her mother was in a catastrophic car accident. The oldest of five children, Haddish, who's of Ethiopian Jewish descent, navigated her way through the foster-care system and homelessness, but eventually broke into the stand-up scene and made her way to Def Comedy Jam, Chelsea Lately and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. She launched a successful acting career, too, landing roles on That's So Raven, My Name Is Earl and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but her career hit its stride when she was cast as a regular on NBC sitcom The Carmichael Show. This year, Haddish also appeared in Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele's debut film, Keanu, and stole the show at Just for Laughs Montreal's annual (and infamous) The Nasty Show. Next summer she'll appear with Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Regina Hall in the feature Girl Trip; she'll also be expanding her Chuckles Not Knuckles anti-bullying program in area high schools. Her star is on the rise and doesn't appear to be slowing down.
For outdoor explorers who like their hikes with a helping of history and a frisson of dread, Santa Susana Pass is your kind of place. Several trails here wind through the ruggedly scenic Simi Hills, along with an unofficial trail that takes you through the former Spahn Ranch, onetime home of the Manson Family. This site is now part of Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, and you'll want to explore the whole, Joshua Tree–like landscape with its Native American mortar holes, 19th-century artifacts and absurdly steep Old Stage Road. To access the park's north trailhead, locate the fire road south of the 118 freeway, just east of the Rocky Peak Park exit; continue east past this road and go up the second trail. A smaller trail branches off to the left, which you follow through a mile or so of chaparral to find the infamous "Manson Cave." You can double back to the fire road and travel south over the ridge into the rest of the park. Start early — footing is rough and there is zero shade. But with recent trail improvements, you can enjoy fantastic scenery and get a peek at one of our most notorious sites without feeling like you're about to get lost, or die.
Since Kliph Nesteroff's The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy (Grove Press) was released last November, fans including Bob Odenkirk and Steve Martin have raved about it on social media and bought multiple copies apiece to share with like-minded peers. The Canadian transplant has appeared on panels with Lewis Black, Gilbert Gottfried and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; scored gigs with TBS, CNN and Viceland; landed his own forthcoming Earwolf podcast, Classic Showbiz; and is the curator at the National Comedy Center, where among other current projects he's working on a George Carlin exhibit with George's daughter, Kelly Carlin, an L.A. resident and author in her own right. The Comedians, which is right up there with I'm Dying Up Here, Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live and Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, in terms of thoroughness, engagement and lasting significance, is available in paperback on Nov. 8, while Audible.com promises an audiobook version soon as well.