Caitlin Durante
Caitlin Durante
Danny Liao

Caitlin Durante: When Diversity Is a Laughing Matter

In comedy — as in life — timing is everything. On March 31, Meltdown Comics closed after 25 years in business. The announcement was swift, gutting and unexpected.

As it closed, so too did NerdMelt, the performance space at the back of Meltdown that for the better part of a decade hosted some of the most forward-thinking, audacious and courageous evenings of comedy ever seen in L.A. One of the people responsible for bringing NerdMelt to the state of grace in which it found itself — even as its plug was most unceremoniously pulled — was producer Caitlin Durante, 32.

Born in Pennsylvania but brightening the Boston comedy scene in her formative years throughout the aughts, Durante started as an intern at NerdMelt when she moved to Los Angeles. From there, it was a relatively speedy path to promotion as program director. For almost three years she curated NerdMelt's calendar, becoming the face of its social media presence and taking show pitches for any number of truly groundbreaking intersections of color, creed and identity.

"I decided early on that I wanted to make this a very inclusive space that celebrated diversity," Durante says. "Anytime I was pitched a show by people of color, women, queer people, I was all ears. I tried to put on as many of those shows as possible." Some of the shows developed under her canny and tender auspices include presenter Amanda Seales' Smart Funny & Black (currently packing 'em in over at the Roxy); Two Dykes and a Mic; and actress Nina Daniels' off-kilter music-and-comedy hybrid The Playground.

Caitlin Durante
Caitlin Durante
Danny Liao

They seemed as if they'd go on forever. Until they didn't.

"I can't claim ownership of the community that's formed here — the sense of community is one of the best things about this place, I think," Durante says. "I'm just proud that I was able to maintain the legacy that had been built before me. When I started, the staff was almost entirely men — in terms of the paid staff — and as it stands right now?...?."

She pauses, remembering the past tense looming over NerdMelt.

"We had three men on staff, and we had six women and one nonbinary person on staff. The majority are now women. Were."

What's next? "I'm going to try to focus a lot on my own creative pursuits," she says, adding pragmatically, "One of the most promising things is my podcast, which is called The Bechdel Cast. It is about the portrayal of women in movies — so I and my co-host, Jamie Loftus, and a guest each week talk about a specific movie, and the portrayal and representation of the women in that movie through an intersectional feminist lens.

"Surprise! Hollywood usually does not portray women very well," she says with a rueful laugh.

Because you've got to laugh.

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