John Early is hoisting himself onto the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre sign on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. Atop a row of stones outside the center, the comedian poses like a kid who just arrived at camp and flashes a peace sign as his photo is taken by a friend. He isn’t trespassing but encroaching. “Do you think they can see me?” he asks, looking over his shoulder. "They” are Scientologists, a cluster of ubiquitous but mysterious figures who apparently live in the looming chateau behind him. As far as characters go, they’re a mostly undiscovered archetype. As we walk down Franklin, he wonders aloud, “What do you think they do all day?”
Not a tourist and not yet an Angeleno, Early is still in his honeymoon phase with Los Angeles. He moved here four months ago, and is still discovering his favorite spots and gathering his impressions.
After living in New York City for nearly the entirety of his 20s, Early, 29, recently kicked off a monthly residency at the Satellite in Silver Lake. where he invites a lineup of musician and comedian friends to perform alongside him. The age-old question of which city is best, New York or Los Angeles, is tired but endures. On the plane ride to L.A., Early says he first read "Goodbye to All That," the Joan Didion essay about leaving New York, then watched the Jonathan Gold documentary City of Gold. “So I had the cleanest transition possible.”
For all its myths and clichés, Early already loves Los Angeles. “I feel sexier here,” he says. “I’ve fallen in love with like 14 people in a month’s time. And I’m making brash decisions.” When Early attended the Cinespia screening of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion last month, he knew he was in the right town. He confesses he’s been to many of the restaurants featured in the Gold documentary, like a “cheesy tourist.” He went to Moonlight Rollerway for the first time last weekend and he loves furniture shopping at Revival.
“I’ve been looking for more beachy, sandier woods,” he says. “Something more West Coast.” And while he hasn’t purchased any white linen (yet), he’s noticeably relaxed — a decompressed version of his wild-eyed and frenetic stage persona at the Satellite.
So far, Early’s shows have sold out with lineups that feature art and comedy acts such as Hunx and His Punx frontman DJ Seth Bogart, feminist punk band Penis, rap duo Tashi and Amanda Blank, as well as surprise guests like comedians Chelsea Peretti and Early’s BFF, Kate Berlant.
For more than five years, Berlant and Early have been collaborating on projects that range from viral video shorts to their latest Vimeo series, 555, produced by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Together, Early and Berlant occupy a singularly weird and uncanny niche in the alt-comedy world, built on improvisational timing and the chemistry of their friendship. Half the fun is knowing they’re just trying to make each other laugh.
On his own, Early’s brand of comedy blends performance art with stand-up and toggles between light touches of satire and deep dark absurdity. He’s as much a physical comedian as he is a cerebral one. “I always have an internal struggle between irony and sincerity,” Early says. Comedy is a way to negotiate it.
He body-rolls through a pitch-perfect performance of “Oops (Oh My)” by Tweet featuring Missy Elliott on the same stage where he discusses the nuances of male privilege. Even as he’s madcap, Early is always in control (à la Janet Jackson), a hallmark of his classic showmanship.
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Parody, especially of himself, is a mainstay of Early’s humor. Lately he’s been posting satirical video messages addressed to various leaders in the GOP on his Instagram account: “Let’s not forget Betsy [DeVos]! Sending you love and light girl! Keep our schools safe — sorry, private!” He says making them has been cathartic. In this political climate, comedy feels both excessive and crucial.
At the same time, Early knows that comedy isn’t going to heal everyone. “My attitude and politics were never influenced by politicians. I always needed an ironic angle, so I looked to comedians,” he says. Sometimes just gathering together in a room to laugh is enough to take the edge off.
As far as characters go, Los Angeles is full of them. “I don’t think we need any more content about juices and yoga,” Early says. “If I had to create a character based on an iconic Angeleno, I think I’d be more interested in a type of Chateau dweller.” Basically, someone regionally specific and local — someone only Angelenos would recognize.
The Satellite Presents John Early, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake; Tue., May 9, 9 p.m.; $8 (advance tickets sold out, but a few may be available at the door). thesatellitela.com/event/1453840-john-early-chase-bernstein-los-angeles.