On any given night in Los Angeles, you can find free comedy shows taking place in bookstores, restaurants, bars and art galleries around the city. In the case of comedian Dave Ross's show Holy Fuck, the venue happens to be a movie theater, specifically the Downtown Independent, which he's managed to fill nearly every Tuesday night for over two years.
Since its inception in November of 2009, Holy Fuck has welcomed some huge names like Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari and Demetri Martin, and just last week, the line for the show stretched half-way down the block. For the next several weeks, you can expect even longer lines at Holy Fuck, as the extensive lineup for the show's first-ever album taping, featuring names like Maria Bamford and Kyle Kinane, has gone viral.
Ross, a USC alum originally from New York, got his start as a comedian hosting a weekly open mic at the Palms Bar in West Hollywood. He says he started Holy Fuck in an attempt to dispel long-held misconceptions of stand-up comedy, which he blames squarely on the comedy boom of the 1980s.
“Because of how hokey it was in the '80s in general, I don't think people ever got over their disgust for stand-up as an artistic medium,” he explains over the phone, while at home recovering from the flu. “Going to a comedy show is really awkward for most people, and maybe it's a shortcoming of mine, but I'm obsessed with making people feel comfortable.”
Even if the audience doesn't know Ross personally, they identify with the anxious, fast-talking persona he reveals each week as a host and performer. As a result, a sense of community has developed around the comedians and fans that regularly attend Holy Fuck. In the lobby after the show, you can find Ross shaking hands among groups of people huddled together discussing the most recent episode of Parks and Recreation or the heckler at last week's show.
“I've noticed that the audience is less in to it on the nights where I feel sick and I'm not in the lobby shaking hands and meeting people,” Ross points out. Perhaps unexpectedly, injecting his personality in to everything, from the show's absurd fliers featuring images of disembodied celebrities to the punk rock music played in between sets, has paid off.
As Holy Fuck expands, so has Ross's stand-up career. In recent months, he's found himself on the road more than usual, and last October, he beat out nine other participants to win the Moth Grandslam storytelling competition. He also records videos for Funny or Die with his sketch group WOMEN, co-hosts the Sex Nerd Sandra podcast for the Nerdist Network and organizes a monthly storytelling show in Echo Park called Two-Headed Beast with comedian Jake Weisman, for which they'll begin filming a documentary in February.
Up next: Ross's punk influences
Around the time of Holy Fuck's second anniversary last November, Ross decided to take a smaller role in the show to focus on stand-up, which led to his idea for the comedy album, tentatively titled HOLY FUCK. L.A. COMEDY. He says he essentially stole the idea from '90s punk labels like Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords, whose compilations like the Punk-O-Rama series were met with a surprising amount of success.
“I could go to a record store and spend five bucks on a compilation and hear new songs from bands I loved and then hear about 10 or 12 other bands that I would later spend money on,” Ross explains. “All of the comics in L.A. are the exact same as those bands and that's why I wanted to have bigger and smaller names.”
Over the next three weeks, dozens of five-to-ten-minute sets will be recorded for the two-disc compilation, which will be mastered in April and released in the summer. The album will be released digitally through San Francisco label Rooftop Comedy and Ross plans on financing the physical release through Kickstarter. Once the album is out, he says he will still host the show, but notes that his production team has recently expanded in order to give him more time to write.
Ross fumbles for answer when asked what has made Holy Fuck so popular in such a short amount of time. “The short answer to that is I have no idea. The long answer is that it's a lucky combination of a lot of things,” he replies, adding, “People talk to me about putting together a comedy show like I'm an expert at it and I still don't really know what I'm doing.”