Among the hundreds of comedy shows held in Los Angeles each week, there are very few that Jake Kroeger doesn't know about. He lists his favorites, usually about 20 or 30 of them a day, in a series of Google calendars and maps that he’s maintained over the past seven years on a website called the Comedy Bureau. It exists not just as a guide for anyone looking to watch locally produced stand-up, variety or sketch programs but also as a comprehensive resource for comedians, who use it to research gigs, connect with organizers and find new places to try out material. There’s also a section of the site that curates low-pressure, low-cost open-mic nights at cafes, bars, diners and other unlikely venues, tattoo shops and crystal boutiques among them. The goal of the project, which Kroeger undertakes with a near-obsessive devotion and few if any financial incentives, is to unify the comedy community across various scenes, styles and neighborhoods.
“What I’ve always enjoyed is a lot of times industry people will reach out to me like I’m a team and I have a corner office in Century City,” Kroeger says. “And if people reach out to me like that, I don't disillusion them.”
The site has helped to fill a void, becoming a definitive source of hyper-local information at a time when traditional publications — this one included — have scaled back on arts and comedy listings. But despite its official-sounding name, intended as a joke, the Comedy Bureau is really just one person, Kroeger, who lists himself on the website’s staff page in more than a dozen roles including director, intern and ombudsman. He’s gotten used to wearing multiple hats — he also insists he hasn’t taken a day off from the website since it launched in October 2010 — but he hopes it won’t always be this way. In May, he launched a Patreon crowdfunding campaign aimed at growing the Comedy Bureau into something that more closely resembles, well, an actual bureau, complete with a physical office space, additional branches in other cities, a mobile app and even a production company, if budget allows. So far, Kroeger has raised more than $500 a month from over 100 people; His monthly goal is $4,000.
“The No. 1 question that gets asked of me is, ‘Is there a New York version of the Comedy Bureau?’ There’s not,” Kroeger says. Or at least not yet. “You can visit seven or eight sites and get a rough estimation of what I do, but I guess nobody is as crazy as me to do one.”
Kroeger, a stand-up comedian who gets onstage several times a week in Los Angeles, discovered his love for comedy by accident. He started going to open mics nearly a decade ago, with no intention of performing, as a favor to a friend who’d been looking to break into the scene. Sometimes he’d get up and perform spoken-word poetry or Bob Dylan covers, he says, and eventually he got up the courage to tell jokes. He soon realized he had more in common with other comics than he did with his peers at USC’s film school, where he’d been enrolled at the time but didn't feel especially as if he belonged. Before long, he was spending most nights of the week driving around L.A. County in search of open mics, which, it turned out, weren’t always easy to find. It didn’t help that he was commuting from Downey, where he still lives with his parents, and most comedy nights he’d hear about were in Hollywood or the Valley. He recalls researching comedy shows online only to drive an hour to get there and discover that it had moved venues or been canceled years ago. Other times, he’d show up too late and the sign-up list to perform would have already closed.
“Taking all of this into account a year into doing stand-up, I thought, like, this is ridiculous,” he says. “There’s no reliable resource for open mics. Wouldn't it be great if somebody just did the work and put all that information in one place?”
Kroeger decided, since he has the time and minimal overhead, he as well may be that somebody. He treats the passion project like a full-time job, which involves spending hours combing through venues’ online calendars, searching for Facebook events and scrolling through Twitter mentions to hand-pick shows to list and local and industry news to promote. He also goes to comedy shows seven nights a week, he says, collecting flyers and in-person tips that he’ll later disseminate through the Comedy Bureau. His listings have become so expansive that he says he’ll often get emails from comedians asking him to list their shows but he’s already beat them to it. He sees it as a service to a community whose members are often overworked and don’t have the time to do the kind of administrative work that he takes pride in. But the reason he does it goes deeper than that, and it’s more than just altruism that drives him.
“A lot of my story is not having a home. I was born in the Philippines, I was adopted when I was 1, I was an orphan,” he says. “Then I got adopted by my family and we moved around every two or three years for a very long time. So this sense of not having a home is just a thing, my reality.” A self-described army brat, Kroeger got used to spending time alone and feeling restless — that is, until he found open mics, which gave him a sense of belonging and grounding. “Comedy feels like a home that I’ve never even known what it’s like to be home with,” he says. “I really, really love it and I want to be able to share it with people and make it, in a large broad way, better.” He’s also hosting shows now, in addition to just promoting them.
The first edition of his stand-up showcase, Most Wanted List, is being held Wednesday at the Comedy Central Stage in Hollywood. You can bet it’s listed, alongside dozens of other shows, in the Comedy Bureau’s trusted calendar.
The Comedy Bureau's Most Wanted List, Comedy Centra Stage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Wed., July 26, 8 p.m.; free with RSVP. eventbrite.com/e/apb-the-comedy-bureaus-most-wanted-list-tickets-35718780835.
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