Nestled away in hipster central proper lives a comedy show deserving of immense praise and furious laughter. Any venue that can offer a delicious meal, full bar and quality comedy lineup is worthy of a looksee, right? Absolutely! Every Thursday evening of every month producers Samantha Varela and Katie Levine bring together LA’s finest comedians for a casual and upbeat show at The Palace Chinese eatery. And how much does this amazing show cost? A blinding ZERO dollars! The night I attended offered a superb lineup composed of comedians both fresh and seasoned, namely Ed Galvez, Tom Sibley, Christian Duguay, Alex Koll, Ron Babcock, Mike Bridenstine and the headliner Sean Patton. After satiating my palate with some exquisite sesame tofu and wonton soup in the main dining room I made my way up the carpeted steps to the makeshift theater complete with red velvet curtain. Attendees are welcome to take their drinks and doggie bags to the second floor and enjoy the fine performance that awaits them.
I am happy to report there was not one failing set among the roster this night. The host for the evening was the sarcastic and ever so slightly dark Rye Silverman who poked fun at his inate penchant for cross-dressing. My favorite joke of his broke down the terms cross-dresser, transvestite, transsexual, ending with the delicious cruller donut punchline.
Ed Galvez won me over with a winning Chewbacca impression. Subwaydouchery.com creator Tom Sibley recounted an amusing tale of being pummeled with both sexual epithets and Vitamin Water. Duguay and Koll had me in stitches with jokes covering subject matter from hipsters at Amoeba Records to Burning Man.
The best storytelling of the evening came from Mike Bridenstine and Sean Patton. Bridenstine’s party poop tale almost had me in tears and Sean Patton’s story of street improv turned gay bashing episode absolutely slayed me.
But the highlight of the show had to be Ron Babcock transforming from street clothes to clown/mime outfit and pantomiming pizza construction with the aid of some well placed talc. The laughs were running thick that night!
Post comedy extravaganza the producer and founders of the show kindly answered some questions I had about the show’s history and evolution.
Serial Optimist: For those unfamiliar with your work, tell us about how you got involved in comedy.
Katie Levine (Co-Producer): I have been a fan of comedy my whole life. I grew up loving stand up, shows like Saturday Night Live and all the classic comedy movies. I got into comedy podcasts when they all started to pop up and in early 2010 starting working for Adam Carolla’s podcast. After working there for a year and half I left and started working at Nerdist. I now am the podcast network producer for Nerdist and producer (and engineer some) all the shows. It’s an awesome job because I get to work with so many of my favorite comedians and get to sit in on some of the funniest conversations ever.
Sam Varela (Co-Producer): I’m a hard-core comedy nerd. Ever since I discovered ASpecialThing.com my life has revolved around comedy. After consuming so many TV shows, podcasts, live shows, and anything else I could get my hands on, I wanted to dedicate my life to giving back to the art of comedy and the comedians that make such an impact on my life. In 2008 I started a college radio show/podcast called “Naked Comedy” (http://www.kuci.org/podcasts/?ShowID=848) so I could expose a new audience to some of the best comedians. I got to interview all my favorite comedians including Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman, Chris Hardwick and many more. I started booking and producing my own live comedy shows because I figured the best way to thank comedians I love is providing them with a stage to work out on. Luckily I had built a good network of comedians I could ask to do my shows and have since gotten a ton of AMAZING comedians to do my various shows. Eventually I ended up working for a comedy manager who happened to represent Marc Maron and who happened to be looking for a new assistant. Somehow we clicked and I’ve been his assistant and WTF Booker for over a year now and it’s been a dream come true.
SO: When and how did you decide to put this show together?
Sam: I knew about Comedy Palace since comedians Edward Salazar, Andy Wood and Shawn Pearlman had started it. It was a really cool show that had been around for a long time. They were looking for a new producer/booker and they knew of my experience producing live shows so they brought me on to the Comedy Palace team a few months ago.
Katie: Ed, Andy and Shawn were doing their show every other Thursday but wanted a show there every Thursday to make it more consistent. They asked me if I was interested in producing a show on the odd Thursdays. In high school I was into the punk scene and had put on a few concerts myself. I loved doing it, so figured I would like putting on a stand up show as well. So I started Odd Thursdays, which was Comedy Palace’s sister show.
Sam: Comedy Palace was only two Thursdays a month and my friend Katie was producing the show on the other Thursdays. We eventually decided to combine forces and join the shows and it’s been really great to have a solid weekly show!
Katie: We figured working together and having the show under one name would help make the show as big as possible and avoid any confusion that we had encountered with the venue being two different shows. So we merged the shows and started working together on it as Comedy Palace!
SO: And super comedy show baby was born! What inspired you to choose a Chinese restaurant as your venue? How long did it take to find the perfect eatery?
Shawn Pearlman (Co-Founder): My friend’s family owned The Palace and he mentioned they were holding a monthly show in the upstairs room. At the time, we were looking for venues for a comedy show. So, truthfully, it took us no time at all. The quirkiness of the venue was even a selling point! That monthly show no longer exists, but the weekly Comedy Palace stands triumphant in its’ ashes!
Edward Salazar (Co-Founder): We chose the room because Shawn knew the owner and because of the physical set up of the room: small room, low ceilings, separate from the people who just want to eat, foot traffic in the neighborhood. It was everything we wanted in a venue. It was fertile soil that we could actually grow something in. (Advice to any young comic starting shows in bad venues is a nightmare.) We knew Andy Wood for many years. He was moving to town from Portland. He had a lot of experience running shows in Portland and was one of the founders of the Portland Bridgetown Comedy Festival. We thought he would be a perfect addition to the team. He also owned a nice portable PA. I called him and he was in.
Andy Wood (Co-Founder): I will say that that PA is the single best purchase I’ve made in my life, and fans of the Bridgetown Comedy Festival may recognize it from the back porch of Bar of the Gods in Portland, the smallest stage of that festival that only seats about 15 people.
Edward: So we had a nice venue with cool ownership, good friends working together and quality sound.
SO: Some genuine words of wisdom there, folks. Learn from the best. Was it easy to convince comics to do the show when you first started?
Shawn: Very easy. Comics are desperate for stage time. They’ll do any show, even if it’s in the upstairs room of a Chinese restaurant.
Edward: The hard part is making sure they have a good time and want to do it again.
Andy: And the separate room guarantees that anybody up there came specifically to see comedy.
Sam: Thursdays is a busy day, it’s the beginning of the “weekend” for live shows and events, so it took a little while for me to get the rhythm of what shows I would be competing with for talent. Luckily my experience in booking other comedy shows and knowing a wide array of amazing performers has helped me be able to get great people to do the show every time.
Katie: For the most part, yes. Lots of comics are just hungry for stage time. There are lots of great comedians in LA and not enough shows to allow ample stage time. And also, small rooms like ours are great for traveling comics to work out new material before they bring it on the road.
SO: To paraphrase Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come.” What are your suggestions for putting together a successful comedy show?
Katie: Just put on a fun show! Get an energetic host who will keep the energy of the show up the whole time and the audience laughing. And promote the show as much as you can. I am always trying to get people who normally don’t go to comedy shows to come to Comedy Palace. It is fun to see someone become a new comedy fan. I also always try to book comedians whose styles and energies I know will go well together. I think it makes for a smoother and funnier show.
Sam: Put on a show that you yourself would want to go to. As a comedy nerd who is very involved in the LA comedy scenes I know there are a lot of show options for comedy. I always try to put on a show that I personally would go to over anything else out there and hope that the audiences agree with my taste.
SO: Thank you for answering our questions and generously allowing SO to take in the full Comedy Palace show experience!
SO Note: If you are in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles and find yourself with a burning need for good eats and hard laughs drop by The Comedy Palace. You’ll be glad you did! Follow Katie @kt_money, Sam @SamMVarela, Shawn @shawnpearlman, Andy @andytwood and Edward @EdASalazar.
*All photos by Scott Sutton