With all the political discord, rancor and the mean-spiritedness coming out of Washington, D.C., and our incoming Tweeter-in-Chief, it seems that we all could use a few laughs this week. If you’re near Los Angeles, then head to Riot LA for a respite. The comedy festival features stand-up from veteran acts and up-and-comers alike. (There are 10 “Comics to Watch” shows alone, each with a different lineup.) In addition, there are panel discussions, film screenings and podcast tapings—as well as an arcade/carnival tent—for added distractions and diversions.
The lineup is packed with great acts and programming, but we’re especially looking forward to these 11 shows.
The legendary Mel Brooks has a storied comedy career, from The Producers to Young Frankenstein to Spaceballs, and dozens of other classics. Blazing Saddles, starring Gene Wilder, is considered one of the best—if not the best—comedy films of all time. Writer-director Brooks spoofed and subverted the Hollywood western and spun the genre film into comedy gold. Riot LA officially opens with a screening of Blazing Saddles, followed by a conversation with the 90-year-old impresario.
Mel Brooks: Jan. 20 at 8 pm at The Microsoft Theater. Tickets: $39.50-$109.50.
Tickets are in high demand for Ali Wong’s six shows at Riot LA. When her Netflix special, Ali Wong: Baby Cobra was released last year, people marveled at how she taped the show while seven months pregnant. But many reviewers and commentators buried the lede: That Baby Cobra was hilarious, rife with jokes that took an un-feminist approach. When talking about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, Wong had this to say: “I don’t want to lean in, okay? I want to lie down. I want to lie the fuck down. I think feminism is the worst thing that ever happened to women. Our job used to be no job. We had it sooooo good…” In addition to her stand-up, Wong is also working as a story editor and writer on ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat.
Ali Wong: Jan. 19 at 7 and 10 pm; Jan. 20 at 7:30 and 10:30 pm; Jan. 21 at 7:30 and 10:30 pm. Individual tickets to all six shows are sold-out online, but festival passholders may still have a chance at getting in.
Rachel Bloom must be aiming for the “hardest working person in showbiz” title. She’s stepping away from her day job—as co-creator, executive producer and star of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—to perform at Riot LA. The 2016 Golden Globe-winner, who trained at NYU and Upright Citizens Brigade, broke through with her YouTube channel Racheldoesstuff, where she wrote and performed now-classic tunes like “You Can Touch My Boobies” and “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury.”
Rachel Bloom: Jan. 22 at 7 pm at The Alleyway. Tickets: $30.
Literary Death Match (LDM) is a reading event, comedy show and game show all rolled into one evening. Four writers are paired off to compete in a read-off of their work in front of a panel of judges, who take turns in engaging in comedic commentary. The two finalists will then participate in a “vaguely literary competition” to determine the night’s champion. The competing writers are: Zach Anner (If at Birth You Don’t Succeed), TV writer/producer and playwright Marco Ramirez (The Royale), actor-writer Hannah Friedman (Wet Hot American Summer; Roadies; About a Boy), and spoken word artist Buddy Wakefield (BBC & HBO’s Def Poetry Jam). They’ll be judged on literary merit by Oscar-winning screenwriter Graham Moore (The Imitation Game), on performance by actor Sam Richardson (VEEP); on “intangibles” by stand-up comic and creator of Whitney and Two Broke Girls Whitney Cummings and “super-intangibles” by comic and actor Mary Lynn Rajskub (24, 2 Broke Girls, Brooklyn Nine-Nine).
Literary Death Match: Jan. 21 at 7 pm at The Orpheum. Tickets: $20.
The two lifelong true crime fans and podcast hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark make us feel that there’s nothing wrong with our addiction to Dateline, 48 Hours or anything that runs on the ID channel (though we’re over Lt. Joe Kenda: Homicide Hunter). Comedian Kilgariff, formerly the head writer for Ellen Degeneres and Pete Holmes’s shows, launched the podcast in 2016 with blogger, food writer and television host Hardstark. My Favorite Murder dissects a true crime story or murder and then the hosts throw in “hometown murder” stories submitted by fans and friends. While murder isn’t a laughing matter, Kilgariff and Hardstark’s approach is meant as therapy to make sense of incomprehensible acts. Joining the duo at Riot LA are guests Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds from The Dollop.
My Favorite Murder: Jan. 21 at the Orpheum at 10 pm. Individual tickets are sold out, but passholders might have better luck.
The term “New Negro” refers to a post-World War I movement in which Black Americans became more determined to engage in American society through cultural expression, political progressivism, and greater intellectual and economic independence. The movement took on institutional racism and ideologies, and at Riot LA, Baron Vaughn and Open Mike Eagle host a lineup of comedians that continue the movement while “departing from what you might think ‘Black’ is supposed to be.” Comics on the bill are: Yassir Lester, Dulcé Sloan, Opeyemi Olagbaju, Troy Walker, Jay Whittaker, Jackie Fabulous and Kristal Oates.
The New Negroes: Jan. 21 at 8 pm at North Hall. Tickets: $20.
Veteran stand-up comedian, actor and writer Todd Barry brings his Crowd Work Tour to L.A. The show that features no prepared material or a routine: Barry flies (or falls) at each show depending on audience interaction and conversation. His Crowd Work Tour special, which was funded and produced by Louis C.K., gives a sense of what to expect. We love the clip in which he discovers that he’s talking to the bassist from a band called “Avant Abstract.” “Oh my god,” Barry says. “I did my business cards in that font.”
The Crowd Work Tour: Jan. 21 at 9 pm at The Cigar Lounge. Tickets: $20.
The animated series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, ran on Comedy Central from 1995-1999. Created by Tom Snyder and comedian Jonathan Katz in the titular role, the show featured comedians and actors in therapy sessions with Dr. Katz. In between sessions, we saw the good doctor interacting with his Ben (Jon Benjamin), secretary Laura (Laura Silverman) and others. The Riot LA live show features Katz and Silverman reprising their roles with an outstanding list of patients and friends: Bob Saget, Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, Thomas Middleditch and David Wain.
Dr. Katz Live: Jan. 22 at 7 pm at the Orpheum. Tickets: $25-$35.
Hey, look at this: two comics from our list of the best comedians of 2016 are doing a thing together. What are the odds? Okay, pretty good, actually: Aparna Nancherla and Jo Firestone do stuff together all the time. Like their fantastic webseries, Womanhood, and, uh, other stuff, both live and online, we assume. (Look, we can’t all live in New York.) Nancherla and Firestone both explore their own anxiety and awkwardness on stage, turning them into hilarious and fundamentally decent comedy.—Garrett Martin
Aparna ‘N’ Jo: Jan. 21 at 4 pm at North Hall. Tickets: $20.
Actor and comedian Lindsay Ames brings her popular UCB show My Diary to Riot LA. Ames gathers comedians laying bare their secrets in their diaries through stand-up, storytelling, sketch comedy, videos or however they choose to express their conflicted/comical moments. Ames’ guests are Matt Jones (Breaking Bad, The Office), Tiffany Haddish (The Carmichael Show), Alie Ward (of Cooking Channel’s duo Alie & Georgia, Slumber Party podcast), Nathan Barnatt (Keith Apicary, Talking Classics) and Kathryn Burns (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
My Diary: Jan. 21 at 6 pm at North Hall. Tickets: $10.
The Super Deluxe Lot is a 21+ ultra lounge for Riot LA festival-goers. Held on Saturday and Sunday the Lot features carnival rides, cat and dog adoptions, an arcade tent with Super Deluxe Games, food trucks, a booze garden and its own performance tent with workshops, performances, film and video screenings and live streams. (Performers include Vic Berger, Joanne the Scammer, Greg the Demon and more.)
Super Deluxe Lot (at 843 Spring St., Los Angeles): Open 3 pm to midnight on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free for all Riot LA ticket and pass holders.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.