Arts & Entertainment

Riot LA comedy festival tries keeping it intimate as it triples in size

Comedian Dave Chappelle made a surprise drop-in appearance at an Ali Wong show in the 2017 Riot L.A. comedy festival.
Comedian Dave Chappelle made a surprise drop-in appearance at an Ali Wong show in the 2017 Riot L.A. comedy festival.
Riot L.A.

The Riot L.A. comedy festival kicked off Thursday and continues through Sunday. It started several years ago as a small alternative comedy festival but has continued to grow year after year, with headliners this year including the legendary Mel Brooks, cult legend Dr. Katz and many more.

There are between 45 and 50 shows with more than 200 performers. It all started with producer Abbey Londer, who even though the festival is now sponsored by mega-promoter Goldenvoice, still puts it all together.

"Riot started really, really small, and thankfully we've been able to keep the elements of having these really small intimate showcase types of rooms at the festival these past five years," Londer said. "[Small rooms are] just an alternative way to absorb and watch comedy, which is one of the many reasons why I fell in love with the comedy scene in Los Angeles, is because of all of the shows that I watch in living rooms, and in basements, and in warehouses."

You never know what's going to happen at a live comedy show — Londer said that her favorite Riot memory was at a show featuring comedian Jon Benjamin.

"Somehow a homeless gentleman got into the theater and completely disrupted the show, but it was a beautiful interruption, because if you've ever seen the show 'Jon Benjamin Has A Van,' it is completely about, you can't tell what is real and what is fake, so no one in the audience knew what was happening, and they couldn't tell if it was a part of the show or not. And it was so beautifully disastrous," Londer said.

Comedian Ali Wong sold out six shows as part of this year's festival, and it's Dr. Katz's first time doing his show live on the West Coast. Whatever the size of the show, Londer said that she wants to create intimate experiences that you can't reproduce.

"I really try to emanate that feeling where you feel like you're watching something that you'll never be able to see again," Londer said.

Her biggest highlight of this year is playing the much larger room of the Microsoft Theater: the great Mel Brooks.

"Mel Brooks is a huge hero of mine," Londer said. "It's going to be incredible to have him at the festival for sure, especially considering he's 90 years old. ... He's got such an incredible, rich comedy history that I'm excited to hear what he has to say — especially on Inauguration Day."

Londer is excited by all the success of the festival, but feels the weight of trying to top this year, which was already three times larger than the previous year.

"I think this year was sort of magical," Londer said. "It will be hard for me to reproduce the sheer volume next year."

Still, there are big plans for Riot L.A. In addition to keeping the momentum of the festival going, Londer said she hopes to take it to other cities. Riot is also starting to present other comedy shows through Goldenvoice and AEG Live, similar to how other non-festival concerts have been branded with the FYF Fest monicker.

You can buy tickets, see the schedule and find out more about the festival at RiotLA.com.

Highlights from Riot L.A. 2016