The Open Space venue is in the heartburn of the Fairfax district. Just about the most culturally diverse concentrated neighborhood in Los Angeles, you have everything from the most institutional deli of Canters, to hip-hop and skating board culture shops to overpriced dive bars and Russian eateries. And all conveniently located just south of my old alma mater Fairfax High School, where students dream of no bigger things than eating an everything bagel whilst skateboarding past the old Jewish lady with the shopping basket,mumbling something about socialism. Variety is the key here and when context and content meet up and high five each other, there you’ll find Erica Rhodes’ “The Night Light Comedy Show” once a month and serving up the most delicious comedy variety menu this side of the Poconos.
Variety is diversity
The best part of my job (as well as the hardest) is being surprised. I’ve been around the comedy block more than a few times in cultures as diverse as Hollywood, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, Amsterdam and London, England. Each city had its own standard recipe for everything and comedy is no exception. The template of LA comedy has traditionally come from the kitchens of The Comedy Store, The Improv and The Laugh Factory — all great comedy institutions from day one and all of them still producing a wide menu of quality comedy items – within the certain thin bandwidth of “stand-up”. All the independent comedy shows I’ve been to, performed on, and reviewed, seem to specialize in a tiny sliver of it all. The intimate story-telling value of “Sit n Spin” at the Comedy Central Stage, the town-hall discussion and almost torch bearing ritual of Bill Bronner’s Political Nation, the casual Millennial madness of the awkward confession comedy shows downtown at the Lexington.
The template of LA comedy has traditionally come from the kitchens of The Comedy Store, The Improv and The Laugh Factory — all great comedy institutions from day one and all of them still producing a wide menu of quality comedy items – within the certain thin bandwidth of “stand-up”.
All these independent shows tend to be one thing or another. And, that’s cool. Like a food truck of comedy, they foster newish comedians, and if these independent shows don’t have a strong loyal following such as the aforementioned Sit n Spin and Political Nation, the audiences are populated by the newish young comedians themselves often performing for the unwitting bar patrons and the rest of the comedians waiting to go on. Half the time, independent comedy shows turn out to be nothing but a great poster which never lives up to the advertised excitement and in the end, you might as well go watch a comedy show at Kinkos. Although almost all worthy great concepts, many of them expertly packaged and delivered, when one focuses on only one menu item in the vast food court of entertainment, you’re automatically excluding most of the public. That’s why The Night Light Comedy Show is really a great expertly executed concept and has the most big time potential of any show I’ve seen so far since coming back to America 9 years ago, after living abroad in a yellow taffeta house dress.
Produced by Monique Thomas and hosted by the very funny Erica Rhodes (who co-produces), the feel of the night is Alt, but warm and super friendly to everybody and she does it all with young Goldie Hawn innocence with a little bit of Sarah Silverman by way of Sylvia Plath awkwardness thrown in.
Opening the show was a duo of musicians. Made up a double-act of keyboardists (one wearing a face-covering hood for some reason) “Scatterplot” is like hipster Burt Bacharach if Hal David was a very disturbed yet enlightened lyricist. Their “I Just Can’t Get Enough” is as infectious as Ben and Jerry’s, and like Cherry Garcia, although good, you don’t want to eat too much at once. They graciously introduce and play on our hostess for the evening and there’s even a little back and forth kibbutzing between the two, as they are literally cousins.
I’ve seen a lot of comedians do crowd work and most of them stink at it. But Rhodes is expert as she pulls heretofore invisible threads out of the crowd, weaving them into the most important and memorable thing any show of any kind must have: Immediate relevance.
When telling proper jokes, Erica needs a little more work and her delivery can be awkward for both the right and wrong reasons. Having said that, her jokes have what most youngish comedians’ jokes don’t have: a point. It’s her ability to immediately gage the crowd and self-awareness recovery is the gold. Soon enough, E.R. acknowledges there’s “silent laughter” and BOOM!, we got our first big laugh. You see part of the problem is the uninitiated Los Angeles audience. They’re often kinda stupid when it comes to knowing what’s funny and when to laugh and indeed if to laugh or not. Let’s put it this way. As funny as Ms. Rhodes was the night I saw the show, the audience was not completely with her a 10th of the time and that is their fault, not hers. I sat in the middle of the show as I reviewed and people seemed to be witnessing spectacle rather than being an audience. Being an audience requires full attention. Nothing else matters. Not your phone or what dress someone is wearing or where we’re going to eat afterwards. But I’m not just talking about looking up; I’m talking about having the mental training as an audience member to have the ability to recognize a joke. I swear – and I’ve been saying this for years – I’m gonna teach an audience workshop. Having said that, 93% of the crowd present was on the same comedy page as the show itself. So. Let’s bring up the first act.
I swear – and I’ve been saying this for years – I’m gonna teach an audience workshop.
Bronston Jones is a 50-ish grey bearded laid back hipster comic who opens with an out of nowhere bad taste zinger. “Melania has the taste of Trump in his mouth“, followed by the comedian saying: “I just love that joke.” Really? Well, maybe not the best material to open with on a show hosted and produced by a lady and with half her friends and family there. Much of Jones’ material focused on criticizing the giant swath of middle America’s Walmart culture. “As American as apple pie with pesticides”, a 7 year old boy with heart disease: “Bless his little heart disease” got audible groans followed by Jone’s literally admonishing the audience with: “These jokes worked in the Midwest!”…and CUT! No. Doesn’t matter if they worked in Timbuctoo. I get it; Bronston shouldn’t have been on this early. He’s a late nite bluish edgy comic and it was frankly jarring to the theme of the night. That’s not his fault. After a lot of work, he delivered some of the best laughs of the night and he probably thinks I’m a dick and will never book me on his show in Venice. Next….
Zach Bornstein was up next. A writer for Kimmel and SNL, I never know what that means. Is he on staff? A stringer? Doesn’t matter anyway because we weren’t there for a writing course. Combining Shelly Berman skills of verbal picture painting with Red Skelton physicality, Zach was truly and uniquely funny. From his “jazz hands when confronted with danger” routine to his great true story of literally cocking the wrong person’s head in public was absolutely cathartic, hilarious, and memorable. More Zach please. Next…
The interview portion of the show had Erica and busy film composer Brian Tyler on stools shooting the shit. Plenty of lighthearted laughs and career questions for the composer of such soundtracks as for Ironman and The Fast and the Furious, but for my money I would’ve liked to have heard at least some dry academic questions, which is why when Q&A opened up to the room, I raised my hand and asked about film music leading the narrative. He loved the question; I think the rest of the crowd thought I was a heretic. Next….
Tanner Horn is a musical trio consisting of 2 singing guitarists and a singer sans guitar. They reminded me of one of my favorite 90’s British bands, Blur and their anthem-like “I could use somebody; I could use your body” lyrics veered very close to a Barry White white sensibility but with Thom York-like musicality. I liked their low-key “it’s not about us; its about the music” approach and my only knock would be the sometimes off-key harmony. Overall, they are really good and I would pay to see them. Next….
Joel Ward, magician. Along the lines of the now modern classic of the seemingly failed magic tricks, Ward has cruise ship slapped all over his mug and man he works it like the ship’s toilets are broken. His audience member’s T-Rex ring appearing magically inside an uncut tennis ball was truly amazing. The quintessential audience pleaser by definition, Ward is just the guy want for your corporate phony baloney employee appreciation day.
Melissa Villaseñor. SNL cast member. Worth waiting for and the wait was entertaining anyway.
You know what would make SNL funny-er? Give the stand-up performers in the cast a chance to solo perform, a rite usually reserved for the guest host. I can’t watch SNL past the opening bit and that’s because the show seems to have lost its comedy powers after Bill Murray left. However, each show is written and performed by a myriad of magnificent comedians and writers and why the fuck not use them? Take for example our star of the evening. Clearly used sparingly as extra Parmesan, Melissa Villaseñor comes across like fine peppered Dutch Gouda and I immediately wanted a second serving and a third and so on. From the silly “booping her boyfriend’s ass-crack” she shows us who’s boss and yet hanging with her family is tantamount to brushing her teeth before bed when her mother appears like a zombie, guilt-grilling her for parasitical information. Hilarious right outta the best modern independent films is she and her mom driving around their suburban hood roasting houses. Villaseñor’s impression of Diane Keaton not accepting compliments was genius even for the uninitiated. Her dead on impression of Steve Buscemi at a wedding was truly Oh My Fucking God knock-down hysterical. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at first seeing a television star do their thing without a net, but I have to tell you, Melissa Villaseñor is worthy of a Netflix special on her own.
Villaseñor doesn’t use a comedy net; doesn’t need one. Speaking of net…Hey, Netflix! Give this very talented gem a special?
SATIRE ALERT! (By the way, Melissa? I really think you’re talented and you did make me laugh for sure. I just thought I would be honest and maybe suck up publicly so that we can connect and I can try and viciously shoving Erica aside, exploit the so-called connection to my own selfish career ends. I’m on Facebook.) SATIRE ALERT!
Wrapping up the evening, Erica Rhodes returns center stage, thanks everyone on the show and the audience as well. I think with a little tweaking (particularly in the booking department) it could turn out to be as reliable and as popular as Largo. Promising another show in August 27, I am truly excited The Night Light Show exists. And if there’s anyone in this town who can pull it off, it’s Erica Rhodes and producer Monique Thomas.
Erica Rhodes one of the funniest and charming-est comedians bubbling up from the slime and sludge which is Hollywood. And, The Night Light Comedy Show is her magical space ship to take us all to great comedy worlds unknown.
The Night Light Comedy Show: 4 outta 5 stars.
One last note: The air con was turned on WAY too high; thought I was gonna freeze my bollox off. I am informed that issue has been fixed.
Photos by: StreetShooter.la
For Larf Magazine,
This is Steven Alan Green, July 2, 2018