There are so many moving parts to an ideal comedy scene, reaching far beyond a variety of performers, styles, and venues. Even doubly so if the efforts fall outside of anything close to resembling tradition. It’s the indie comedy producers who are creating L.A.’s wonderfully vast comedy ecosystem, and one of the best in town is, without a doubt, Joel Mandelkorn.Mandelkorn’s reputation for putting on some of the best shows in Los Angeles, along with his partner, Mandee Johnson, has been well established at this point. (See the Monday night sure bet Hot Tub With Kurt & Kristen at the Virgil if you have any doubts.) In fact, they tour the world putting on their shows, including at the legendary Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Photo courtesy of Joel Mandelkorn/Facebook
Besides his reliably good taste, Mandelkorn is also known for intentionally creating weird and unique experiences out of shaking hands with everyone. We learned this and so much more about the territory of producing indie comedy.WSWD: How long have you been producing comedy?Joel Mandelkorn: It’s been a little over 10 years. I started with a weekly show at the Laugh Factory; I sort of fell into it. But it turned out to be fun and relatively easy. Those comedy clubs can set a low bar of professionalism. For the most part, it’s been indie comedy shows and some good old-fashioned corporate-sponsored comedy events.WSWD: Brief rundown of your comedy CV?Mandelkorn:Along with Mandee Johnson, I produce the ongoing live indie shows Hot Tub With Kurt & Kristen and The Super Serious Show. We have produced events and shoots for Funny or Die, Turner Broadcasting, Team Coco, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Netflix, Comedy Central, HBO, South by Southwest, Facebook, Fast Company, and Wired. We have developed scripted comedy projects for FX, ABC, Fullscreen, and Audible.
Photo courtesy of Okay Fine/Facebook
WSWD: Why comedy?Mandelkorn:Comedy as an entertainment choice has always been part of my life. Not die-hard or anything, but think of those old HBO comedy specials and great ’80s and ’90s comedy feature films. Then I landed in Los Angeles with no income in 2004, around the time UCB Theatre started in the city. Mandee and I loved going to those UCB shows and the few indie house parties or bar shows you could find. It was off the radar, rough and unpolished, and all of that was very good for the soul. When I got a chance to produce shows, it felt like lucking into an opportunity to participate in this scene of which I was already a fan. WSWD: What keeps you going?Mandelkorn:Comedy doesn’t suck. Well, at least most of the time. It’s alive, always changing and loose. When a lot of the world makes you feel like you’re taking crazy pills and is very conservative and fearful, the indie comedy scene makes you feel less crazy. And you get to laugh. Seeing new comedians perform and watching old favorites grow and change and succeed is also great.WSWD: What do you look for in talent?Mandelkorn:Mandee and I don’t have any steadfast rules—leave that for the baby boomers and the old guard. Mostly, we get excited when comedians seem to honestly enjoy what they're doing and give a shit that they’re onstage and performing for actual people in the same room. For the local indie scene, it’s also great when performers work on new material and/or are open to reworking bits. We like it when an artist keeps fucking with their own work.WSWD: What do you hate to see in comedy?Mandelkorn:Again, there are no rules. Maybe when a performer puts out the energy that they don’t care if they’re onstage or not—trying to be too cool? I’m not as big of a fan of the plug-and-play comedy formats like the classic Friars Club–style roasts, when all comedians work within the same wordplay format and end up too similar in the end.WSWD: Describe the state of comedy in one sentence.Mandelkorn:A NEVER-ENDING COMEDY BOOM.
Photo courtesy of The Super Serious Show/Facebook
WSWD: Describe your ideal audience.Mandelkorn:An ideal audience is one that’s full of people who are thoughtful in their own right and curious, and not too tired or too drunk.WSWD: What would you like to see more of in L.A. comedy?Mandelkorn:It would be great to see more ways for audiences to find and follow live shows, venues, and performers. Right now, it’s still the Wild West and requires a lot of responsibility and online digging and/or an annoying friend who always invites you to shit.WSWD: Well, I think we can help with that! What’s the next neighborhood that’s on the rise?Mandelkorn:In terms of live comedy, it’s been great to see some local shows popping up outside of the usual Hollywood and Eastside corridor. I'm thinking West Adams, Mid-City, Crenshaw, Inglewood, and the South Bay are in need of more live comedy shows and might have the audiences interested in going to shows in the coming years. WSWD: Any short, sweet pieces of advice for comedians bugging you about getting on your shows?Mandelkorn:Keep it simple and professional. Never be too cool to send a website link or a clip. Oh, and please mention the name of the show you’re asking about—a nice nod that you’re paying attention and not just in full copy/paste mode. WSWD: Thoughts on traditional comedy venues versus atypical comedy venues?Mandelkorn:It’s all cool, as long as the audience is there for a comedy show.
Photo courtesy of The Super Serious Show/Facebook
WSWD: Are there any comedy folks you’d like to shout out?Mandelkorn:I really love what Phil Burgers and Dmitry Zotman are doing at Lyric Hyperion Theater in Silver Lake. They took over an underused, intimate neighborhood theater and café and turned it into a really eclectic comedy and arts space that’s performer friendly. They always have new and interesting shows playing, and it's a great place to affordably see comedians running longer sets and full hour-long shows.WSWD: You’re an avid basketball fan. Is it in the cards to do a basketball-themed comedy show?Mandelkorn:I’m open to it! But I think [comedian and sports media personality] C.J. Toledano is definitely the man for the job.WSWD: You’re a master of awkward handshakes, as anyone in the scene will tell you. What’s your secret?Mandelkorn:Eye contact, smile, and then absolutely fail at everything else.