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31 must-see acts to catch during Netflix's major L.A. comedy festival

LA Times logo LA Times 4/24/2022 Los Angeles Times

Since announcing its first lineup in December, Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival — a citywide celebration of the craft of comedy and demonstration of the streamer's stand-up might — has continued adding acts faster than you can say George Carlin's seven dirty words. Heck, organizers have added an entire preview night on April 27, hosted by Mo Amer, and filled in the schedule on April 28, once reserved for controversial star Dave Chappelle, with a raft of additional talent. More than 250 shows over 12 nights at 30-plus locations around Los Angeles: From headliner Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias to a "Never Have I Ever" table read, the inaugural event, which runs through May 8, can be dizzying, even daunting.

That's where we come in.

Our day-by-day guide to Netflix Is a Joke includes interviews with top talent, appreciations of our favorite acts, and vital information to keep your comedy festival running on all cylinders — whether you're dashing between venues or surfing specials from the comfort of your sofa. Here are 31 performers to look out for, as chosen by The Times.

Friday, Apr. 29

Showcase: Pete Davidson and Best Friends

Pete Davidson on "Late Night With Seth Meyers" last year. (NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images) © (NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images) Pete Davidson on "Late Night With Seth Meyers" last year. (NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

If Pete Davidson isn’t the most discussed comedian of 2022, he’s certainly in the top three. The King of Staten Island has grown famous far beyond his “SNL” roots, gaining as much attention for whom he chooses to date as he does for his actual comedic work. But while the headlines might say more about Kanye West than they do about Davidson, the self-deprecating comedian continues to draw both admiration and ire from audiences around the world for everything, including his dark comedy, his acting skills, and his physical appearance.

As one of the biggest draws on the festival’s first full day, the famously depressed celebrity will undoubtedly speak to the younger generations that have grown up through one disaster after another — while nearly everyone over 40 wonders how anyone could find him funny, attractive or charming. In an industry full of problematic middle-aged men, Davidson has already established himself as one of the most prominent and successful millennial comedians (both in age and in the fact that old folks love to complain about him), and he doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. The 28-year-old will be joined by Giulio Gallarotti, Neko White, Carly Aquilino, Joey Gay, Derek Gaines, Jordan Rock and Dave Sirus for two sold-out shows at the Fonda Theatre.

Pete Davidson and Best Friends perform at 7 and 10 p.m. at the Fonda Theatre, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles

Spotlight: Mo Amer

Despite living in the U.S. for more than 30 years, Mo Amer has answered more questions about his childhood and cultural background than most other comedians at the Netflix Is A Joke fest. But that’s pretty much par for the course when you’re one of the best-known Palestinian American comedians in the world.

With more than two decades of experience, a pair of Netflix specials and major film and TV credits to his name — including the role of cousin Mo in “Ramy” and a new Netflix series — Amer’s next task is to get the party started this week — by hosting the very first showcase of the festival on Wednesday as well as headlining two sold-out shows on Friday night at the Peppermint Club.

Seeing as you’re hosting the preview night and performing on one of the first nights of the festival, what’s it like to kick off an event of this scale?

I didn’t realize how big of a situation it’s gonna be, but it’s always fun to get together with all the other comedians. It’s all of your friends that you don’t usually get to see, and everyone’s doing shows together all week. Seeing what everybody’s working on and how everybody’s doing is going to be really exciting. I just finished filming a series for Netflix based on my life, so I’ve been in a dungeon doing that. I was filming it all last fall and editing for the last five months, so this is just gonna feel like freedom after television jail.

You broke through to a new audience with “Ramy,” and you’re likely the only comedian at the festival with a superhero movie in the works with “Black Adam.” How different are these acting gigs for you compared to your stand-up career?

It’s flexing a whole ‘nother muscle that I haven’t used for quite some time. My primary focus and my first love is stand-up comedy, and it will always be that way. But crossing over into television and film has been two entirely different things — especially a superhero movie with the Rock. How can you even evaluate what that experience is gonna be like before you get there to see what a $250-million budget is like? It was a completely new experience, and I was totally ready for it. I just flourished and felt like we all got so close as a cast. Seeing it all coming together now is super exciting … no pun intended.

For the television thing, I wrote the opening to my series about seven-and-a-half years ago. Saying it’s been a labor of love is an understatement, but it’s just been a really cathartic experience.

From a stand-up perspective, you’ve spent a lot of time educating people about Islamic culture and your background. How do you strike a balance between being genuinely informational while still keeping people laughing?

When I started touring as a teenager, I realized that there were all these questions that people would have for me. So I figured that it’s really important to educate people about my background. Not necessarily like, “We are this, and this is what we do,” but about my personal experiences — because I’ve gone through what millions of people have gone through. I think it was really important for me to do in my first Netflix special because we just don’t exist in Western culture in a rich way. If you watch film and television from the ‘30s on, it’s not a very good look for us. So my first special was about answering all of those questions, and then my second one leaned into taking ownership of our culture, which was just completely taken from us. Like people are out there making apple pie hummus. What’s going on here? What even is chocolate hummus?

Mo Amer performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Peppermint Club, 8713 Beverly Blvd.

One-Liner: From “Saturday Night Live”: Please Don’t Destroy

The viral “SNL” digital video short trio of Please Don’t Destroy take their comedic skills from the small screen to the stage for a night of chaotic surreal humor and hijinks.

Please Don’t Destroy performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Bourbon Room, 6356 Hollywood Blvd.

Josh Chesler

Saturday, Apr. 30

Showcase: Katherine Ryan

Canadian-born comedy polymath Katherine Ryan has gone more than one route to become famous for being funny: from TV to podcasting and stand-up — and probably a few more things we’re forgetting. Since moving to London in 2008, Ryan has become a familiar face on British TV — including the hit comedy-drama “The Duchess” and a host of other panel and quiz shows that allow her style of unfiltered confessional comedy to keep her fans cackling. Her specials on Netflix (“In Trouble” and “Glitter Room”) have been fan favorites, which makes us even more excited to see her all-new live show, “Missus,” at the Regent. Considering her previous stance on denouncing relationships, it’s surprised fans to hear that Ryan wound up married to her first love, hence the title of the show that will no doubt have plenty of heartfelt, foul-mouthed material about monogamy.

Katherine Ryan performs at 7 p.m. at the Regent, 448 S. Main St.

Spotlight: Sarah Cooper

Sarah Cooper's Trump lip-sync dropped during the Democratic National Convention in 2020. (Associated Press) © (Associated Press) Sarah Cooper's Trump lip-sync dropped during the Democratic National Convention in 2020. (Associated Press)

Sarah Cooper is probably the only comedian to go viral without having to say a word. In 2020, her TikTok videos impersonating President Trump made her an instant lip-syncing legend. In the wake of her viral fame and her first Netflix special, “Everything's Fine,” Cooper talks to us about finding her voice as a comic during the pandemic.

What are some ways that your comedy has evolved since going viral in 2020, and how have you incorporated your life now into your stand-up?

So much happened in 2020, it was just crazy for my career. I really didn’t expect those videos to take off and then, you know, it’s one thing to go viral, but they actually changed my life. I was able to get my Netflix special. I was able to auction my books for TV shows. Then in 2021, I actually went for a divorce. All this stuff happened where I asked myself questions like, “What is really important to me? How do I want to spend my time?” And I realized I didn’t really want to spend my time married anymore. And so I ended up doing that and now I’m spending a lot of time with my family. They’re Jamaican; they live in Florida. So I have a bunch of material from my mom and from everybody giving me advice throughout this divorce. Even if you take something that’s kind of sad, like a divorce, and find the humor in it, that’s really what this pandemic has been about for a lot of comedians.

Can you see yourself doing lip-sync content on Trump again or possibly find a new angle on it or are you over it?

There was a moment early on when I was making these videos, and I was just, like, walking on the street and the car drove by, and the guy pointed at me and yelled, “Hey, it’s Trump!” and I was like, “Oh, no what have I done?” Because I hate this person and yet now I’m, like, associated with him. I always wanted to do comedy, I always wanted to perform. Yeah, I made these videos, and I was lip-syncing, and I was performing and I was editing them and doing all this stuff, but I really don’t want to keep doing that. Especially because he just says the same thing over and over again. I think I’d kill myself if I had to do that anymore. But there’s like a funny persona in there that I captured in terms of, like, this ignorant guy who thinks he knows everything and it kind of ignited that for me. That sort of persona was really fun to play, especially as a woman, especially as a Black woman.

Talk about the new book you’re releasing and the shows you’re developing off of your previous books.

I have two books that are being developed and I also have an audio book coming out in June called “Let’s Catch Up Soon.” It’s an Audible Original I wrote between 2019 through 2021. It’s kind of a memoir about how I’m an introvert but how I actually became an extrovert during the pandemic. Now I just want to go out all the time. I mean, edibles helped as well because I started doing those in the pandemic.

Sarah Cooper performs at 7 p.m. at the Bourbon Room, 6356 Hollywood Blvd.

One-Liner: Marlon Wayans

The Wayans with the most range when it comes to acting and clowning around takes the stage in between whatever massive projects he’s working on to keep his stand-up muscles strong.

Marlon Wayans performs at 7 p.m. at the Palace Theater, 630 S. Broadway

Nate Jackson

Sunday, May 1

Showcase: Seth Rogen’s ‘Table Reads’

Seth Rogen in 2019. (Richard Shotwell / Invision/Associated Press) © (Richard Shotwell / Invision/Associated Press) Seth Rogen in 2019. (Richard Shotwell / Invision/Associated Press)

Seth Rogen will give crowds at the Orpheum Theatre an intimate treat with “Table Reads,” in which he and a group of well-known Netflix actor friends and fellow comedians read in real time from various scripts of their favorite movies or TV sitcoms. Rogen is known for his role as an actor, writer, producer or director of movies including “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” “This Is The End” and “Sausage Party.”

Though we’re not sure who is showing up, we can guarantee plenty of surprises and laughter. This event is the first of four nights of Rogen’s “Table Reads” running throughout the festival. All proceeds will go to Hilarity for Charity, which focuses on research, education and advocacy for Alzheimer’s disease.

Seth Rogen’s “Table Reads” at 7 p.m. at the the Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway

Spotlight: Donnell Rawlings & Friends

Comedian Donnell Rawlings always keeps busy. Aside from his well-known stints on “Chappelle‘s Show,” where he created the character Ashy Larry, he has released three comedy albums including 2021’s “Y’all Need to Chill” and appeared in numerous movies, TV programs and comedy shows over the last 20 years, including the most recent appearance in 2021 on the Netflix stand-up show “The Degenerates.”

We’ve all seen Will Smith slap Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife. In your career, have you ever had anyone try to get physical with you during your set?

Yeah, most definitely. I’ve had instances where some hecklers got crazy, and I felt that negative energy and thought it could get physical, which it almost did, but luckily there were good security and bouncers. But it was more than 20 years ago, early in my career before there was social media. I just let loose on them; luckily it didn’t get physical. It was in the ‘90s, and so early in my career I had nothing to lose, I was just a young comic.

What are your thoughts on stand-up comedy in 2022 and the cancel culture?

To me, cancel culture represents some people who may not be in line with your thoughts and opinions, so they wanna stop your cash flow. Cancel culture doesn’t care about any apologies, they only really care about the bottom line, that’s where they know they can control you. But when you’re not bowing to any networks or corporations, you have more freedom to express yourself the way you want to without worrying about censorship or the cancel culture taking money out of your pocket. Most comics who are successful against the cancel culture are the ones who empower themselves with a large fan base, and they can make enough money to earn a living, whether cancel culture attacks them or not.

For stand-up comedians, should no topic be off-limits for jokes?

Well I believe in total freedom of speech, but with having freedom of speech you still gotta be responsible with your words. A joke can be too soon, but it never can be too soon for a funny observation. Just because you can go out and curse for 45 minutes doesn’t mean you should. People can say whatever they want for sure, but at least have some class and some tactics, and be sure you’re actually saying something real.

Can you tell us anything about your show at the Improv, or any other performances you will be at for the festival?

A lot of my friends will be in town at the time, so there’s a chance a well-known comedian could pop up for my show, but I can’t say who. My show at the Improv is sold out, so I’m excited. Plus, since we’re good friends, I know I will be opening at least two of Dave Chappelle’s shows at the Hollywood Bowl. It should be a fun week.

Donnell Rawlings performs at 7 p.m. the Hollywood Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave.

One-Liner: Nigel Ng, “The HAIYAA Tour”

Based in London but from Malaysia, Nigel Ng is an up-and-coming comedian and YouTube star who has amassed more than 10 million views for his satirical portrayal of a middle-aged Asian named Uncle Roger. He is best known for Uncle Roger’s video critiquing an egg fried rice recipe, which went viral. His two sold-out shows will be full of stand-up bits about food, race relations, Asian culture, relationships and more.

Nigel Ng performs at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Regent Theater, 448 S. Main St.

Alex DiStefano

Monday, May 2

Showcase: ‘Armchair Expert’ with Dax Shepard

For the last four years, actors-turned-loquacious-interviewers Dax Shepard and Monica Padman have enticed high-profile figures in entertainment, arts and politics — even royals — to visit them at their attic studio in Los Angeles (or via a more pandemic-suited video chat). Within that relaxed environment, guests prioritize their less-than-glorious, most relatable experiences, and the hosts lead with humor, infusing levity into the hard-to-swallow realities often discussed. They also reciprocate the openness of those sitting across from them: Shepard has retraced his sobriety journey on multiple occasions, as in last year’s exchange with longtime actor friend Bradley Cooper. Recent heart-to-hearts include Bob Odenkirk recalling being robbed at gunpoint, former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams explaining her impulse to write a children’s book, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran on the benefits of failure, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk talking about his father, and repeated appearances by Shepard’s wife, actor Kristen Bell.

This is not the first time one of the most popular podcasts on the internet has left its nest for a live presentation. Earlier this year, tech tycoon Bill Gates joined the armchair duo in front of an audience in Seattle. Though the name of the personality invited for the L.A. show has remained a secret, one can rest assured that some unabashed truth-telling, with equal parts humor and poignancy, will occur.

“Armchair Expert” with Dax Shepard performs at 7 p.m. at the Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd.

Spotlight: Atsuko Okatsuka

Formerly undocumented, raised by her grandmother, Japanese-born Angeleno Atsuko Okatsuka won’t ever grow up, and she is perfectly OK with that.

You are a self-proclaimed baby. Can you elaborate on this concept? Being an adult is hard work, so this sounds rather appealing.

Right? That’s kind of why I like that concept. We all grew up too fast. Time flies more than time passes slow, and it’s just a comforting way for me … to be like, “Look, we’re all trying our best, considering we never asked to be here in the first place.” Meaning life.

Your grandmother has become an internet star in your videos. How did she shape your comedy?

It took a while for me to realize what my comedic voice was. But once I did, I was able to create a unique perspective when I do stand-up because I’m coming from this very childlike view of the world — partly thanks to my grandma, because she didn’t want me to grow up too fast. My grandma isn’t naturally funny. She was a caretaker. It wasn’t until I started to do comedy and found my calling that she started to relax too. Then I was like, “Do you want to join me in my dance videos?” Suddenly she was able to also tap into her childlike self and started having fun for the first time in her life.

At what point in your life did you decide that comedy was what you wanted to pursue?

It really took a breakup from a toxic relationship and finding a partner that was very supportive. My husband comes from similar circumstances as me. We both have moms with schizophrenia. When I found him in my life, it was like this stable energy with somebody who understands my upbringing. It was that support that helped me find my footing in the world. That’s when I was like, “OK, I’m going to focus on comedy, and I think I can do it full-heartedly.”

Also, I’ve been fired from every other job I’ve ever had because I’m just not built for like a nine-to-five. I even tried teaching; I was not built for that either. [Laughs.]

What’s your take on some people’s fixation with the notion that comedians can’t make jokes about anything anymore?

Comedy is a two-way street. Without the audience, the stand-up comedian doesn’t have a job; without the stand-up comedian, the audience doesn’t have a comedy show to watch. If the audience went quiet, then maybe rethink what you just said. It’s not that you can’t say certain things anymore. It’s more like, are you doing stand-up comedy or not? [Laughs.] The world constantly changes. If you’re doing a stand-up set from 15 years ago, people are going to be able to tell.

Atsuko Okatsuka performs at 7 p.m. at the Elysian Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive

One-Liner: Flame Monroe

Boisterous comic Flame Monroe dishes on everything from pop culture and current events to her experiences as a Black transgender woman in today’s world.

Flame Monroe performs at 9:30 p.m. at the Lab at the Hollywood Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave.

Carlos Aguilar

Tuesday, May 3

Showcase: Janelle James

Propelled by her breakout performance as the self-involved principal Ava Coleman on Quinta Brunson’s ABC sitcom “Abbott Elementary,” Janelle James proved to be a hot ticket; her shows at the Hollywood Improv sold out almost as soon as they were posted.

It marks something of a sea change for James, a stand-up comic and occasional TV writer who until recently has garnered most of her laughs offscreen as a scribe on series like BET’s “The Rundown With Robin Thede,” Apple TV+'s “Central Park” and Showtime’s “Black Monday,” on which she also has a recurring role.

The diminutive comic, who has described her brand of witty, deadpan comedy as “just talking s—,” extolled the virtues of raising teenage sons, emerging from the pandemic and sexy racism during her appearances on two Netflix series, “The Comedy Lineup” and “The Standups.”

James got her start during a chance open mic night at a rockabilly biker club in Champaign, Ill. She’s been doing stand-up for 10 years, with acting now added to her résumé as well. The fan-favorite principal she plays on “Abbott” is James’ first regular television role. Before that, she toured with Chris Rock on his 2017 “Total Blackout” tour and with Amy Schumer during her 2019 “Growing” tour. She also hosts an annual comedy festival in her adopted home of Brooklyn as well as the comedy podcast “You in Danger Gurl” about relationship red flags and outlandish dating experiences.

Janelle James performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Lab at the Hollywood Improv, 8156 Melrose Ave.

Spotlight: Luenell

Comedian and actress Luenell addresses the crowd at a Juneteenth forum outside the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / Invision/Associated Press) © (Chris Pizzello / Invision/Associated Press) Comedian and actress Luenell addresses the crowd at a Juneteenth forum outside the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / Invision/Associated Press)

Luenell, the original Bad Girl of Comedy, squeezed in an interview with The Times during her ritual preshow bath.

Are you based in L.A.?

[Yes], I live in Los Angeles. I’m talking to you from a bathtub in New Jersey right now, though. You can mention that. “Luenell did this interview butt naked, draped in bubbles in a bathtub in New Jersey.”

Got you. So how does doing comedy in L.A. compare to elsewhere?

In L.A., I’m a little more casually dressed than I am when I go out on the road because I really believe in giving people the star experience. And if you go to a place where sequins are not the norm, then you’re going to look extra super-special-star looking. In L.A., sequins are falling out of everybody’s ass, but in Minneapolis, you have working-class people. I probably would wear something Prince-related if I’m in Minneapolis. If I’m in Detroit, I’m probably going to wear something connected to Motown. I’m a little more casual in L.A. [because] I can get away with not having to super impress folks.

What are some of the things that you plan on talking about during your show?

I never really know what I’m going to talk about until I get there and feel the crowd, the demographic and the energy in the room. I’m not a scripted-type comic because on the way there something may happen that you need to talk about. Somebody may say something to you while you’re on stage that’ll change the trajectory of what you were going to talk about. I tell stories, I don’t tell jokes, so I don’t have to memorize a joke or a punchline.

Do you have a favorite place to do comedy?

Texas. I have lots of family in Texas. So whenever I go to Texas to do comedy, it ends up being a whole thing. My nieces come, my sisters come, somebody’s cooking, I might stay an extra day.

I also love to do comedy in Las Vegas. I feel like at one point people thought you go to Vegas when you’re on your last leg. But I’m honored to be performing in Las Vegas when only 50 years ago we couldn’t even stay in the hotel that we were performing in. And I love the gaudiness of Las Vegas; I love everything about it. I love the people passed out drunk in the hallways; I love the sadness of it. I love to go jewelry shopping in the pawn shops because people get out there, get the fever, [next thing you know] they done pulled out grandma’s wedding ring and now I got it.

And I also love to perform for any military. You can do no wrong because they’re so entertainment-starved. I’ll go out there with sequins and everything [because] there’s a lot of men. They just love the fact that you’re even there. I’ve done comedy in Qatar, Korea and Japan, and I think a military audience is just fantastic.

Luenell performs at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave.

One-Liner: Jimmy O. Yang

Actor and stand-up comic Jimmy O. Yang, best known for his role as Jian-Yang on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” makes light of assimilating into American culture and disappointing his Chinese parents.

Jimmy O. Yang performs at 7 p.m. at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. 8th St.

Sonaiya Kelley

Wednesday, May 4

Showcase: Craig Robinson & the Nasty Delicious

Enjoy a side of funk with your laughs? You got it. Currently hosting “Your Attention Please” on Hulu and formerly one of our favorite Darryls ever, Craig Robinson makes this Wednesday-night show a triple threat with chuckle-worthy lyrics and a killer band named the Nasty Delicious. Wait. It’s also at the legendary Troubadour, making May 4 a quadruple-threat day.

Fifteen years ago, comedian and actor Robinson unveiled his band, and they’ve been captivating crowds worldwide ever since. Since the Troubadour opened its doors in 1957, renowned actors, bands and comedians have tested out the acoustics at the venue. Craig Robinson & the Nasty Delicious are revved to blow the roof off with a comedy-filled fusion jam fest.

Disclaimer: Tickets to this show will cause you to be out of your seat busting a move while Craig Robinson & the Nasty Delicious bust your gut. Robinson describes the sound as “funk mixed with stank,” and the band plays it all: rock, soul, hip-hop and Chicago house.

Craig Robinson & the Nasty Delicious perform at 7 p.m. at the Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd.

Spotlight: Colin Quinn

Over the years, the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever has been used for cultural events, concerts, live podcasting, book readings, storytelling — and now Colin Quinn.

The New York native is what some might call a genius in the comedy, writing and acting game. And lest you forget, he’s an amazing rapper as well. Everyone knows Quinn from somewhere because it seems anything he touches turns to entertainment.

Jokes and history lessons flow from Quinn in a way so relatable it’s as if he’s a hilarious human version of CliffsNotes. If CliffsNotes was from Brooklyn. His comedy is thought-provoking without being preachy, and your brain will be eager to learn without even knowing it as Quinn unravels his thread of words, keeping you stimulated and amused from show start to show finish.

Have you noticed any changes in audiences since comedy has “been back”?

No changes except I appreciate it more. And a lot of comics are saying that. And thankfully, maskless shows have been happening in New York for a while, so there’s no muffled laughter.

Do you ever dig into the backstory of a venue you’re playing before you go?

I’ve never performed in this room before, but I looked up the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I’m sure this was a place that the early Hollywood moguls used to hide skeletons, literally and figuratively. Stag films, blacklists and accidental overdoses. Probably Walter Winchell used to park in front every night and write his whole column.

Give us a 15-second version of what you’ll be discussing with the fine cemetery dwellers at your show.

What everyone is talking about these days, pre-apocalypse. I’ll be talking about the human problem. And obviously that covers a lot of other areas of current affairs.

Any concerns about rowdy audience members, or have you been working out, so they’d better not even dare?

Hecklers are a terrible reality. They are the worst, and yet there is something about them. They are sometimes drunk, but the craziest are the ones who aren’t drunk. Those should be studied. And destroyed.

Colin Quinn performs at 7 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever, 5970 Santa Monica Blvd.

One-Liner: Russell Howard

Everyone is getting some, in the most delightful way, at this uncensored show.

Russell Howard performs at 7 p.m. at the Regent Theater, 448 S. Main St.

Ali Lerman

Thursday, May 5

Showcase: London Hughes

British comedian London Hughes found fame on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe by recounting her romantic anecdotes and sexual adventures — as well as those of her mother and grandmother. She reprised her act in her debut stand-up special, “To Catch a D—,” executive produced by Kevin Hart, and also appeared on Netflix’s “The History of Swear Words” and the weekly after-show “The Netflix Afterparty.” Onstage, she rightfully calls herself “the new female Richard Pryor” because of the notable physicality she puts into delivering a joke. Offstage, she’s developing movies: a Will Packer feature that’s loosely based on her life and a Tim Story comedy about a modern woman who gets transported to 19th century England.

London Hughes performs at 7 p.m. at Dynasty Typewriter at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.

Spotlight: Justin Willman: ‘Magic for Humans’ in Person

Magic acts don’t often make audiences gasp, laugh and cry, but throughout its three seasons on Netflix, “Magic for Humans” has delivered equal parts bewildering sleight of hand and genuine emotion. Now Justin Willman is bringing his humorous and heartfelt street magic series to the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

How did you get into magic?

I was 12. I was riding my bike while also wearing rollerblades, because I was trying to look cool and do something unique. Then I fell and broke both my arms, which made me very unique. My doctor randomly noticed that I liked when this magician came to town and encouraged me to do card tricks as physical therapy. And I’ve been doing that ever since — though, I will say, my left arm could still use a little better rotation.

I love spreading the love of doing magic, even as a hobbyist, and shattering what people think a magic show is. Like, it isn’t always done by somebody on a stage in a tux or in an evening gown. It can pop up when you least expect it. But most of all, I love the idea of making magic feel as everyday as possible, and the subtle message behind trying to capture that in the series is to remind you that there is magic all around us, even as we’re going to work, doing laundry, living our lives on autopilot.

The show has a recurring segment in which you perform for people specifically named Susan (including Susan Sarandon). How do you identify them?

Sometimes they have a look: wearing a fanny pack and a purse and a backpack, writing a check in the grocery store … . [Laughs.] We’ve maybe found one or two naturally on the street. But once I realized there’s something special about Susans, I don’t know what it is, we were then desperately seeking Susans, and Craigslist was the way to go. “Is your name Susan? Do you want to make 40 bucks and get a free lunch? Meet us in Echo Park.” Down the sidewalk, we’ll have a few Susans on deck. Someone checks their IDs so they’re all legit; sometimes they go by Sue but, in their hearts, they’re really Susans.

My favorite episodes include appearances by family members, like your son Jackson. Does he understand what you do for a living?

He’s seen me perform when he was 1 and a half, so that doesn’t count. He’s 3 now, and I think he’s grasping what magic is and that it’s also what Daddy does for work and not just during playtime at home. I think he’s gonna come to the L.A. show. We’ll extend his bedtime a little bit.

A standout episode involved your late mother, who was struggling with Alzheimer’s. Were you nervous about sharing this part of your life onscreen?

In putting together a show about highlighting the funny and magical moments of life, it only makes sense to make it as authentic as possible. At that time, what was weighing on my head and heart every day was this Alzheimer’s struggle, something you don’t tend to naturally bring up when you talk to people because you don’t want to bum them out, but then you end up feeling so alone. When I started sharing more about it, people I knew started telling me that they’re going through the same thing, and I had no idea.

I’m so happy I did that piece, just to get that little time capsule. There was a chance that it might not be right for the tone of the show, and I’m glad it resonated with people. There’s a real healing power in just acknowledging that something exists that allows people to feel seen and heard. And if anything, it’s a reminder to live in the moment, to hug and kiss and say the things that you want to say to the people in your life while you can.

Will you be making people cry at your L.A. show?

It’s never my goal! I want to make people feel things, mostly laughter and amazement. But like the series, the climax of the show might hit you in an emotional way.

Justin Willman performs at 7 p.m. at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway

One-Liner: ‘Snoop Dogg’s F— Around Comedy Special’

Snoop Dogg emcees the two-show taping with Katt Williams, Mike Epps and Sommore in tow.

Snoop Dogg performs at 7 and 9:45 p.m. at the Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd.

Ashley Lee

Friday, May 6

Showcase: Margaret Cho

Before there was Jo Koy and before there was Ali Wong, there was Margaret Cho.

The fearless, trailblazing Asian American comedian has been on the front lines of comedy and social activism for decades.

A vocal advocate for women, LGBTQ causes and Asian/Asian American communities, Cho has won numerous awards from organizations such as GLAAD and the National Organization for Women. She has been nominated for an Emmy and several Grammys, won the American Comedy Award for best female comedian, had one of the earliest sitcoms to feature an East Asian family (1994’s “All-American Girl,” which was developed around her stand-up act) and has headlined dozens of tours and comedy specials. And in 2008, San Francisco announced that April 30 be declared “Margaret Cho Day.”

Recently, Cho made a foray into the competitive reality show genre as Poodle on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.” The 2019 appearance follows her 2010 participation on “Dancing With the Stars.” She didn’t win either competition.

Cho is in the midst of a national tour and hosts a podcast called “The Margaret Cho on Earios.”

Margaret Cho performs at 7 p.m. at the Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd.

Spotlight: Mo Gilligan

Presenter Mo Gilligan onstage at the Brit Awards in London earlier this year. (Joel C Ryan / Invision/Associated Press) © (Joel C Ryan / Invision/Associated Press) Presenter Mo Gilligan onstage at the Brit Awards in London earlier this year. (Joel C Ryan / Invision/Associated Press)

British comedian Mo Gilligan has gotten some big gigs hosting the Brit Awards and having his own Netflix specials, but he’s not yet in the rarefied air of celebrity where you’re able to slap someone.

“To me it just felt like two massive celebrities colliding. [Will Smith and Chris Rock] know each other, so someone can afford to make a joke at someone else’s expense and someone can afford to slap someone. I’m not in that position just yet.”

Gilligan continues to introduce himself, and Black British comedy, to American audiences.

You gained fame mainly through something you posted on the internet. Is that the preferred path comedians take nowadays?

Yeah, 100%, man. It works. It helped me, and that’s where I gained my audience from. Social media is probably more powerful than it ever now. You can get your own pocket of fans that will rock with you.

Observational humor is your thing. What’s the key?

I have to make it relatable. There’s no bigger disconnect than a comedian talking about things that you know your audience is not going through. Like, “Oh, don’t you hate it when you go on business class and you’re trying to put your luggage up and they’re offering you Champagne?” That’s not a problem most people face!

What, if any, is the difference between U.K. and U.S. audiences?

The two things I find is, one, I can speak very quickly. To some audiences, they’re like, “No. You need to slow down a little bit.” We are very relatable, but also some of the words we use are totally different. For example, in one of my specials, I have this material where I say, “The one thing you have to do, guys, in a relationship is take the bins out.” You guys would say “take the trash out.” That is such a cultural difference because that is my punchline! Some of those little nuisances can get lost in translation.

In terms of Black British comedy, it isn’t really showcased around the world. The U.K., we export “Harry Potter” and “Downton Abbey” and “Bridgerton” to the world, so sometimes that’s the world’s perception of the U.K. Having a Black guy with the queen’s English onstage can sometimes throw people off.

You’ve had a couple of Netflix specials, done some big hosting gigs — what’s the big career goal now for you?

I think it’s definitely to push it from where I am. To bring the transatlantic leap even closer. Bring over Black British comedy to the U.S. and vice versa. Bring over some of the lesser-known comedians from the U.S. to the U.K. I think that’s my long-term goal. There were some really cool comics out there that welcomed me with open arms.

Mo Gilligan performs at 7 p.m. at the Regent, 448 S. Main St.

One-Liner: Deon Cole

Deon Cole has seen his star ascend recently, going from being a writer on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” to becoming a regular on ABC’s “black-ish” and starring in a popular Old Spice series of commercials.

Deon Cole performs at 9:30 p.m. at the Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd.

Jevon Phillips

Saturday, May 7

Showcase: Ms. Pat

Ms. Pat’s comedy is lived-in but not all that comfortable. Her BET+ sitcom, “The Ms. Pat Show,” lands hard truths. She plays a version of herself, a felon who moves with her family from Atlanta to the less diverse Plainfield, Ind., to try to get a fresh start at … everything, including a career in comedy. In both her show and her stand-up, Ms. Pat mines her pain for your laughs. Née Patricia Williams, she gets the “convicted felon” bit out of the way in the first minutes of her act, including her 2022 Netflix special “Y’all Want to Hear Something Crazy?” That identifier fades into but also informs the actor, author, podcast host and comedian as she turns her rough childhood — hunger, constant evictions, early pregnancy — into honest, tart comedy because, as she says, “I don’t dwell on s— I don’t have control over.” As she slides into the blue with ease and you squirm a bit in your chair, you’ll realize something: Her life wasn’t easy, so why should she make listening to her story easy for you? She sits in the joke and wants you to “open your mind. This s— is funny.” More than that, it’s damn near educational.

Ms. Pat performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Regent Theater, 448 S. Main St.

Spotlight: Mitra Jouhari

Before Mitra Jouhari hit stages, she found her way into a creative field through the most studious of ways: raising her hand.

“Since I was in Ohio, and I really did not have any built-in connections or anything like that, I think it just removed any kind of shame about asking for things,” she says about her college days, laughing. “When people would come through Ohio, I felt really compelled to ask if they could help me. And it was pretty life-changing for me.”

Her “asking for things” stacked her résumé: interning with “The Daily Show” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” writing on shows such as “Big Mouth” and “The President Show,” guesting on “Abbott Elementary” and co-creating the dark and surreal “Three Busy Debras” with Sandy Honig and Alyssa Stonoha, which will premiere its second season on Adult Swim on April 24.

Jouhari spoke with The Times about standing up, making her friends laugh and sexual fantasy.

Comedian and actress, a writer, a podcast host, a comedy host. You’re an artist-activist too. So are you just out to take over the world?

[Laughs.] No. I just really, really like what I do. As long as people keep letting me do all this stuff, I’m gonna keep doing it. Writing in a writers room exposes me to a lot of different perspectives and writing styles and ideas. And that further solidifies my voice, which then feeds into my own writing and my own stand-up. It’s like an ecosystem.

You’re so heavily identified with “Three Busy Debras.” How do you approach stand-up, on stage by yourself? That’s a different muscle.

It totally is. The amazing thing about working on “Three Busy Debras” is we started working together really quickly after I moved to New York, and very early on in our comedy journeys-slash-careers. What that has given me outside of just two best friends and this show that I’m so proud of is a lot of confidence. They’re the people that I’m the biggest fans of. So if they’re laughing at something that I do, that’s kind of the ultimate compliment to me.

Tell me what to expect from your show.

It’s an hourlong show that I’ve been slowly developing over the pandemic. I really was not feeling super funny or fun or creative for a large part of it. And then I started working on this essay where I talk about what my sexual fantasy would be: It’s a nice day outside and I am wearing a cute outfit. And the day is going really well. And it doesn’t have much to do with sex for a lot of it. And it was just this kind of fun little side project. And then I started performing it when shows started happening again. I was having so much fun writing it and then it kept getting more surreal and elaborate. It’s the longest piece of solo work that I’ve done. But it’s still very much in the same vein of what I think is funny, which is surreal and absurd and silly and perverted, but then really, really sweet. … That’s my dream: something that is so vulgar but also, you know, has heart and makes you laugh.

Do you remember your first time on a stage alone doing stand-up?

I remember the first solo set I ever did, which was in January 2015. It was on my friend Carmen [Christopher]’s show, who’s super funny. And I was too scared to talk so I did kind of a dance piece. And I spilled pad Thai all over the stage, and I had to clean it up after. But it went well. And I decided to keep going.

Mitra Jouhari performs at 7 p.m. at the Elysian Theater, 1944 Riverside Drive

One-Liner: Amy Schumer

Semi-fresh off her turn as one of three hosts for the 2022 Oscars, comedian (also movie and TV star) Amy Schumer hasn’t been shy about talking about “the slap heard round the world.” But go for her commentary on “mostly sex stuff” — also the name of one of her specials for Comedy Central — and all its cousins, with shades of female empowerment.

Amy Schumer performs at 7 p.m. at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway.

—Dawn M. Burkes

Sunday, May 8

Showcase: Sam Jay

Comedians have been griping about their wives since time immemorial. Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield practically made a career of it. But the effect is different when Sam Jay does it.

She’s a Black woman working in a comedy field still often dominated by white guys (we’ll get to them in a minute). When she deadpans about the things her wife says and does, such as ordering a vegan burger at White Castle, she’s opening our minds and expanding our ideas of what a marriage is at a time when LGBTQ rights are freshly under attack.

Jay is also razor-sharp on the subject of white men. Her riff on “Mad Men” remains a classic: No wonder white guys complain about all they’ve lost. It’s no longer OK for them to drink all night with a mistress, go home, stumble into the office, get drunk again and have sex with a secretary. Wouldn’t you pine for the good old days?

Jay is a master of tweaking societal norms, a skill that, as intolerance surges, has rarely been more valuable. She cracks wise with a straight face, creating the illusion that she doesn’t even know what’s so funny about it all. It’s all part of her considerable craft. Now, take her wife. Please.

Sam Jay performs at 7 p.m. at the Peppermint Club, 8713 Beverly Blvd.

Spotlight: Joel Kim Booster

Joel Kim Booster grew up in a small Illinois town, homeschooled by deeply conservative adoptive parents. Now he’s a gay comedian who can’t stop talking about sex.

Whether he’s riffing on an eye-opening orgy in Amsterdam or childhood porn experiences, Kim Booster does rawness with exceeding geniality. We caught up with him via Zoom from his Los Angeles home.

You’ve said you knew you were gay before you knew you were Asian. Please explain.

That is completely true. I was adopted. I grew up in the Midwest, homeschooled. And I don’t think it was until I was 5 or 6 when I went to a family reunion in Alabama that my Asian identity really started to click for me. By that point, I had already verbalized to my siblings that I liked boys. The Asian part came later.

What makes sex funny?

It’s so personal and it’s so individual. Trying to extrapolate broad observations about sex, it’s a great place to find a lot of comedy because it’s finding the broad in the specific. Culturally, it’s still fairly taboo, and I think there’s a lot of humor that can be derived from taboo subjects. … So many people are having bad sex because they’re not talking about the things that I am interested in talking about onstage.

Is gay sex still more taboo in comedy than straight sex?

Absolutely. I can’t talk about my relationship or dating or anything like that without it being sort of labeled a gay joke. Whereas [for] any straight comedian who talks about dating, it’s just a dating joke. I think there’s still resistance from audiences depending on where I am in the country. When they know that I’m gay, I don’t even have to come out usually in my sets anymore. But when they realize that I’m talking about dating a guy, their brains immediately go to how we have sex. And I think that pulls a lot of people out of the comedy.

I had a lot of comedians — when I was starting out, over 10 years ago now — tell me not to talk about anything that could be related to gay sex because audiences would not like it and would not be able to handle it. And that was sort of the conventional wisdom for a lot of gay comedians. Now it’s sort of like, I don’t give a f—. I try not to shy away from anything I want to talk about just because it might make an audience uncomfortable. Discomfort is a huge part of comedy sometimes.

You were on an NBC sitcom, “Sunnyside.” Did your parents ever watch it?

No. I don’t think my parents have ever seen it. They didn’t know about it until they saw me in a trailer for it on television. It’s just my mom now, but yeah, she’s deeply uncurious about my career in a way that I’m perfectly comfortable with.

Joel Kim Booster performs at 7 p.m. at Dynasty Typewriter at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.

One-Liner: Mae Martin

Mae Martin, star and co-creator of the Netflix comedy series “Feel Good,” finds the humor in addiction.

May Martin performs at 7 p.m. at the Bourbon Room, 6356 Hollywood Blvd.

Chris Vognar

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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