BY LUCY GUANUNAThe Eastside comedy scene is drawing performers and patrons alike with its diverse lineups and DIY attitude (check out our Eastside Comedy Guide). The shows break away from the run-of-the-mill stand-up comedy with a variety formats, including storytelling and chismes, making the Eastside a hotbed for alternative comedy.
Here’s a sample of what to expect from shows in Boyle Heights, Highland Park & Silver Lake:
HIGHLAND PARK — Disappointed by the lack of women of color and queer folks on the local comedy circuit, comedian Danielle Perez partnered with two of the only other female minority comedians she knew. The result is Thigh Gap Comedy.
“I didn’t really see any other Latina comics when I first started going to open mics,” Perez said. “It’s frustrating because it can be very isolating going somewhere where nobody looks like you or your friends.”
In 2014, the Perez along with Madison Shepard, and Danielle Radford began hosting GENTRIFICATION, a monthly stand-up comedy show now at Avenue 50 Studio. Perez said the name GENTRIFICATION came from the need to create spaces and opportunities for minorities in Northeast L.A. as many residents continue to be priced out. Audience members have told Perez that they finally feel like they’re being represented on stage and can relate to the material.
“We can’t sit around and wait for somebody else to give us an opportunity, we can band together and promote,” Perez said. ‘We are creating the environments we want to exist in.”
SILVER LAKE — Two shows at The Lyric Hyperion offer up alternatives to the well-established comedy club scene, where women, minorities and LGBT comedians often end up as a punchline in mostly straight, white-male lineups.
The typical comedy club patron shells out big bucks to see celebrities and often jeer at comedians who touch upon immigration or politics, said Jenny Yang of Family Reunion, a monthly storytelling show. “Just make us laugh” or “show us your tits” are some of the audience remarks Yang has heard.
“For us to create a space that centers around our story instead of translating for a whiter audience is part of the benefit of having our own show,” Yang said.
The Lyric is also home base for Very Forward, a monthly stand-up comedy show with Claire Downs and Teresa Lee, promotes itself as “female friendly and sex positive.”
Lee said there’s a demand for comedy that offers different tones, perspectives and sexualities. Diversity keeps people interested, she said.
“Comedians often talk about about how they hate their exes or wives and use them as the butt of joke,” Lee said. “There’s a whole spectrum of sexualities, and, by being sex positive, we want to talk about sex in a way that’s not dated.”
BOYLE HEIGHTS — Chisme y Queso, an improv show at Eastside Luv wine bar, was created by members of Center Theatre Group to tap into the neighborhood’s music and arts scene. They are experimenting with comedy in the six-part show to engage the local Latino community and bring more theatre and live performances to the area, said Alejandra Cisneros.
Far from your typical improv show, the actors act out chismes – or gossip – written on coasters by the audience in addition to one-minute skits written by local playwrights, some of which have been inspired by the playwrights’ experiences at the bar.
“There’s something familiar about what we do because most in the crowd is Latino,” said Cisneros. “I don’t know how it would fit into another neighborhood because all of the writing is for this community and specific to East L.A. Chisme is a great way to tell stories, so we thought it would be fun.”
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Lucy Guanuna is a freelance reporter who has covered a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.
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