Meet Alan Olifson: Wordplay's Playboy

Meet Alan Olifson: Wordplay's Playboy by Caleb BaconAlan Olifson at 'Play | Photo by Jeff Seltzer (used with permission)

All stand-up comedians are comedy writers (so long as their material is original,) but not all comedy writers are stand-ups. A few shows around town spotlight the gap between the two. On such stages, comedy writers read their works and the result a laughing audience. You might've caught such a show at iO West, UCB, or Pinata (at the Bang Comedy Theatre.)

Out of this growing literary comedy community, there's one show that'll make you both laugh and bop your head. That's Alan Olifson's Wordplay, a couple-times-per-year show where a DJ selects the tunes that make each performer's personal essay really pop.

The next Wordplay is this Friday, 8:30 p.m. at the The Fake Gallery on Melrose in East Hollywood. Reduced-price advanced tickets are available through Wordplay's website. Performers include: Dylan Brody, Moira McMahon, Kirk Pynchon, Brett Paesel, and, of course, Wordplay's playboy, Alan Olifson.

LAist had a chance to talk to Olifson about music complimenting the written word, his show, and '70's porno music (2,500 words on the topic were cut from this piece.)

LAist: Tell us about Wordplay.

Alan Olifson: WordPlay, in short, is true stories with a live soundtrack. We have some of L.A.’s best comedy writers reading their funniest true stories while our DJ, Chris Simental, plays along a live score (worked out through rehearsals beforehand.)

It’s essentially storytelling, but I don’t love that word because, to me, it brings to mind retired accountants who put on cowboy hats and go to elementary school book fairs to talk about life on the prairie while whittling something. Which is not exactly what we’re about. Though I wouldn’t mind incorporating whittling into the show.

How did Wordplay come about?

I've just always loved the connection between story and music. Back when I was in high school, after going to one of those movie screenings they had at the malls, I saw a rough cut of a movie before the score was added. It was horrendous, and felt very unfinished. Ever since, I’ve been amazed at the power music has in any kind of storytelling. So when I started doing some of the story salons popping up around L.A. six or so years ago, I thought adding music would be a natural progression. Plus, when I was a stand-up, one of my favorite things was getting to pick the music I would come on stage to; and I was (and am) a huge fan of "This American Life," which uses music amazingly well.

How do you keep the show fresh?

New people and new music. It’s a completely different show every time. And each story is a new opportunity to find the perfect song...or use an old song in a different way. Or even possibly appreciate the power of silence. I also keep it fresh by constantly writing in my blog, http://www.themanchild.net. Which isn't really related to this question, but I never miss even the smallest opening to talk about my blog.

What song has been played the most at Wordplay?

Hands down, “Spider Pussy” from the album Pornosonic. It's an album of unreleased ‘70’s porno music. Almost every story has a perfect spot for some wa wa peddle. Jon Brion and Air come up a lot, too. I have to say, this show has been a great way for me to justify listening to an obscene amount of Pandora radio. If you don't know Pandora, trust me, you need to.

Take the temperature of LA's literary comedy scene.

Sure. But I will do so rectally... only because that's more accurate. To me, LA's literary comedy scene feels a little bit like what I imagine stand-up felt like in the ‘70’s before comedy clubs -- I feel like it's an art form on the verge. OK, maybe "on the verge" isn't exactly right. I mean, the whole "next David Sedaris" thing is probably already played out, but I feel like we have a lot of creative, funny people putting on amazing shows in any random spot they can find. It's a small, accessible and friendly scene with a ridiculous amount of talent.

Follow Caleb Bacon on Twitter @thecalebbacon