HotHouse Comedy: The Best Free Show You Can't Get Into

As you walk down the thin hallway, paint chipping at the corners in that urban-rustic way, there’s a misplaced sense of familiarity. When the manual elevator jostles open in front of you and you find yourself scanning the stickers and graffiti that falls past you on your way upstairs, you know this place. You know what to expect. You step with certainty onto the refinished hardwood floor and into a white-walled expanse big enough for a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. And while you’ve probably never been to this building, on this block, in this stretch of downtown Los Angeles, all of these ‘secret’ events have a way of looking exactly the same.

At first glance, downtown’s invitation-only monthly stand up show HotHouse Comedy is no different. There’s the nameless front door with the nameless front doorman. Upstairs inside the main room is the hustling bartender manning the complimentary make-shift bar, ready to put together a drink or crack open a beer and watch as you ‘forget’ to tip. The problem is, in this city of supperclubs and Whitey Bulgers, there just isn’t anything special about being ‘secret’. Instead, notoriety comes from the brightly lit spot on the corner with the hefty bouncer, beefier pricetag and gaggle of TMGeese on the sidewalk, flapping their camera shutters.

Thankfully, HotHouse is a different show altogether. No velvet rope, not a square inch of advertisement, and no tickets at the door. You won’t find show reviews, photos, tweets, texts, sexts or anything else, from the audience or the performers. Just a stand up venue that comics know well and love to get booked on, because for once there’s an event in town that’s not built on hype. Go figure.

Oh, and that doorman? He rotates monthly, but on this night it’s Grant Pardee, himself a respected stand up comic with his own monthly show downtown. The loft space is actually a full-scale production house, with editing bays, grip equipment and sound stages that churn out content for HBO, AMC, MTV and just about any other acronym you can come up with. By day, the show’s well-stocked green room serves as the offices for rzo Management, with a view of the downtown skyline through the slats of a fire escape. That modern-gothic desk in the corner, the interns who keep things running smoothly and the careers of a couple of the night’s main attractions all belong to two men: Michael Rizzo and David Jargowsky, tireless talent managers and producers of the HotHouse Comedy Show, one of the best worst-kept secrets in LA’s comedy scene.

“With HotHouse Comedy, we weren’t really interested in putting together just another stand up show. If anything, it’s a party with a comedy show in the middle of it”, says former ICM agent Rizzo. “The show is invite only, which means we’re able to get a lot of cool people that we like together in one room.” And he’s right. As the crowd mills around in the minutes leading up to the first act of the night, you can spot a fair number of industry players - those sharp-eyed talent hawks looking to impress the crowd with whichever stand up they’re representing, or maybe just contented to sit back and let someone else do the impressing upon them. There are plenty of cute twenty-something girls, that necessary social barometer for anything inherently cool. There’s also a fair amount of pure talent in the room. Along with a fistful of headliners checking their setlists, notable names and faces pop up like a game of Guess Who? as you scan the room from side to side. Except, nobody has that “I’m networking here” stare. Instead, a few floors off the street, people stand around in clusters, smiling, laughing, and inevitably asking each other “how did you get your invite”?

HotHouse Comedy is good at a lot of things, but laughter may be topmost among them. Once the audience finds their seats - or decides to hang in the back near the drink table - the show begins in earnest and doesn’t slow down until the party comes back around. In recent months the show has had a slew of big-name headliners (including Marc Maron, Bob Odenkirk, Maria Bamford and the writing staff of Conan), but on this night Steve Agee, Nick Kroll and Eddie Pepitone decide to bring the house down with an effortless barrage of self-deprecating stories, angry rants and astute observations. Others, like writer T. Sean Shannon and JC Coccoli, work to round out a show that is nearly seamless from end to end. This may not be Talking Funny, but HotHouse certainly has no problem pulling together a room full of talent - both on and off stage.

The engaged audience sits comfortably and laughs easily, filling up the open architecture with the unmistakable sounds of a good time. Should one of the acts go long, the most polite fog machine you’ve ever seen in your life billows out a reminder cloud from underneath a piano to help wrap things up. Surely an odd choice for a comedy show, where ‘giving someone the light’ or cutting off their mic would do just fine. But for a party? Well, that smoke machine fits right in. It’s half prank, half tech cue from the booth, and all part of the show.

After three years producing the HotHouse Comedy Show, the “secret” continues to grow, but for now, there are no plans for a public offering. Instead, Rizzo and Jargowsky seem content to stand in the back enjoying the scene they’ve built in a room they run. There’s absolute power in that, so why corrupt it with the outside world?

“We’ve got a nice thing going here, and it’s a perfect way for us to give back a little bit to all the talented folks we enjoy working with,” says Rizzo. We couldn’t agree more.